This was something I wrote for myself on Christmas but since it's cold, wet, and sad where I am right now, I decided today was a good day to bring these feelings back out again.
Sebs pulled his coast tighter. It sure as hell wasn't warm out today, no, that was for certain. Never was this time of year. The air was icy and it could chill to the bone at this particular moment, even for someone who'd long grown used to the cold. It was the perpetually wet kind of weather that could never decide whether it wanted to be snow or rain and so settled on an unpleasant compromise that resembled neither. Sebs watched his foot make an impression in the slush, self-consciously raising it so as not to destroy the perfectly ugly footprint of crisp shoe lines in the marbled mush. It seemed he had not been imbued by the cold with a desire to move the way his fellow pedestrians had. They seemed pushed ever forward by an invisible whip, a manic spurt of energy that allowed them to single-mindedly pursue their goal, destination: 'inside' without hesitation. Rather, the cold seemed to be draining his willpower and motivation from him, leaving him moving in slow-motion while everyone else buzzed around him like ants. And besides, what was the point of trying to escape the cold. Sebs knew that you couldn't escape the cold. The most you were doing was shutting it out. Knew that even if he gone home and locked his door, sealed his windows tight and cranked the heat up as high as it could go…wrapped himself in the warmest blanket he owned and covered himself so no skin was exposed, he'd still be cold. The cold was always there waiting, just waiting, to sting your thin, weak skin, to freeze your feeble throat and lungs and needle your soft, vulnerable eyes.
The only way to get rid of the cold is when it damn well chooses to go away on its own.
No one else quite understands how cold can burn like fire, how ice can be harder than steel and leagues stronger. More binding.
His eyes had been trained to the ground but he caught the familiar flash of red in his periphery, heard a ringing bell. He reflexively dug in his pocket for some bills and change, duly and dully dropped them in the bucket for the charity solicitor; archetypal Santa suit and beard and words he couldn't hear.
It is Christmas, after all.
The peak of the Christmas season and people were rushing around him, arms laden with shopping bags. The city was lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, the perpetually moist weather making the softening the yellow glow and making the world look like watercolors a second away from running. Fuzzy and blurry like a Van Gogh painting with none of the mirth. Those paintings Van Gogh was really known for were only objects, environments. Rarely people. It was as if he knew that a place could hold and trap feelings more than any human face. That a river could tell you all about the people who lived near it without you ever needing to see them.
He drove his heel through the slush, suddenly choosing to obliterate the footprints he had made as he watched a woman's children cling to her, all of them good-naturedly shouting to be heard over the din of the street.
This was the time of year when everyone had a purpose. A predetermined period marked by very specific missions, as if a whole year's worthlessness could be redeemed by two months of parties, two days of presents and constant talk of 'goodwill' that never seemed to come into effect. The mucky precipitation started coming down harder, globs of freezing shit falling on his head and coat, threatening to enter the pockets where his hands were taking refuge. He's long given up thoughts of how much he hated this weather, said it made him feel drained and miserable and dreary like he was never going to be happy again. How much it made him miss the sun and the green hills and the trees and the smell of grape fields in the summer. How much he hated being cold, couldn't tolerate cold weather even though at times he seemed to produce insane levels of body heat at odds with his usually bloodless hands.
He'd given up these thoughts but they'd come all the same.
Mercifully, he'd found himself by, then in his building and out of the damn near literal shit-storm as it started to worsen.
He trudged upstairs; if there were any other people in the lobby or the hallway, he didn't see them.
He entered his apartment, same as always, barely taking note of the HAPPY HOLIDAYS! flyer printed on green computer paper taped next to his door. Someone had placed them at strategic points throughout the hallway. Besides it being against building policy (he was pretty sure), the fact that anyone had the patience or interest to do such a thing was beyond him. Did this poor sap actually think people gave a damn? Was he or she delusional enough to think that some piece of paper would actually make a difference in someone's day? That it would do little more than distract them? Or, god forbid, somehow make them happy?
He considered, for a moment, going back out and ripping it off the wall, just for spite. But that requires caring and he doesn't do that any more, does he?
He dropped to his couch, only thinking of the way he used to complain about it being not warm, plush, cozy enough. The way he would whine about it being too slick and without character, demanding the warmest blanket in order to be comfortable and promptly wadding himself up in it in a way that didn't seem like it should be possible for a man of almost six feet.
It was a damn big blanket, and warm, and his apartment was as cold as ever despite the heating that he knew was on. But Sebs really didn't have the patience for comfort right now.
His eyes sought out the small pile of gifts in the corner and his stomach turned uncomfortably. They'd been sitting there since yesterday's unpleasant… "conversation"… and he hadn't the heart to move them.
Her words of rejection were forcing their way into his ears, his traitorous mind trying to bring them back up like vomit.
"I'm afraid of you, really…"
Their fight had gone from would-be civil and evasive to explosive very quickly and it was all Sebs could do not to become so fucking angry all over again.
He needed to get rid of them, though, the presents. He'd wanted the kids to have them, after all. And he sure as hell didn't want to look at them anymore.
He considered mailing them, a suitable enough act of passive aggression. Or leaving them on her doorstep with the requisite bag of flaming dog shit. The thought warmed him temporarily, though he knew it wasn't exactly conducive to improving the situation.
Merry Christmas to you too, sis.
He tries to clear his mind, sink into the sofa, maybe watch whatever garbage is on TV but his mind rounds yet again on the reason for the fight, the mood, the whole damn mess that his life had become.
Screw Jesus, Tom is the reason for the season.
He couldn't escape the accusatory, nagging thoughts of what he was doing this time last year while his friend had been confined to the concrete hole he'd hated like nothing else. Work, though he could barely believe it now. The job that meant so much to him that he was still balls-deep in it the next day, while most normal people were spending time with their families.
The thoughts grew more insistent, increasingly morbid.
What was he doing while Tom (fucking Tom, of all people. After all this time it was still hard to really understand) was out murdering people? Banging away on his precious laptop, no doubt. Or, god forbid, sleeping.
While Tom burned, Sebs was sleeping.
The sound of the buzzer startled him out of suffocating hold of his thoughts.
Who the hell wanted to buzz him?
If she wants him to apologize, she's about to be extremely disappointed. If she wants to apologize to him, well, he'll burn that bridge when he comes to it.
He dragged himself off the couch and connected to the intercom system.
Why bother with formalities? She knew who she was calling.
It wasn't Blanche.
It wasn't even female.
"I'm here for your neighbor."
"Then call her. Goodnight." The last thing he needs is to get involved with someone's domestic drama.
"No! Wait. I need to leave something for her. She's my friend. It's Christmas…"
"I know what day it is. Leave it at the desk."
"There's no one at the desk, that's why I'm calling you. Besides, it needs to be there when she gets home. I want her to find it."
Jesus, at this point he can only imagine something in the realm of a decapitated animal.
"People in this building steal. If you leave it outside her door, you'll lose it." He's not sure if people in this building steal and he's pretty sure most of them they never have but he doesn't need the weight of letting some potential killer or robber in the building on his conscience.
"You hold onto it, then."
"No." He said flatly. With his luck, it'd probably be a bomb. And anyway, he's had enough of people and their baggage.
"Have a heart."
"Come on," the guy practically whined, "I'll deal with it if it gets stolen, you can watch me come in and leave, I just need to do this now, today, before I lose my nerve. Please. It's Christmas…"
"Alright, alright. Fine."
Sebs pulled on his coat and reluctantly headed downstairs. The hallway and the lobby were just as cold as the outside, if not (somehow) colder. He was despondent, not a masochist.
When he made it to the bottom of the stairs, he saw some younger guy, maybe early twenties (must be) waving at him enthusiastically through the glass door. Sebs took his time getting there.
"So, where's the fire?"
The guy looked at him, confused.
"What's so damn urgent?"
"Well, me and her, we've been friends forever and I like her, I really like her, and what better day to tell her, Christmas Eve and all…"
"You've seen too many Christmas movies, kid."
"I want to do it now because I want her think about it, I want her to be sure. And if she is sure…I want her…to kiss meatmidnightthisyear. Finally."
"Well, good luck with that."
"So, can I put it by her door?"
'It' seems to be a small-ish box, shoebox-sized but not shoebox proportions.
He shook it gently, as if to make a point. There was a soft thud, maybe a smaller box and an envelope, a letter.
"Seems harmless enough," he used his condescending 'grownup' voice, the one he'd once thought he might use if he ever became a teacher of some kind. "I'm warning you now, though; if there's something in that box that shouldn't be there, something that will get either of us in trouble, this lobby has cameras. Good ones. They'll know exactly what you look like. They'll know what I look like too, but intercom conversations are recorded and they'll know that I had nothing to do with it. And don't even try to deny it: perjury can get you jail time. You're absolutely sure there's nothing dangerous or hurtful or in any way inappropriate in that box?"
The kid paled, but shook his head 'no'.
"I promise. It's just about her and me. I don't wanna hurt her."
"Nothing she might perceive as inappropriate?"
The kid flushed, his face becoming set.
"If she does, I'm willing to own it."
"Brave. I wish you luck."
The kid eyed him suspiciously.
"I'm still following you up there and seeing you out. After you."
It was a decent performance, he thought, his best in some time. Tom would have been proud.
He regretted the thought almost immediately, not knowing where it had come from.
"Are you married?" The kid asked, warily making his way up the stairs.
"Why you ask?"
"I want to know what it's like, being an adult, an adult's relationship. I can't wait to be an adult, an actual adult."
"Why? Honestly, why?"
"There's so much uncertainty when you're young. Everyone thinks you're a kid and you spend all your time waiting for those things you're 'supposed' to do. Your youth is supposed to be the best time of your life and you can't even enjoy it. To find your soul mate, someone who you'll spend the rest of your life with…I want the rest of my life to start as soon as it can."
"You're talking about your life like it's some kind of separate entity. You don't get it: you're living your life. I know it's a cliché but don't be in such a hurry to grow up, there's nothing waiting for you."
Nothing but loneliness and death.
"You're an adult."
"I'm not that old, kid."
"But you are an adult?"
"I guess so."
"So, you must know more than you did when you were my age?"
"I know that it's Christmas Eve, as you keep so graciously reminding me, and that you ask too many questions."
They reached his neighbor's apparent doorway. The kid looked at the gift for a long moment before almost reverently placing it on her doorstep.
The kid nodded and Sebs followed him back down the steps.
"There's gotta be something good about being an adult…"
He didn't know when to quit.
"What are the good things about the age you are now? Your accomplishments, the things that make you happy, the people around you. There's nothing else. Only as you get older, those things start to go away. You lose things and people. And you expect something to replace them, something to fill the hole and it doesn't. And you have to make it work with what you have and you cling to the things you think you have…" He realized that his words had nowhere to go.
The kid remained silent the rest of the way down the stairs and Sebs found himself following him to the door, though he could've remained at the foot of the stairs.
"Thanks. For letting me in."
Sebs felt his stomach twinge with uncomfortable weight of his previous statements.
"It's fine. Not a problem."
The kid started to leave and was on the sidewalk before Sebs opened the door again.
"Hey…I hope everything works out for you. Honestly." And he meant it.
"Thanks." The kid smiled a little, shuffled away.
Sebs went back inside; feeling the slightest brush against his legs as he did so, though when he looked down he saw nothing.
When he entered the lobby he saw one lone resident preparing to go upstairs, and a pair of big, green, eyes.
At floor level.
"Mrowr." Said the cat.
"Hey," Sebs turned to call to the only other person he'd seen. "You forgot your cat."
The guy'd disappeared already.
Right. Normal people take the elevator.
He realized how absurd the thought had been; people didn't just take their cats out like they do their dogs. And those who did were generally pretty clear about it.
"You came from outside, kitty."
That cat merely stared at him, refusing to confirm or deny.
The cat had short black hair-fur- and the most vague frosting of white around the top of his eyes and down his nose, his whiskers nearly white, which Sebs hadn't thought was possible.
The cat flicked his tail impatiently.
He was a little wet but didn't look too much the worse for the weather. He was lithe but not scrawny and had a longish body for a cat, as far as Sebs could tell.
"Somebody's been taking care of you, kitty. You belong to someone."
Sebs knelt down and extended a hand for the cat to sniff. Cat obliged, then nuzzled his hand, running the edge of his mouth on the side of Sebs' finger.
Upon closer inspection, Sebs couldn't find a collar or anything of the like. He supposed the cat could have been micro chipped, since apparently people were doing that now, but if that was the case than it should be easy for the cat's owners to reclaim him.
Sebs opened the door.
The cat blinked.
"Come on, kitty. You know you have a home somewhere. They need you back."
The cat lowered itself to the floor and rolled on its back.
"So you are a boy-cat. Good to know."
A few people were starting to enter the lobby and looking at Sebs curiously.
He was undaunted, though he did lower his voice a bit.
"Whasamatter, too wet outside for you?"
The cat looked up at him, little cat paws folded over his chest like a praying mantis and goddamn that was cute.
"I'm sorry, cat. If you won't cooperate with me, I have nothing else to say to you."
Sebs turned and quicker than a flash he felt something warm and soft rubbing against his calf, heard loud persistent purring.
"Fine. Fine. You can stay here, I guess."
As if he'd heard him, the cat darted up the stairs and waiting at the top, watching him impatiently, tail ticking from side to side.
"You shouldn't let your cat downstairs," said the young woman it had come from, "he seems to have a mind of his own."
"He's not my-"
"MWROWR!" the cat cried insistently from the top step.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. You're an impatient thing."
When Sebs reached the top of the stairs, the cat obediently waited to see where Sebs would go, following close behind. Sebs unlocked the door and sure enough the cat shimmied his way in. He sprinted through the living room and hopped up onto Sebs' kitchen table.
The cat obeyed.
"I'm guessing you want food, then."
"Okay…" Sebs dug in his cabinets for canned tuna, which would have to do for now. He also extracted a small dish, some small glass vaguely fancy-looking ice cream dish that he'd found in the apartment when he'd moved in. Tom used to call it the 'Petri dish', would make fun of how fruity it looked. It was the perfect size for one large scoop of ice cream.
Or a small can of tuna.
He set them both on the counter, pushing to one side the gift bag containing the crystal…thing he'd gotten for his mother. The cat watched him; he'd have to say no other way but hungrily, as he transferred the contents of the can into the bowl. He set it on the floor triumphantly and the cat attacked it almost immediately. The cat seemed content to have eaten half of it, sat back on his haunches and licked his… do cats have lips?
The cat started purring, loudly and insistently.
"I'm glad you like it."
He headed into the living room, somehow expecting the cat to follow. It did.
"I shouldn't let you stay in my house, you know," he said, only half joking, "You could have some kind of disease. Some funky kitty flu. The cat put his tail straight in the air, offended, and stalked off in the opposite direction. 'Fine, be that way' it seemed to say. It couldn't actually say anything.
Because it was a fucking cat.
Sebs decided he was done for the day and retreated to his bedroom, all pretense of being a functioning human being exhausted. He changed and sat on top of his bed, welcoming the potential for sleep. The cat appeared in the doorway.
"Everywhere I turn, you're there. Slithering like a goddamn snake. Snake. Jake the snake…"
The cat, Jake, merely tilted his head.
"I shouldn't let you stay here tonight without a litter box. You'll piss and shit all over the place. Won't you?"
"I'll deal with it in the morning. Try to foul up the bathtub, if you must."
Sebs burrowed under his covers, nearly hissing at the coolness of the sheets. Fabric should always be warm, he thought. It just didn't seem fair that the double-crossing things should be both soft and completely incapable of comforting properly.
Sebs had managed to fall into, not sleep, but at least a comfortable haze, when a warm, sudden weight dropped on his stomach.
"-the hell? Cat."
It was indeed.
The cat purred as if in answer.
"What are you doing?"
Jake nuzzled his hand, licked his fingers lightly with his sandpaper tongue.
"You're not going anywhere, are you?"
Jake curled himself into a ball and refused to 'answer' any further.
Sebs settled himself, head sinking into soft pillow.
Oh well. At least he's warm.