I step out of my apartment, coffee in hand, and close the door behind me. Then, realizing I had forgotten my purse, I turn around again. And scream. And drop my coffee all over my (new!) white blouse.
There is. A dead cat. Nailed. To my door.
I let the coffee drip down my shirt and onto my leg as I gape at it. Blood oozes from its paws and onto the doorknob, and I can feel bile rise in my throat.
Swallowing, I glance down the hallway. Empty. No, wait, there's a door opening down towards the end. A man in a dark suit steps out.
"Please-" I call, and he turns, stares at me. Sighing, I take a step towards him. "Could you-"
But he whips around, turns the corner, and is gone.
Okay, so no help from him. I brace myself and look at the cat. How am I going to get it off my door? Part of me wants to leave for work and let someone else deal with it while I’m gone. For a moment, I imagine calling my landlady, Mrs. Smythe. This thought sends me into a brief bout of hysterical giggles.
Finally, I swallow my laughter and reach for my phone, thinking of the one person who I could call for help, only to realize that my phone is still back at my apartment.
"Shit!" I kick the door. A drop of blood lands on my shoe, and I recoil.
Rubbing my eyes, I try to remember-is there a pay phone I could use somewhere close? Maybe, I think, Lee’s Grocery downstairs has one. I begin to walk to the stairs. Halfway down, on a landing, something shiny glints at me. I reach down and pick it up.
Cheddar, it reads, Lea Rossi, 954 Quantico St...Please Return Me! I continue to walk, fingering the collar. Was this the collar of the cat on my door?
Mr. Lee points me in the direction of a pay phone in the back of the store, near the fish display. I dig in my wallet to find a quarter before putting in a number. Holding the phone to my ear, I stare out through Aisle 10 as people wander in and out of the store.
"You are getting a collect call from-" reads out a robotic voice.
"What?" I clutch the phone. “Pauline, it’s me.” Pauline and I had been friends in college, and now that we lived in the same city, we had reached nearly best-friend status.
"Do you want to accept the charges?"
I release the breath I hadn't realized I was holding in as I heard Pauline say, "Sure?" A click, and then- “Esther? Why’re you calling from this number?”
“I left my phone in my apartment.”
“Ok.” Pause. “Then why are you calling?”
“Someone nailed a cat to my door.”
There is a coughing noise on the other end. It goes on for so long that I say, “Are you okay over there?”
One more cough, and Pauline whispers, “You said that just as I took a drink of water. What do you mean, there’s a cat nailed to your door?”
“I don’t know!” Catching a glare from Mr. Lee’s wife as she emerged from the back room, I lower my voice. “It was there when I went out this morning.”
I can sense Pauline pacing. “How is that even possible? Wouldn’t you have heard them hammering it in?”
“I don’t know,” I repeat. “I mean, my door is really heavy, so maybe it blocked the noise?”
“And you do sleep through anything."
“But that’s not the problem.” I tap my foot against the cracked tile floor. “Why would anyone do that?”
“Maybe it’s the Mafia.”
“Be serious.” I frown. “Can you get over here and help me take it off?”
“Can I send Jeffrey instead?” This is Pauline's boyfriend.
“Sure, but I need you there too." A groan from the other end of the line. "Please? For moral support?”
“All right. Be there in ten.”
“Thanks. Bye.” I hang the phone up and head back down Aisle 10. The front door swings open as I walk towards it, and the dark-suited man steps inside. I find myself staring at him at the same moment he glances up, and we lock into awkward eye contact before I glance down quickly. Up front, I pass him by as he examines a display of out-of-date Valentine’s chocolates.
“Will you be buying one of those, sir?” Mr. Lee asks hopefully.
As I step out the door, I hear the man say, “I’ll just have a pack of cigarettes.”
In ten minutes, Pauline and Jeffrey appear, armed with plastic gloves and bags.
“We came prepared,” announces Pauline, swinging a plastic bag, and we all troop upstairs.
Upon viewing of the cat, Pauline turns a pale shade of green and Jeffrey swears loudly and colorfully.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t call Animal Control instead?”
“It’s fine,” I say. “We can do it ourselves.” They don’t look convinced.