Mr. Karl’s Saga
I was leaving the office late the other evening when I noticed a light on in the conference room. I peeked inside and there was Mr. Karl staring at a much younger photograph of himself in a naval uniform on the wall. He was also clutching an open bottle of whiskey. Before I could slip away he said, Come here, Vinégar! I muttered that I had an engagement but he ignored me, pulled up two chairs and said, Park it right here. Then he took a swig from the bottle, wiped the top of it with his sleeve and passed it to me.
In the spirit of companionship, I took a drink. The whiskey burned a fire down to my belly and then set the rest of my body ablaze. Pointing to the photograph, Mr. Karl said, Who’s that? Why, that’s you, sir, I replied brightly. I know that, he snapped. I mean, who is he? What does he want? Where is he going?
He’s not going anywhere, I said quickly, because he’s already arrived. He’s at the top of his game. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Mr. Karl muttered. He took the bottle from me and drank again. Do you know, he said, that I joined the navy to see the world? But I spent the whole Goddamn time in San Diego! I had chronic motion sickness. I couldn’t stop throwing up.
That’s too bad, I said. He ignored me and continued. So when I left the navy I thought I’d see the world by train. I took a train to Mexico and then all the way down through Central America. How fascinating, I smiled. I hated it, he snarled. Hated the food, hated the climate. Do you know they have bugs the size of rabbits down there? Really? I replied. Well, they do! He insisted, as if I had been arguing with him.
Mr. Karl pushed the bottle on me again and said… So then, I thought, I’ll go to Europe, the old country. Do you know where my folks are from? No, I don’t, I shrugged. Neither do I, he sobbed. He was quite drunk now and I was beginning to see double myself. I hated Europe even more! He continued. They’ve got funny money, they don’t know how to make a decent hamburger and they don’t speak English! What do you think of that?
But surely they spoke English in England, I said. You mean, Jolly good? Old chap. Pip, pip, pip! He snorted in a terrible English accent. It was crap. I couldn’t understand a word of it. He paused to drink again. So I came home and I started this map company. Now everyone thinks I’ve been all over the world. That I love to travel. But I don’t. I hate it. Now you know the truth. He leaned in close enough for me to count his little yellow teeth. And if you tell a Goddam soul, Vinégar, I’ll cut your heart out! You get me? Yes, I nodded vigorously. That’s what they do in the navy, he went on. They cut your heart out. Oh, fifteen men on the dead man’s chest. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, he sang.
I was beginning to wonder if Mr. Karl had even seen the ocean let alone been in the navy, when suddenly he stood up and started a hornpipe around the chair before collapsing in a heap on the floor.
I don’t remember how I got Mr. Karl home or how I got home myself but I when I arrived in the office the next day Mr. Karl acted as if nothing had happened and I wondered if I had dreamt it all.
I heard Mr. V coming up the stairs before I saw him. He was singing and shouting and when he opened the door he almost fell into the apartment. I’d never seen him like this before and so I hid under the bed. Jone-zee! He said in that sing song voice he sometimes uses. Why are you running away? Come here. I want to talk to you. I crept even further under the bed. Jone-zee! Come on out. He got down on his hands and knees and squinted at me. Don’t you like me anymore?
I didn’t answer. I like you, he said, I do. He put his forehead on the floor and stared at me. I didn’t trust him so I didn’t move. If you don’t come out I’ll have to come in and get you, he said in that sing-song voice.
He started to crawl under the bed but he’s much too big and he banged his head. Ow! he yelled. Jone-ZEE! Come here! He reached out his hand out to me! I moved back against the wall. He obviously hadn’t vacuumed under the bed in a while because little clumps of carpet were stuck to his chin and he spat out a feather. Come here! He said, I’m not going to hurt you.
I know you’re not, I thought, that’s why I’m staying as far away as possible. He stretched his hand out again and I swatted it with my paw but good. Jone-ZEE! He shrieked. You stuck me! He sucked at his finger which was bleeding. Then he put his head sideways on the floor and looked at me. You know what you are? He said. You’re an ungrateful little pussy cat. I’m never going to speak to you again. And he closed his mouth to show that he meant it. What was I supposed to do? A few seconds later his eyes closed and he started snoring. Horrible, loud snores just like the vacuum cleaner. After that it was easy to slip past him and out the door which he had forgotten to close.
When I came back the next morning, Mr. V was getting dressed. Boy, did he look a mess. He left for work a little while later with bits of lint still sticking to his hair and clothing. I almost felt sorry for him. I mean I understand the need to let go every once in a while but Mr. V should try cat nip instead of whatever he was doing. Catnip’s an energy rush. Of course you’ve got to be careful about how much you take. I heard of one cat who ate a whole packet of catnip and then went to the local dogpark and said, Which one of you pussies is man enough to take me on? He was never heard of again. But that’s an extreme case. If Mr. Vinégar ate a packet of catnip he’d probably just climb up and down the curtains several times and then fall asleep on the floor like I do. Come to think of it that is something I’d love to see.
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