The Life of Max

Steven Bergom

"… and so I said to her, if you don't get your fat butt out of my face, I swear I'll smack so hard you'll be seeing stars next Tuesday! And then she had the nerve…"

"Alison? I hate to interrupt you but it looks like you have a customer there."

Alison broke off her conversation with the other cashier to turn and face a young man who was standing quietly over his purchases, calmly looking at the teenager. "Oh, Sam! Well I'm sorry I didn't see you! You just snuck up there so quiet like, I didn't know you were there! Well, how are you doing today? It's a nice day out, so I guess it's not a bad thing that my car is broke it don't go none. Why I was telling Miss Perkins — you know Miss Perkins, old lady with a really bad wig — anyways, I was telling Miss Perkins…" Alison kept up her chatter as she ran each item through the scanner barely paying attention to the beep as the laser picked up the bar code. Sam just continued to stare with a little smile on his face.

"Mr. Beakins you have quite a bit of tuna purchased here," she said, swiping the ninth can through the scanner. "You get some more cats or something? Well it's a good thing. Max needs some friends of his own to play around with. I don't care if he's a cat and cats is supposed to be loners…" The bag boy grinned and rolled his eyes at the cashiers quick change of talk. He had worked at her register all day and heard all of her gossip at least twice but it still amazed him that she could run the cash register and her mouth at the same time — at the same speed. He could only explain it as being a woman thing.

"Well," Alison said as the last can made it through the scanner, "your total today comes to forty-four-ninety-seven." Sam took out his wallet while keeping an eye on the woman and began laying out bills, watching her until he had laid out enough of the green pieces of paper. Alison made change and handed it back to the silent man. "You know, Mr. Beakins, you been kinda' quiet here. Cat got your tongue?" Sam widened his grin and Alison laughed companionably. "That's okay. I like my men strong and silent! You take care and come on back, 'kay? Buh-bye now!" Sam nodded and picked up the sacks containing his groceries from the bag boy and walked out of the store, leaving Alison to carry on the interrupted conversation with the neighboring cashier.

It truly was a nice day out. The sun was warm, enticing one to stay out and soak in its rays. Sam was sorely tempted, but knew that it would be dark soon. He needed to get back with his groceries and have dinner before settling down to sleep for the night. Maybe he would watch the television for a while. He didn't know, he'd see.

The sidewalk was crowded from people doing some late shopping after work before they needed to be home but Sam threaded his way through the crowds with ease. He was beginning to hum with the joy of his movement until he saw the woman.

She was a nice lady, a little round and always smiling, but she always had her dogs with her, and this time was no exception. There were three of them: a golden retriever, a dachshund and a toy poodle who had a habit of barking at everyone she met. They were leashed but they still held the power to make him avoid them at all costs. This time he was unable to make an escape and instead came face to face with her. And them.

"Sam? Sam Beakins! How are you?" Now that she had seen him he knew that there was no getting away now and quickly pressed against the front of the building that he had backed into. The poodle, naturally, began yapping and the two bigger dogs sniffed at his pants legs intently. Sam, meanwhile, was splitting his view between the three dogs and the lady in front of him.

"George was saying how he hadn't seen you around the office in a while. Have you been ill? You're looking quite frazzled there." Sam nodded his head looking for an avenue of escape. "You know it may be that you're allergic to cats. Why don't you get rid of that kitty you have and get a nice dog? They're so much nicer, aren't you, my little snookums?" she said to her three hounds, oblivious to the poodle's yapping and the other's almost belligerent stare. "Oh well, I hope you're feeling better. I'd love to stay and chat but I have to get home. When you talk to your mother next, tell her that Gloria said 'Hi!', okay?"

As Gloria left Sam let out the breath he was holding and swallowed nervously before making his way away from the lady casting furtive glances behind him. He kept up a quickened pace for several blocks before slowing down to a more normal walk.

He cut through the park, knowing that it was a shortcut to his house but also knowing that it was the greater temptations of the day. The green grass was springy and cool to the touch despite absorbing all that the sun put out. There were also many trees that invited him to climb up into their branches and spend the day in a tranquil half-doze. But what made it so dangerous was all the distractions. The park was teeming with life; children jumping rope, old men feeding pigeons, squirrels jumping from tree to tree and all of the birds flying around and singing merrily. All kinds of birds like that red bird sitting on a low branch of the oak tree. It stands proudly with its red crest pointing back behind him. His bright orange beak was open in song, calling for a mate. He hopped around a bit, moving to a new branch to ensure that his song could be heard all over the park.

Sam shook his head to interrupt his reverie. This proved that the park was dangerous and he steeled himself for the continued walk home.

Luckily he ran into nothing else on his way and arrived at the little white one-story without further incident. He entered through the kitchen, making sure to close and lock the door before putting away his purchases. He left out one can of tuna, though, keeping it for his own dinner.

When he was done he picked out a bowl from the cupboard, a fork and the can opener. Carefully he positioned the opener on the lip of the can and closed the jaws, puncturing the tin. Excitedly but gently he turned the crank that would sever the top from the rest of the can and, when the opener snicked on the last bit of metal, he smiled in satisfaction. Sam drained a little of the water off the tuna into the sink before he unceremoniously dumped the contents in the bowl. He threw the can in the trash and carried bowl and fork to the kitchen table where he sat and ate his meal with an awkwardly held fork.

The tuna was delectable. It was a simple meal, but simple meals were always the best and Sam made sure to lick his fingers to get all of that taste off. He sat for a time, contentedly smiling before carrying the dish to the sink, rinsing it off and putting it into the dish washer.

It was now dark and he needed to perform one of his few chores. He took a shallow dish from the cabinet and poured some of the coffee from the coffee maker into it. Carefully holding the dish, he carried it through the house to the little office just off the bedroom.

The office was dark, lit only by the glow of a computer monitor and the power lights on a respectable computer system. Sitting on a bar stool in front of the monitor was a calico cat with a little red collar that had a tag with the name Max written on it. The cat would occasionally paw at the keyboard but, for the most part, his gaze was riveted to the changing shapes on the computer screen.

Sam walked over to the computer and set down his dish next to the keyboard. He put his forehead down to the cat to nuzzle him and Max reciprocated with a greeting of his own. Sam stopped and looked at Max with a hopeful gaze in his eyes. Max stared back but after a moment shook his head sadly.

Sam dropped his gaze, saddened, but the paw on his head was comforting and he felt a little better. He sat watching the cat for a little while but grew bored and left.

It had been a long day, but a good one, and he couldn't ask for more so the man went to the living room. There he made his way to the couch and stepped around it to a little spot of floor between the couch, an end table and the wall where a blanket lay on the floor. He lay down on the blanket and curled up in the tight space. Before he closed his eyes he thought about his day and the things he did. He also thought about the next day; what would he do then? He could go to the park and sit on the benches, or maybe take a walk down by the pond and watch the ducks.

Maybe he would get his body back.

But tomorrow was tomorrow and didn't need to be thought of today, so the man closed his eyes and dreamed of many things.