The Devil’s Pussy

Jordan Hinshaw was three years old when his dad abandoned him and his mom, Gail.  By age ten, he had no living grandparents.  His mother had two sisters with whom she was not on speaking terms.  She didn’t even know where they lived, or if they were dead or alive.  His mom had mentioned great aunts and uncles and distant cousins, but Jordan never met them.  When he left to find his own place in the world, his cold relationship with Gail approached arctic status.  It was a lawyer who contacted Jordan to inform him that his mom had died.  She and Jordan hadn’t spoken to, or seen, each other for nearly six years.

Gail had been living in a group home in Georgia, sharing lodgings with eight other individuals, having been in and out of varying mental institutions and rehabilitation programs.  She had died quietly in her sleep.  Jordan was listed as the next of kin, and it had taken no small effort to track him to Tennessee.

“There are personal belongings, personal property, your mother wanted you to have,” the lawyer told him over the phone.

Refusal had been on the tip of Jordan’s tongue, but something, some deeply recessed and umpteenth times buried sentiment, made him accept.  “Okay.”  He was curious, suddenly, of his mom’s life.

The lawyer, William Robert, Esq., relayed all the required information.

It was a warm February Saturday when Jordan left for Georgia.  He made the journey alone.  He had no close friends to ride shotgun other than Sarah, a former neighbor he had dated for a few months and had remained friends with after a quiet break-up.  He didn’t ask her, though, it didn’t feel right.  At least to him it felt awkward asking her to go and hold his hand to retrieve his mom’s meager belongings.  So he traveled solo, windows down on his rebuilt midnight blue ‘73 Firebird and blasting the Stones with a healthy dose of Skynyrd.

He made the trip in five hours and found the lawyer’s office with ease thanks to GPS.  Jordan discovered, much as he expected, there were no framed family portraits or pictures collected in an album among his mom’s effects.  There was no heartfelt letter from estranged mother to estranged son.  Gail’s “estate” was meager.  She left behind a few threadbare clothes, mostly old Metallica and Megadeth t-shirts, a pack of cheap cigarettes, three lighters, and something which did surprise her surviving son: a cat named Miss Smittens.

“I figured you’d want to donate the clothes, Mr. Hinshaw.  Had to make sure, though,” William Robert said.  He appeared to be living as destitute as Jordan’s mother had died.  The wallpaper was peeling in his office, the ceiling showcased water stains.  “Do you want the lighters?”

The cat was in a carrier on the corner of Robert’s scoffed desk.  It whispered a meow.

“No, sir,” Jordan said and the lawyer opened a drawer and slid them out of sight.

Jordan signed a stack of documents on the indicated lines with a cheap plastic pen compliments of Brenner Loan Services.  “How did she die?  Was it cancer or her heart or something?”

“Her heart,” the lawyer said.  “It just gave out.  Years of being put through the paces, I suppose.  No offense.”

Jordan ignored the greasy man.  “Where’s she buried?  I guess I should pay my respects.”

Miss Smittens sneezed.  Jordan squinted into the carrier.  He could make out its long black hair with a large tuft of white on its chest and chin.

“Easy enough, young man.”  William Robert took a white box, slightly bigger than a shoe box, from an uneven bookshelf.  “This is the last thing, Mr. Hinshaw.”  He sat the box on the desk beside the carrier.  

“What’s that?”

The attorney tugged at his tie.  Sweat was spreading at the armpits of his thin yellow shirt.  “Your mama,” his drawl almost sounded like singing.  “Her cremains, they call’em.  She was cremated, as is policy for the indigent.”  He pushed the box toward Jordan.  “I was about to have them buried in our public cemetery.  That’s policy, too, for the unclaimed.  But since I finally found you, here ya go.”

Jordan lifted the lid on the box.  Within was a clear bag of grey/white ashes, secured with a red twist tie.

Red:  Baked on Thursday, Jordan thought.

#

Miss Smittens was co-pilot back to Tennessee while Gail Hinshaw’s ashes rested on the back seat.

Jordan had never considered himself a cat person.  Or a dog person, really.  He liked animals well enough, but he had never had a pet.  As a kid he would befriend the occasional stray that wandered around, but there was never any long term attachment.  The wayward cat or dog that happened by would inevitably be carted off by animal control at his mom’s urging, or simply frightened away by her.  Any time he asked outright for a puppy, a kitten, or even a goldfish once, his mom, without fail, gave him the same answer:  “I can’t afford you, do I look like feeding some mutt or something?”

So a pet never materialized, and it carried over to his adult life.  Jordan had thought of adopting a dog or cat from an animal shelter, but it was always just a thought, never a serious consideration.

Parked at a convenience store across the Tennessee state line, Jordan considered Miss Smittens.  He had bought a small bag of cat food, a bowl, and bottled water.  The cat sat on the floor of the car and ate, lapped water.  When she had finished, she sat on the seat to lick her paws and wash her face.

Miss Smittens was a beautiful cat.  Long, silky, black fur, capped with white paws to match her chest and belly.  She meowed, eyes half closed, winking.

Jordan rubbed her chin.  She lifted her head to get the full attention and began a deep purr.  The cat lowered and tilted her head to be scratched.

“I guess you’re my long lost gift.”  A consolation gift for how many giftless Christmases and birthdays?  All of them that Jordan remembered, all of them that he had so easily forgotten and repressed.  His childhood witnessed Christmases with no gifts, trees, or decorations.  His birthdays were ignored, called by his mom “just another day” or “a day I want to forget.”  Those barbs only came if she was at home, and she spit the bile sober, drunk, or during whichever drug induced haze or craze.

Jordan’s warm holiday memories were replaced with bitter incidents of finding his mom passed out on the floor or cursing her disappointment of a life.  That was every day, though, not just the holidays.  He had a childhood of broken dishes, pawned televisions, strangers lodging for extended stays, and cold cereal for supper when it was available.  He endured his mom “entertaining company” or finding her paranoid and locked in a closet.

Gail Hinshaw was never a candidate for mother of the year.  Even clean and sober she was a cold woman, full spite and hate.  She never told her son she loved him.  He had no recollections of hugs, bedtime stories, no miraculous healing of boo-boos with tender, motherly, kisses.

Jordan’s was a childhood of neglect.  Sometimes a smack would have been preferable to him, a quick hit to get it over with.  A slap was a touch, a contact no matter how distorted or construed.  Instead he received from her musings of why she had him, why she kept him.  “What I want with a kid?” she’d say and hock a wad from the deep hell of her bowels and spit it on the floor.  He had nights left alone in scary slum houses, never knowing if she was coming home or what condition to expect her in.  He was on the cutting end of the coldest of shoulders, he was ignored, he was not thought of or considered.  He was a burden, made to feel unwanted and despised.

Jordan abandoned his hopes and wishes for a true mom long before he matured physically.  He accepted himself and navigated his own course of survival and as soon as he could, he walked out the door from Gail for the last time.  He never wondered how his childhood may have affected him, if he had grown into some form of a stunted adult or flawed human being.  He thought himself normal, he didn’t think he was any different than his childhood friends or any of his present acquaintances.  He had dated, but no girlfriend lasted longer than the three years with Sara.  She had been the only woman, so far, he had, possibly, seen himself marrying and starting a family.  He could see himself as a husband and dad, it was something he wanted some day.

For everything he endured from, and with, his mom, he was not angry at her.  Not now, as an adult, anyway.  He gave up the anger and hate eventually, and it was like a weight cut free.  Those feelings became indifference and indifference pity.  He concluded, to himself, that his mother was troubled, she couldn’t break loose from the devils that hounded her, be they real or imagined.  She couldn’t shake the past or give up its ghosts.  She let it eat her alive.  Jordan knew Gail Hinshaw had no business having a child.  The demons bested his mom, they danced together, but he refused to let them wrestle him into submission.  He fell through the cracks of whatever system society had in place and survived.

Jordan ushered Miss Smittens back into the carrier and set the supplies beside the white box on the back seat.  Settling behind the wheel, he thought maybe, in the end, his mom had become someone different.  It was known to happen to people sometimes, wasn’t it?  They softened, they had a “change of heart” when stranded in their autumnal years.  The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the long march to death is buoyed by repentance.

The cat was purring as Jordan returned to the interstate.

“Sara’s gonna love you,” Jordan said after a while.  “She’s my best friend.”

Miss Smittens rubbed her face against the crisscross bars of the carrier door.  Jordan scratched at her proffered chin.

“When neither of us are dating anyone, we kind of find our way back to each other.  Is that odd?”

The cat meowed.

“Yeah, I should probably ask Sara.  Or someone.  You’ll like Sara, though, she’s pretty awesome.”

Miss Smittens blurted a short growl and her paw shot through the bars, raking claws across the back of Jordan’s hand.

Jordan jerked his arm up and the car swerved right to the rumble strips.  He cut the wheel too hard and the world turned end over end.

The car flipped three times before settling with a crunch.  Upside down, the seat belt cut into Jordan hard enough to fear he was halved.  His mother’s ashes floated around him in the wreckage, he squinted at them in his eyes, spat them from his mouth.  He saw the pet carrier sitting on its side outside the shattered passenger window, the door ripped off.  Miss Smittens sat in the sunshine cleaning her claws.

Jordan coughed, disturbing his mother’s cremains that had settled in the back of his throat and which had coated his mouth.  He sneezed her out of his nose.

Miss Smittens stretched and yawned.  The cat rubbed up against the side of the car and came towards him.

Jordan could hear cars pulling to the shoulder of the road, panicked voices.

The cat came to him, sniffed his face and nuzzled her snout to his mouth.

#

Remarkably, Jordan was not seriously injured.  An ambulance arrived promptly and he was extricated from his ruined car.  He was rushed to the nearest hospital and Miss Smittens was pampered and spoiled, first by the paramedics and then by the hospital staff.

Jordan was lucky to escape all but unscathed, a sentiment echoed by the emergency room doctors and nurses.  He had an overnight stay for observation and Sara arrived the next morning to bring him home.

“She’s so beautiful,” Sara said of Miss Smittens as she placed her in a new pet carrier.

“Yeah,” Jordan said.

Sara caught the annoyance in his voice.  He had been brusque over the phone the night before, which she attributed to the wreck.  He had a right to be short and ill-tempered, she probably would be in the same situation.  Maybe learning his mother died and crashing his car rattled Jordan’s brain.  A concussion could explain his bizarre request.

“When did you start smoking?”  Sara laid a new pack of cigarettes, Marlboro Reds, and a lighter, on the bed.

“Oh, good, I figured you’d forget,” Jordan snatched them.  “Bring your car around, I’m ready to get the hell out this trash heap.”

“Jordan-”

“What?” he looked at her, malignant.  “Get the car.  Or am I gonna have to get the damn thing myself?”

Sara did as she was told, stung, but trying to be patient.  She loaded Miss Smittens into the car and held the door for Jordan when the nurse brought him down in the wheelchair.

“You have a safe trip home,” the nurse said.

“Thank you,” Sara replied.

“Whatever,” said Jordan.  “Put this rat hole in the rear view.”

Sara slammed his door.  “Good luck,” the nurse fled.

Jordan’s attitude didn’t improve on the road.  He insisted on chain smoking, demanded Sara stop for a case of beer, and threw every slur and offensive gesture at the other cars on the highway.

Sara choked on smoke and lowered her window for air.  “What has gotten into you, Jordan?”

“What do you mean?” he blew smoke which flew right into Sara’s face.

“All of this,” she said.  “I’m sorry your car is totaled and your whole trip has been a bust, but come on, you need to get out of this mood.”

“What mood, honey?” he huffed.

“Listen, I’m sorry about all this with your mom-”

“Save your breath,” Jordan said and lit yet another cigarette.

“You won’t be like her, you know,” said Sara.  “If that’s what you’re worried about.  You don’t have to worry about turning into her.  You’ll be a great dad when you have your own kids.”

Jordan laughed.  “Kids just ruin your life.  You have to bargain with whatever god will listen for a chance to ruin the little snot’s life. ”  He puffed on the cigarette.  “Besides, what I want with a kid?”

He called up a wad and hocked it on the floor of the car.