the wobbly bits of squeezy cat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Jackie Portano and Cabrilla Lee had a chance encounter years before they fell in love; little did they know, their fondness of an obscure children's book would lead them to the happiness both had desperately sought..

The Wobbly Bits of Squeezy Cat

AJ Alexander

 

Jackie Portano was used to the silence. Still, he fidgeted nervously as the therapist paused to scribble notes on her legal pad.

Perhaps her upcoming pronouncement was the breakthrough he was looking for. It wasn’t. Instead, she reminded him of how far he’d come by trolling the depths of his despair. He was sober now. Productive. An integral part of the day to day. Whatever his problems in life – and no matter the final outcome – she was assured of two things; one, he wouldn’t drink, and two, he’d eventually find what he was looking for. But he needed to stop playing the hypochondriac.

It really was that simple, she told him.

Jackie wasn’t so sure; in fact, after nearly nine years of abstinence, a drink was starting to look good to him.

He wiped the long strands of graying blonde hair from the sides of his elongated sideburns and adjusted the bulk of his nearly three hundred pound frame, his South Philadelphia accent like a megaphone inside the tiny, cramped office of Mesa Drive in Queen Creek, Arizona. “I hear what you’re saying, doc,’ he told her finally. “And no doubt you hit the ball outta the park - more times than I can shake a stick at. But this time...”

“…It’s gonna be different?” she finished. The diminutive woman with the round bifocals and red dyed bouffant crossed her tanned legs as she tossed the pencil atop the glass table next to her, sighing heavily. “Jackie, you have to stop doing this to yourself,” she said.

“Stop?” he told her, standing to frantically pacing the room. “No, I can’t stop. Something’s gone terribly wrong. I can’t tell you what it is that’s gone wrong. I just know that it has. Sure, I agree with you…it all looks good on the outside. A house, a wife, no troubles with family or the law - and friends. Lots of friends. A lifetime of companionship on the Double A Ranch. However, when it comes to living life, there’s just no smack to it anymore. No soul. Not a higher meaning in anything I see, taste, smell, or touch; even with my illustrious occupation on full steam, the true meaning of that which I seek has escaped me - and despite my best intentions, too. It’s like I’m in a vacuum of who-see what’s its, suckers, whores, dry drunks and Jesus freaks - all of ‘em circling the drain in a countless vain attempt to prove to me they’ve the true meaning of life and I should stop to take a gander and do what they tell me. And even though I’m as clueless as the rest of those slothful bastards, one thing I do have is the will to muster the courage, at least, to tell you - and anyone within earshot - the truth concerning my existence.”

Another round of uncomfortable silence was quick to follow.

She stood up as he sat back down, shrugging her shoulders, and saying with a smile, “Time’s up, I’m afraid.” And with that thought he sighed, retrieving a thick wad of hundred dollar bills from his pocket to toss some upon the desk as he wiped his brow with a handkerchief. The therapist walked daintily around the large desk and took a seat, sliding the money deliberately into the top drawer while writing out his receipt. “Where to this time?” she asked him directly.

“Just the Talking Stick,” he answered. “No flights outta town, nor long drives through prairieland.” Then he turned, shook his head, and made his way quickly out the door.

The sound of her voice stopped him dead in his tacks. “Jackie?” she shouted. When he turned, he noticed she was fine and relaxed, stoic, and angry as he awaited her utterance. “Remember my story,” she told him, “and have a great weekend.”

The sports car was trolling across Carefree Highway when her words finally resonated…

Her story. Truly one for the ages. That’s what she called the Voice. A chance meeting between two strangers who met, fell in love, and married within thirty days of laying eyes on each other. She was sitting on a park bench, his arm around her shoulder, casually sipping a latte when he mentioned his vision of God. And then she knew. He was the one.

Thirty years had come and gone since the day which culminated on that sunny afternoon upon a bench on the campus of Missouri State, and it was as glorious now as it was then.

Love.

The ultimate opiate. And the only path to the meaning of life. When two souls meet and join in a moment when the world stops spinning, and the only thing they see is each other.

In the profession of addiction therapy, such a dalliance might well be construed as co-dependency; but when it’s right, she told him, you’ll know - and nothing in the world can pull it asunder.

Portano had a taste of that back in ‘83. She was a Danish undergrad visiting a family friend stateside. They met at a pool party; she’d come off the porch entrance as the sun blazed upon the elegant suburb, which captured both her soul and his attention. The two talked endlessly until the party concluded, never once bothering to take a dip in an effort to cool off, breaking only when her date angrily told her it was time for them to leave. And the next day, she arrived at his house, asking him to join her for coffee and donuts.

And that, as they say, was that.

The summer went by like an errant breeze in 1983, drifting aimlessly atop the luscious green landscape, its majesty outwitted only by two people who spoke volumes without ever saying a word.

Everyone knew they were meant for each other; and, at the end of the summer, when she invited Jackie to return to Copenhagen, each had their family’s blessing. What they didn’t know, and possibly couldn’t know, was that Jackie would decline her offer on the very day they were to leave, just as the taxi pulled into the driveway.

Not only did it break her heart, it changed his life forever.

Few people can recall the one or two true crossroads in life, a time when Fate intervenes and provides an inroad which makes its receiver not only happy and contented, but blessed - and also help them avoid the many pratfalls which come, should the person reject this precious gift. Few who reject it remember it. But Jackie, as it turned out, was one of those people. Not only could he recall it like it happened yesterday, he still feel the moment, too.

He went buck wild soon after her departure, watching almost as a spectator while his life spun out of control. Where moments of happiness were replaced by periods of excitement which ended as quickly as they began.

The Voice, as it were, had remained silent ever since.

Like the therapist, that, too, was thirty years ago; now, as he trudged into Talking Stick and made his way to the poker room, what he thought his life would be like had all but vanished - save for that one, lingering moment.  

Yet even with these thoughts lodged firmly within, and the despair which he fought so hard to avoid, it proved a profitable session. And as the clock struck eight he yawned, removed the fedora from his head, scratched his tussled hair, scooped his chips into the plastic rack, and made his way toward the cage, where a bevy of hundred dollar bills awaited.

It was as mundane and routine as he’d come to expect. But as he walked tepidly towards the hallway, surrounded by those glittering, clanking slot machines, his mind focused only on what he owed, and what he’d put into play tomorrow, and without thoughts of his miserable marriage and dry, alcohol free existence, Fate stepped in once again.

She came around the corner stumbling and bumbling, her drink spilling across her fingers, her voice screaming obscenities at some unseen stranger when she ran into his massive frame, the cocktail spilling across Jackie’s Tommy Bahama as she fell face first to the floor. His initial instinct was to wipe himself off; after all, her drink smelled to high heaven. But when she saw her struggling to get to her feet, he bent down and offered help. She looked comical, though - and he was unable to hide his widening grin. “Are you okay, miss?” he asked, extending his hand toward hers.

She swiped it away forcefully. “Get the fuck away from me you fat motherfucker!” she shouted. Jackie pulled back quickly as she tried getting to her feet; however, one of her high heels broke off, and she fell on her ass. This time, Jackie couldn’t help himself; he laughed louder than her screaming could drown out.

While things happen like that in casinos all the time, until now Jackie hadn’t been privileged to take part in it. It was a nice interlude as he made his way towards his car, something to smile and laugh about, and take his mind off things. But when she approached him from behind, and shoved him with such force that he went tumbling straight down onto his face, the comedy had all but vanished.

“That’s what you get for leaving me on my ass, fucker!” she yelled, her accent decidedly southern. “Think about that while you stuff your face at the buffet you no good piece of shit!”

Jackie stood and dusted himself off, trying to look nonchalant as the lady continued her verbal assault and his face turned a beet red which surrounded his long sideburns. He dare not deflect her with sarcasm, for she may have a man handy, ready to thump him senseless. And Jackie was too old, and too out of shape, to go mano a mano with another. “Very sorry for your troubles, ma’am,” he told her, turning to continue his journey toward the parking lot.

The hand on his shoulder sent ripples down his spine. “Oh, no – you’re not getting off that fucking easy,” she told him, turning him to face her. Given the circumstances, it was unusual he noticed how tall and attractive she was; curly blonde hair, green eyes, and small, perky breasts, with legs that wouldn’t quit underneath that shiny cocktail dress. Portano didn’t hear a word as she continued to shout obscenities.

Surprisingly, his staring calmed her down, and she put her hands to her hips and tilted her head knowingly. “Get ya a good look there, buddy?” she chuckled.

“Sorry,” he smiled.  And then it hit him. “Hey!” he shouted, pointing toward the cut out. “You’re Cabrilla Lee, the lounge singer, aren’t you?” he asked her.

She smiled, forgetting her anger as she struck a pose Geisha style. “A fan?” she asked.

“Um, no,” he replied. “I’m only here to play cards. But your picture’s all over the place. They say you’ve the most soulful voice ever to come outta Louisiana.”

And the two of them stood for the longest time, silent, looking like the oddest of couples; she with her handsome, drunken appearance - and he with his aging, hippie like Elvis mass. She swiveled her glances to and from, first to him, then around the large, colorful room as if she were looking for someone. Cabrilla seemed decidedly uninterested, as he fully expected her to be; however, each time he turned to leave, she’d stop him in his tracks, providing a pained, yet hopeful, expression. It was very confusing.  And after the third try, when she stopped him again, he looked at her ruefully and said, “Miss, I’m very flattered – but I’m married.”

“I don’t wanna fuck you, you dumb son-of-a-bitch!” she blurted out laughing. “I’m a collector of men is all.”

He looked at her inquisitively. “A collector of men?” he repeated.

To which she nodded her head. “Yeah. I like it when I capture a man’s attention. It’s the only way I get to feel special…”

“Well, good luck with that,” he told her, the magic of the moment lost as he turned to leave a final time. So when he felt her hand on his shoulder, he squeezed it until it hurt. Cabrilla gasped, stunned by his reaction as she winced in pain. Jackie glanced over his shoulder and hurried away as fast as his feet could take him, laughing as he drove home, thinking of Cabrilla writhing around the casino floor drunker than a wino at a homeless shelter. That the feeling was fleeting, and soon lost, was what he’d come to expect.

And when he returned home he found what he also expected; a house in tatters, the wife gone, and a slew of unpaid bills lying on his desk. He ordered a large pizza and flipped on the television, content in his loneliness, his body aching from the trip and all those hours on the felt as he drifted off to sleep.

Another year would pass in the same fashion, with thoughts of Cabrilla arriving when he had a funny story to tell, her attractiveness matched only by the impishness of what stared at him from the other side of the mirror. And though he continued with his recovery, and with the staple of his loving therapist, things became decidedly worse. Eventually, they reached a crescendo, and Jackie, however impulsively it seemed, decided to finally make some changes.

She got the house and money, he the pleasure of rarely having to see her again. and one by one, those whom Jackie called friends departed in a row as he became withdrawn and isolated, even while continuing to compete. Though he was hurt, and angry - and very lonely, too - Portano’s life nevertheless began to get better...

It didn’t appear that way at first. He was still overeating and gambling with both nuts, and focused solely on his abject misery. But then, he began taking time to do the things he liked, things like reading a good book on the patio, or lazy strolls around the neighborhood. He went roller skating and jet skiing, even as heavy as he was. And every now and again, he went for dinner and a movie - sometimes, even with a friend. And as the years rolled by his eating habits changed, his weight dropped noticeably, and all thoughts of poker vanished in the wake of the Arizona desert heat. He took a job managing the gym he’d spent nearly two years working out at, and meetings became a staple of his recovery.

And soon thereafter, and without ever thinking about it, a whole new construct and sense of being began to take root…

He strolled into the therapist’s office on the eve of his fifty-fifth birthday, happy as clams and with a spring in his step he hadn’t seen since he was twenty. The pair chatted away while the scribbling in the notebook, though ongoing, became noticeably less frequent as Jackie found his stride. Finally, when a lull in the conversation appeared, she referred to one of her notes and asked him, “So, have you made any inroads in your romantic life, Jackie?”

To which he lowered his head and winced painfully at the floor. “Awe doc…why you gotta ask me that?” he wondered.

“Because…with all you’ve accomplished, it remains the final straw, if you will, in an otherwise completely contented and peaceful way of life.”

“My life doesn’t need a relationship to be completed,” he told her.

“That’s not true,” she told him, “and I’m wondering why it is you feel the need to avoid this conversation.”

“Oh, I’m not avoiding it, doc…I’m passing it by entirely,” he told her.

“But why? Why avoid it when it’s so much a part of the human instinct?”

“Why? I’ll tell you why! Because I’ve been married before. And in my younger years when I ‘dated’, if you can call it that - the magic I looked for never materialized – save, of course, for that one brief moment with the Dane. So, that part of my life is over now. And truthfully, I believe things are better now that I don’t have a woman to complicate things and lead me astray. And yes, doc,” he finished, animated, “I know all about your story and how the only reason it happened was because you were open to the experience.”

“So why aren’t you open to the experience? Do you feel yourself unworthy of love?’

“But I am loved,” he answered. “Like the wobbly bits of squeezy cat, I know not to go on a bender – even if it is a romantic one. And whatever woman I pick, she’s bound to be just another piece of low hanging fruit. You know, doc, some doors just need to stay closed - and no amount of faith or will can ever force ‘em open again.” 

She dropped the pencil in her lap and stared incredulously. “The wobbly bits of squeezy cat?” she repeated.

To which he smiled broadly. “Yes. It’s the story my grandmother used to tell me when I was a kid. Squeezy cat used to sneak into his master’s cupboard and take food, even though he knew not to do it, and that if he ate that much he’d likely get wobbly bits and not be able to chase mice, forcing the master to put him outdoors. It’s an allegory reminding kids not to steal and like what they get, I think. Anyway, it’s one of those stories…just another story…another story…” He got that faraway look in his eyes as his voice trailed off.

The therapist quickly stood from her chair. “Time’s up,” she told him chipperly. So Jackie motioned to retrieve his checkbook and quickly wrote her a check. As he tossed it on her desk and thanked her for the ‘productive’ session, she responded, “Yes, Jackie. It was a good session. A particularly good session indeed! Which reminds me…are you still looking for a house?”

“Yepper…why do you ask?”

To which she replied, “I know a realtor who might be able to help you,” and handed him a card which he shoved in his pocket. “You may want to give her a call; I hear she’s good at finding what folks are looking for.”

Jackie didn’t give the matter much thought as he drove back to the apartment, for the day was nice and things were as good as they’d ever been. He wasn’t in any hurry. He was content to go with the flow, and see where that flow could take him.

Love, he thought to himself. if only the therapist knew how rare that really was.

Another week would pass before Jackie took the stuffed hamper to the laundry room. As he jammed his clothes into the front load, the card his counselor gave him popped out, and stuck to his boot as he made his way up the stairs. He took them off, laid them by the door, then made himself a sandwich. When he returned to the living room, the gold lettering glistened in the sun seeping through the curtains and caught his attention and, curious, he picked it off the floor and read it for the first time…

 

I.L. Coffee Realty

19764 Calamine Drive

San Tan Valley, AZ. 85143

Cappie L. Bardet, Associate

601-555-2020

‘Let Me Make Your Dreams Come True!’

 

There’s always a pitch, Jackie thought to himself – especially with cards as exotic as that one. It’s the instinctual nature of man, he thought - one which puts folks always on the make and always, without exception, on the lookout for the better deal. Jackie interpreted it as a lack of faith, and a part of the calling which he once ignored.

As it turned out, Jackie decided to slip the card in the visor of his Jetta and, one day, as he returned home amidst the monsoon which on occasion happened upon the Phoenix suburbs, he came upon a large, aging Tudor smack in the middle of a manicured street Jackie had never seen before. Because of the storm, and the fog upon his windshield, he was unable to see, and subsequently made that fateful wrong turn.

He pulled into the old home’s driveway and was ready to turn around when he noticed a realtor’s sign sticking out on the yard…

I.L. Coffee.

Even with its despair he could he it was once an extremely nice abode, and could be again if its new owner were committed to restoration. Unfortunately, the neighborhood was well-to-do, and likely out of his price range. Even still, he dialed the number on the card. The voice on the other end was chipper and raspy, and delightfully southern. “Good afternoon, Cappie Bardet,” she said.

Portano took a deep breath and responded. “Hello, yes…this is Jackie Portano. I was calling regarding a house on Calamine Drive…”

“The old Tudor?”

“Correct...”

“Wow!” the lady said. “That home’s been on the market for so long, I never thought we’d get a call about it. Have you seen it yet?”

“Yepper.”

“Well, it needs a lot of work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s charming – but it still needs a ton of TLC; hell, I’d buy it myself if it didn’t seem to be such a chore…”

To which Portano smiled. “Is that your sales pitch?’

“NO! I mean….”

“Don’t worry, I know exactly what you mean,” he chuckled. “I feel the same way, actually. I wasn’t in the market to get a house in need of repair, and this is a neighborhood a little out of my price range…”

“But not that house,” she answered defiantly. “As a matter of fact, it’s priced to sell, like I said. And by sell, I mean sell really quick.”

“Okay,” he told her after a minute. “When can we meet?”

“Well, where are you now?” She meant the area of town he lived in; but rather than say that, Jackie told her he was parked in front of the old house as they spoke, to which Bardet couldn’t believe her fortune. “Good! I’m right around the corner. See ya in about five minutes, okay?”

But the question was rhetorical, and she hung up before Jackie could answer. He was standing on the porch trying to peer behind the blinds when Bardet pulled into the driveway, smiling because she thought Jackie was cute, as well as interested in buying a home. It was only when he turned to face her, lured by that attractive and familiar voice, that he realized who Cappie Bardet actually was…

She was Cabrilla Lee.

When he blurted out her name on impulse she winced, trying in vain to remember where Jackie had seen her before. And without his long hair, Elvis sideburns, and obesity, she could’ve stared at him for eternity and never once remembered. It was unsettling that someone from her past was interested in having her sell him a house. Still, with her lounge act days behind her, and the sobering realty of discovering who and what she was in those days, that she’d would run into someone from intrepid her past – and on the fly, at that – must contain some hint of Divinity. At least, that’s what she was hoping.

Love, of course, was out of the question. But a hefty commission – well, that was a dream she could make come true. Still, she somehow couldn’t take her eyes off him – not like a collector of men, but as a woman struck by the serendipity of the moment.

Father Flynn said it would happen that way. From the time she confessed her loneliness, she was told that – one day – a man would appear and take her breath away. Of course, she thought he was being polite; after all, at her age – and with her background – the belief of absolute love and trust in another human was a concept as foreign to her as woodworking.

Yet as the clouds parted, and the sun continued to make mist of the remaining drops of rain, as she watched Portano’s features soften, as the smile sat frozen upon his lips, her heart pounded so strongly, she was barely able to introduce herself. Jackie listened with enthusiasm her polite explanation which coincided with the reinvention, and finally the amalgam result, she ended her little speech by saying, “Like the wobbly bits of squeezy cat, I’d gotten used to thinking this was all there was – until what there was had actually started to kill me.”  

And there it was - as plain to him as was the nose on his face.

She was the one.

Of course, she would show him the house, which they both admired, before accepting his invitation to dinner. And they’d chat the night away at Fernando’s until the maître de said it was time to close, at which they opted for a late night meeting at a clubhouse in the strip. Cappie laughed when Jackie told her how they met; of course, she was so drunk she couldn’t remember, but it didn’t matter now. That was Cabrilla Lee, the invention of a diseased manifestation born from a childhood trauma which hadn’t left her until that very moment. And she was happy to be herself once more.

Her story, as it turned out, mirrored his to a tee, the only difference being the gambling and the singing, and the fact he gained a lot of weight during his early years of sobriety. But both hung around casinos. Both were married - and divorced - to despicable people. And both came from families which were difficult to connect to emotionally.

The pair remained inseparable and, ninety days later - and on the eve of Jackie’s last appointment with the therapist - the couple married. Upon returning from their Caribbean honeymoon, they quickly closed on the old Tudor, and spent the next several years restoring it to its former glory, with the house becoming a testament to the indomitable spirit of two very wayward and awkward souls who – in the midst of their healing – stumbled upon their misconceptions on two occasions, only to fall in love on the first pass, and come to realize it on the second.


Submitted: June 19, 2020

© Copyright 2021 AJ Alexander. All rights reserved.

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