There was something not quite right about the window. He looked at it again. What was wrong? Ah, he thought. Mischka has pushed one of the window slats out of line. He reached over his desk and pushed the slat back in line with the others. He glanced out of the second story window and saw his neighbor Greg mowing the lawn in the back yard next door. He pulled back abruptly. No, no, no, he thought. I didn’t want to see Greg. I don’t want to think about Greg. What if that’s the last time I see Greg? That would be unbearable. His left hand wrenched the skin on his right arm…stop thinking about Greg.
He went downstairs. There were light shades on all the windows so he didn’t have to see outside, except for the window overlooking the part of the backyard where there weren’t any neighbors. He checked his front porch by looking through the eye hole quickly. Nobody was in sight. He opened the door and carried all his mail and packages inside, hurrying so Mischka wouldn’t be tempted to go outside and explore the front yard. Fortunately, she wasn’t a very curious cat, but he was always cautious all the same.
He’d always had issues with obsession-compulsion tendencies but they kicked into overdrive after his mother died and he was alone in the house. It had been so hard to accept the fact that he’d never see her again, and he began to feel the same way about everyone he saw. When he went to the grocery store, it was difficult to say goodbye to the check-out clerk, because, what if he never saw her again? He’d never see her smile or learn more about her. And that child in the next aisle over, how was he supposed to live without finding out what he liked to eat for lunch or what his favorite toys were? It was unbearable not to know. The child would leave with his mother and he’d never see him again and it was ridiculous but he had tears in his eyes. He was coherent enough not to say anything, but once he got into his car he wept.
Driving home he tried not to look inside other cars but he glanced at one coming the other way and saw an older woman with a serene smile on her face and he thought, I want to know why she is smiling. Her car drove past him and he felt a pull to do a u-turn and follow her so he could keep her in his life somehow, but there wasn’t a safe place to turn and then her car was gone and the pain of losing her wrenched his stomach.
He stopped opening the door to delivery men and they soon all learned to leave his groceries and other packages on the porch. He had a data entry job he could do from home and he left his house less and less. He had his work and he had Mischka and he had books to read and that was enough for him.
It was Summer which was his least favorite time of the year. Lots of kids playing up and down the street and neighbors out and people strolling out for a pleasant walk in the early evenings. He had to put his garbage can out for collection well after midnight, to make sure he didn’t see anyone. He saw a few of the neighborhood dogs running around but he didn’t feel the same way about dogs, so they were safe. Occasionally he’d hear the crackle and pop of firecrackers as it got closer to the Fourth of July.
The day before the holiday he opened his front door to get his packages, just as a loud bottle rocket went off just one house over. Mischka scooted out the front door. He’d never seen her run so fast.
“Mischka!” he yelled. “Come back!”
He quickly went across the porch and down the front steps after her, as she raced across the yard to the big Elm on the right corner of the lawn. She scurried up the tree and out of sight. It was his worst nightmare. He stood at the base of the tree, calling up to her.
“Mischka, sweetie, it’s okay. Daddy’s here. Come on Sweetie. Come down from there.”
A couple of kids riding their bikes screeched to a stop on the sidewalk, close to the tree.
“Is your cat up in the tree Mister?” one said.
“Yes,” he said, trying not to turn to look at them. “She got scared by a firecracker noise.”
“My dad can help,” the other said. “You want me to get my dad?”
There was nothing for it but to say yes.
“Please,” he said. “and hurry. She’s awfully scared I bet.”
They raced off on their bikes and shortly after he heard sirens.
“What is going on?” he thought, just as a fire truck came down the street and stopped next to him. The kid jumped out, as well as several firemen. Several neighbors came out of their houses to watch.
“Here’s my dad,” the kid said. One of the firemen shook his hand briskly, and shielded his eyes to look up into the tree. “I think one of the basic ladders,” he said to the other firemen. “She’s not real high up, at least not yet.”
They braced the ladder against the tree and in short order he was up the ladder and down again with Mischka cradled under one arm.
“Good as new,” the fireman said, and handed the cat to him. He held her tightly and looked around at the crowd that had gathered. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t have the words.”
“It’s so good to see you Sam,” his neighbor Amanda across the street said. There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd, and one after the other began to come up and pat him on the back or shake his hand. A few of the women gave him brief hugs and they all mentioned how much they had missed him.
He stood there, as they came up and the knot in his chest loosened with each touch. He nodded and said something back to each one and then as they started going back to their houses he went inside his.
He murmured to Mischka as he walked through the front door.
” I should be so mad at you for scaring me, but I am just so glad you are okay.”
He glanced at the front hall mirror and then looked again. There was something in the mirror he hadn’t seen for some time. There was a huge smile on his face.