The Cat Dragged Inn Chapter 3

The Cat Dragged Inn Chapter 3

A Chapter by Montilee Stormer

The doors to the Cat Dragged Inn open, letting in the stunted and gray November sunshine. It has been a slow day, much like any other, and Earl nurses his beer as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever savor before being dragged back to whatever hell he’s clawed his way out of. The college kids aren’t due to have their beer for hours yet, and Penda needs something to do to keep her from stripping the upstairs bedding and committing herself to three hours of laundry. The Cat Dragged in is the last of its kind, a tavern with sleeping accommodations, though these days her only overnighters are the derelicts who can scrap together the fifteen bucks for a clean, warm bed and a bathroom that doesn’t smell like a 30-yerar old urinal cake, or the college kids who lock themselves out of their dorms. Four rooms available to rent and it’s been enough to keep her from going out and finding real work. Unfortunately the beds do not make themselves, and if the sheets aren’t stripped and changed at least once a week

She supposes she could take down the glasses from the seven-foot high shelf glass shelf, wash them in vinegar, wrap them in newspaper, shove them in a box in the cellar, and replace them in something festive for the coming holiday. Or not. They are gold-trimmed champagne flutes left over from whens where parties and celebrations were the norm and not the rare exception. She hasn't had a night where she's needed to use them, but clearing the shelf of all glassware would make it look bare and forgotten, and try to imagine looking at that all day. She turns back to Earl, a near constant afternoon companion since 1980 when the Dodge Main Plant closed in 1980 and he hid in the Inn from his wife Genevivie, not sure how to tell her and scared to death of what she’d do to him. As far as Penda knew, Genevivie still didn’t know exactly where he spent his hours from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Earl seemed content with that arrangement. So long as he paid his bar tab every month, Penda was content with it, too. It was hard to imagine Earl frightened of anyone, all six feet of him, his muscular hands showing the mug who had whom, but Genevivie’s voice could carry through the heavy wooden doors and suddenly it wasn’t so difficult.

She has just pulled the stepstool from the closet and poured the vinegar into the bucket of hot water when the door opens.

Earl squints in the natural light. “Must be a Barn Baby the way he’s leaving that door open.”

“Oh Jesus, look what Genevivie chased in,” says Penda. A tall man has walked in with a look of confusion and wonder on his face. Penda gets that look a lot. Suburbanites want to go slumming in the City and they want a dive with flies making lazy circles around ancient flypaper, a thick layer of dust on everything, and floor so sticky shoes could be stepped right out of. Instead they get this place, and they don’t know whether to be grateful or pissed off. He looks like one of those, casually but expensively dressed, seemingly lost ad found at the same time. And he’s still got the door open.

“Look, mister, drink or walk. You can’t gather wool in here for free.” He blinks in her direction and Earl snorts derisively. “Scotch, right? You look like a scotch drinker. Have a seat and I’ll start you a tab.”

The man looks around and chooses one of the horseshoe booths in the corner. If he’s waiting for someone it’s the perfect place to sit and see the entire bar, but chances are he’ll leave as alone as when he walked in. Penda brings over an Old Fashioned glass with two fingers of scotch, neat, and a cork coaster. If there’s anything that ruins a good table more it’s a lack of coasters. She heads back to the bar without so much as a word, not bothering to wait for a “thank you”.

“Penda, honey, I gots to get, ” says Earl. Must be, what, 2:30 in the afternoon. Yep, Earl’s shift would be ended about an hour ago, and stopping for a quick after work drink he’d be getting home right about now.

“Vivie already thinks you’re the devil’s spawn, and here you are filling me up with demon nectar.” Vivie has suffered from a dementia, and over the years she’s screamed at anything passing by to slow to not escape her notice, and those screams get more and more shrill. Chances are she’s forgotten why Earl leaves every morning, but Penda knows why. It’s hard to watch someone you love deteriorate and despite trying everything you know, you can’t stop them from slipping away.

“Bye Earl,” she says, wistful and a little sad for him.

“Stay beautiful,” says Earl.

“I don’t have a choice,” she counters. If Earl has noticed that she hasn’t aged a day in almost 25 years he’s too much of a gentleman to mention it, and she appreciates it. Earl picks up his hat from the coat rack and tips his hat to her. It’s those little things she misses as time marches on – basic civility has gone the way of the “thank you”.

November has been cold and rainy, an over-enthusiastic harbinger to the long winter ahead and the door opens not long after Earl has closed it behind him. In the minutes following his departure, it has begun raining again, and it the wind has picked up. Another figure enters wears a yellow rain slicker, damp with the days runoff, a woman from the purse dangling from loose fingers.
Penda wonders what has brought Mrs. Paul's Fisherman to her door, and then decides she doesn't care. Engaging people in conversation was something other people did. If she wanted friends, she'd get a dog. Well, another dog, she'd never had much luck with animals. They either ran away or met with such untimely deaths attributed to starvation, confinement in refrigerators, overfilled bathtubs, etc... She wasn’t meant to have a dog and it only took four ill-fated animals for her to get that message. Someone always killed her dog, and those creatures deserved better than to be doomed in her company.

The figure stands dripping at the door, letting the cold wind flirt with the tassels on the tablecloths and kiss the napkins.

"In or out," says Penda, now thoroughly irritated. "and take that thing off. I just had the carpets cleaned." This last but was a lie, but d****t, nothing was worse than an establishment that smelled like the Detroit River bellied up to the bar stayed for happy hour. The figure closes the door, and removes the wet garments. The woman beneath the slicker doesn't look much dryer and searches for a moment before finding the coat rack. She looks like a drowned rat. She stands here wringing her hands and still dripping on the carpet.

“You’re still dripping on my carpet.”

“I’m sorry,” the woman stammers. “This was probably a bad idea, I’m just going to leave.” She retrieves her slicker and after a moment heads back out into the rain.

Penda shrugs and goes back to her wiping and dusting. It isn’t the first time people have wandered in not wanting if they wanted a drink or not. Mostly it was alcoholics on the verge of falling off the wagon. When AA was still a fledgling organization anniversary chips were novel and new, a few wits thought it was hilarious to trade those hard fought chips in for some whiskey. Some wits still do, but if there’s one thing a bar doesn’t need, it’s a bunch of alcoholics.

The door opens again and again the woman stands unsure, letting all the cold air rush in like greedy shoppers at a going out of business sale, as if she’s wander into the wrong bar again. Penda doesn’t bother to get down from the step stool this time. If this woman wants something she’ll follow proper bar protocol and have a seat like everyone else. After a few moments she leaves again, and Penda shakes her head. She looks over at her only other patron who smiles bemusedly at her. Yeah, it’s all one big laugh riot, ain’t it pal, she thinks. A quick glance tells her that his drink doesn’t not need freshening, which is fine. It'll take more than an empty glass to get her down from that stool now.

She wipes off seven tall champagne flutes, lining them up on a lower bottom-lit shelf, their gold rims twinkling. It’s not quite depressing that they never get used, but she almost wishes for more business. The days of Sunnie Wilson and John Davis are long gone, but she supposes that in her own way she keeps the memory of Hastings Street alive by leaving these glasses standing. The door opens a third time and the exasperation reaches a boiling point.

“D****t, woman. In or out.” She slams her damp cloth onto the counter and the champagne flutes sing nervously.

“I guess we’ll stay in, since this place is so damn inviting.” The voice is masculine, resonating, English, and so entirely unexpected, Penda almst drops a glass. She looks up to see three college kids dripping water onto her floor and grinning. They’ve been coming to The Cat Dragged Inn for since the beginning of last term, and they are the youngest regulars by about 30 years. They take their usual table at the back, two women and a man, if you could call these young ones barely out of their teens men and women.

Callie Woodruff, Brett Myserson, and Chloe (just Chloe, thank you) are what the modern world calls Goths – what they are exactly, Penda doesn’t know, and while there’s a part that’s curious, overall she doesn’t care. They come in and drink and don’t cause too much trouble and then they leave, except for that one time Chloe ordered a series of double Chartreuses and became so ill, she stayed in one of the upstairs rooms while Penda held her hair and wondered what she had done in a previous life to deserve this. They did not take liberties with their regular status, like pouring their own drinks, demanding immediate service, begging for a revolving tab to be paid at the end of the month. They were respectful, and Penda appreciated that. They kept to themselves and that was a bonus. They were friendly, and while that had taken some getting used to, Penda finally came to terms with the fact that to them she was a person and not just the means to a drink.

She washes her hands at the bar sink, drying them on a clean towel from beneath the bar, and walks over to take their order. Their wardrobe almost never changes, mostly black crepe, black jeans (dungarees as Penda still thinks of them), and matching black dusters. It’s a perpetual funeral for them, and that seems to make them happy. Penda has watched Callie’s hair go from black, to fuchsia to something with orange roots, and back to black. Brett keeps his hair spikey and shortish, and blue-black which is attractive for someone so pale, and Chloe has long tresses in a natural wave that looks like a black river in a constant rush to the sea around her face.

“What class are you skipping today,” she asks, pulling her order pad from her apron. She doesn’t need the pad, but in her mind it make firm the line between patron and friend. She doesn’t want friends, just patrons that pay their bills at the end of the night. Besides it gives her hands something to do while they decide what to drink, though it always comes to one of two things – beer or Licorice martinis.

“Hello, Sunshine,” says Brett in a deep, cheery voice that always makes Penda feel like cramming that pad down his throat. Brett is not the first Englishman that Penda has met, but he is by far the happiest, and his voice registers so deep in his chest that Penda can usually feel him talking even if she can’t hear him. “No classes today. It’s Wednesday, or are calendars forbidden in the CDI as well as cell phones.” He refers to the policy that was adopted last year when it seemed everyone who walked, did so to converse loudly to people miles or blocks away while sitting at the bar, or at the very least listen to their fancy ringers. It came to a violent and rather permanent head when after telling a man three times to either take his loud conversation outside or turn the damn thing off, Penda dropped something called a Blackberry into a pitcher of margaritas still sitting on the blender, and then set the machine to puree.

“Not in the mood, Brett,” and Penda sees Callie nudge him. His smile never falters and he orders a beer. The women (harem Penda sometimes thinks of them) order the same, and Penda heads back top the bar. While most regulars try to engage Penda in a conversation about the weather or politics, these three have at least maintained a modicum of detachment, never getting any deeper than asking how fresh the mints are.

The door opens a fourth time and again the figure in the wet slicker stands at the door. Penda ignores this completely, and pours three draft beers into frosted mugs.

“Come in, stranger and take a load off,” calls Brett from him table. “let our dear Penda pour you something to help warm your bones.”

“Penda” the figure whispers, and as before, removes her slicker and hangs it on the coat rack. “I’ve been told to look for you. They told me you could help me.” She heads to the bar and has a seat, leaving a trail of wet from the door. She shivers in the warm bar.

“Lady, unless you need a whiskey or a room, I can’t help you. I don’t know who they are, but they are probably mistaken or in a perpetual state of drunkenness.” She serves the beers and heads back to the bar.

Onto the bar the woman pulls out a handkerchief and lovingly lays out two very worn, very old buttons. Some have chipped edges and the holes themselves are seriously out of round. They are uneven and look ready for the trash, but the woman treats them like gold. Her eye makeup has run to form dark rings around her eyes. It is a look that Callie probably spends a goodly amount of time trying to achieve.
“Do you know these buttons,” the woman asks. She looks hopeful and a little desperate.

Penda looks at the buttons and back to the woman with raised eyebrows. “Never seen them before in my life.”

“Oh for Christ sakes, Penda, isn’t there a towel you can offer her. She’s wet to the bone.” Brett has gotten up and put his duster around the woman’s shoulders. Penda shoots him a look that says his life is due to end in moments, but then directs Chloe to the upstairs linen closet.

The woman thanks everyone for their kindness and turns her attention back to Penda. “They told me you could help, they said that because you had a hand in why there is so much evil in them. These buttons want to be with you.”

“Well I’m afraid your buttons are mistaken. Look, drink or walk, you can’t rant madness in here for free.”

Chloe has returned, clomping down the wooden steps towel in hand, and the woman gratefully dries her hair and face. “I’d like a Hot toddie please.”

“Finally, says Penda with great exasperation, “a paying customer.” Penda pours hot water into a shot of whiskey, adding a spoonful of honey and topping the drink off with a cinnamon stick.
The woman sips at the drink and sighs contentedly. “This is just how my grandmother used to make them”.

“Was your grandmother a barmaid?” asks Chloe.

“No,” says the woman with an embarrassed grin. “She was a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic --"

Penda brusquely cuts her off as she heads to the office. “Brett, mind the counter. I need to change the record.”

“Record?” the woman asks.

“Apparently they are these grooved disks made of vinyl our ancestors used in tribal mating rituals – “

“Shut up, Brett,” says Penda closing the office door, cutting off the chipper voices, willing her heart to slow down to something normal, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. In her small but cluttered office, there are many reminders of past lives and occupants. Yellowed notecards with rusty push pins litter the wall in a configuration that makes perfect sense to her, as it did to her predecessor, but what jumps out at her now are two buttons, strung through with twine and hanging from a hook. They are matches to the two in the woman’s handkerchief. She knew this day would come, but she hoped she’d be better prepared to deal with them and what they represent. Well, her own fault for not planning better.

Penda fingers the buttons with something like pity, or maybe love, thinking about the man they once belonged to and what she did to him, when she hears a crash and something like glass making retreat to the floor. She has time to grab the door handle before the screaming starts.
 

*****



Are you ready? You’re about to become part of something terrifying and you won’t be able to do anything but watch. It’s the buttons in your pocket, you see, the ones that have been singing in your head ever since you picked them up off the street. They’ve been telling you things and you’ve been checking them out on the free internet connection at the library. What the buttons talk about is true, at least the part you’ve been able to verify, and now it’s time to give the buttons what they want. The thrumming in your pocket has spread to your head ever since the woman walked in and the voices haven’t shut up since she opened up the handkerchief. Soon it'll be over and you'll either go about your business without giving this place a second thought, or like me, you'll stick around and watch this play out. I'm here for the duration and could use the company.

Finish your drink, take a deep breath and let go of all of it.

It isn’t as if you have any other choice.


*****

Copyright © 2005 MontiLee Stormer




© 2008 Montilee Stormer



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woow ver nice i aprove ver much

Posted 5 Months Ago


K:) So this is really cool because this is novel stuff, the meat and potatoes, the hum drum ( but done sooo well, so hummin not really drum) of everyday occurances that make the characters real and give context for the magic. I dig, you're building a foundation.
I have to say though, be careful to not loose youre voice (edge) because though the writing is consistent over all some of the directness and intensity of the second piece mixed in here would enliven your pace. The story is pulse on, but your excitement and Voice in telling it isnt always there at the intervals it might need to suck the reader through with consistency. Do you get what im saying? I dont want you to think in anyway I found this lacking im just tring to adjust volume and tone, ya know,
not at all content.
What you do with the ending paragraph! thats the cold water I was looking for, even if you run a rivulet through now and then it will blend and add to my enjoyment.

Im still so stoked! youve got a great vast imagination and enveloping style ( several distinct actually) see ya on wednesday!


heeh buttons oooooooh!

hey one thing to look at...

"Unfortunately the beds do not make themselves, and if the sheets aren�t stripped and changed at least once a week"=
"Unfortunately the beds do not make themselves and the sheets are stripped and changed at least once a week,"

or something, thats basic, but ya know what I mean?

I might be being a dumb a*s again but hey I already was once:) so I'm just sayin it.

thanks 4 posting! again content and foresight



Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I've figured out what some of the attraction this story holds for me is. It's your ability to place me in the scene with little details like "rusty pins". I can't do that when I write for some reason. I might see the pins, but the rust will elude me. Lovely!

And what a teaser to end with. Til Wednesday, you say? I'm tempted to PM you some buttons I have here...

Plenty of typos here, but nothing you won't catch later. Beyond that, I am so definitely hooked. Tone, setting, characters, mystery. Whew!

Posted 12 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on April 25, 2008


Author

Montilee Stormer
Montilee Stormer

Royal Oak, MI



About
Short Version: MontiLee Stormer is a troublemaker, writing acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. Her interests wander from abnormal psychology and serial killers, to lost loves and.. more..

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