Sea-Cats

“Them’s sea-cats,” Jud said. “They got webbed foot. Swim like a duck.”

The room was warm, and the poor, wet creatures in the tin tub were shivering with fright. Jud’s wife was standing on top of her shoes in front of the screen-door, fanning herself from the waist with her flour-stiff apron and staring out at the parched garden. Jud was wearing reflector sunglasses, and when he looked straight at me I could see the zit on my chin. I told him I’d give him fifteen dollars for the pair of them. He took twenty.

When we got in the car, I asked Esther to help me take the black plastic fake webbed feet off the cats. It took a long time; Jud had hooked those feet on with black electrical tape. “I don’t know how he held them still long enough,” I said. But Esther had lost her sense of humor.

“Richard, I don’t know where you meet people like that,” she said, rubbing a cat’s foot.

“His wife is dumb and he drinks,” I told her, as if that would explain anything.

“Jesus,” she said. “Maybe he gave them tranquilizers,” I said.

The cats sat in Esther’s lap on the way back to town, sleeping and staring and licking their paws in turn. They really were docile. Glancing at Esther’s thin hands, I thought to myself that she was unbearably stupid, and then I felt bad about thinking that. Her fingernail polish was cracking. The road was wavy with heat. I imagined that my fingers were connected by delicate webs of almost translucent flesh. And I could not touch Esther or look at my hands for several days afterwards.

. . .

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