Gen opened her eyes. In front of her was the ugly, brown, brick facade of Paradise Heights – just as ugly, brown and brick as it was when she had shut them. This was it. Her new home. She yawned and turned back to the open car boot to re-evaluate its contents. Apart from the furniture, due to be delivered later that day, four cardboard boxes and a few plastic bags contained everything in the world that she now owned.
Happily, Gen’s newfound minimalism coincided well with her newfound positivity towards life. Two days ago, she had been rummaging for used forks in an op shop crate labelled ‘MISC.’, when she’d instead come across the coffee-stained cover of Norman Panchea’s book, ‘Be a Better Human: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Figuring Out Life’.
It was only with Norman’s help (Principle #1: Shed your baggage) that Gen had been able to convince herself while packing yesterday that Those Four Boxes were actually symbols of her current freedom, rather than the result of being poor and alone.
Remembering this, she looked down at her symbols and forced her face into something of a skeletal smile (Principle #4: Smile!).
I was prepared for this, she thought, her teeth clenched. All part of the fresh, new start.
The old Gen was gone, after all. No longer would she sit back and let the waves of life wash over and shift her, like the grains of sand on an ocean shoreline. She was picking herself up. She was going to surf those waves! (Principle #7: Surf those waves!)
She stifled another yawn (Principle #2: Commit to being a Morning Person) and was just leaning over to pick up the first of the symbols, when a car pulled into the driveway and parked next to her own. She recognised the red Suzuki as belonging to her cousin.
‘Frankie!’ she said, as the driver’s side door opened.
A pair of long legs emerged, followed by the rest of a waif-thin man. The figure unfolded himself completely from the car, then turned towards Gen with open arms.
‘Gen!’ he said, grinning. The two embraced. ‘How are you?’
Gen shrugged. ‘Y’know. I’m fine. Good, even. Great!’
The man’s angled face twisted into an expression of concern.
‘Yeah, I heard about all your recent drama. Still… New start and all that.’
He gestured towards the brick wall beside him and waggled his eyebrows with a degree of enthusiasm the building’s aesthetics did not deserve. Gen nodded.
‘Not that I don’t love the surprise visit, but what the hell are you doing here? I haven’t seen you in months. How did you even know where I moved?’
‘I spoke with your mum,’ said Frankie. ‘I’ve come to lend a hand!’
Gen stared at him. She loved her cousin, but had never known him to be generous with favours unless there was some underlying benefit to himself. Then again, maybe he had matured since they’d last met. Her face softened into a smile.
‘That would actually be amazing. I’ve got this -’
‘Hey, by the way,’ said Frankie. ‘Do you remember Percy?’
Gen scoffed. ‘If you mean the hell-demon that almost scratched my eyes out a few Christmases ago…’
‘Oh, please.’ Frankie waved a hand. ‘He was just a kitten then. You can’t hold that against him. He thought your reindeer antlers were a toy.’
‘I still have a scar…’
‘He was upset by the music Mum put on. I told her Mariah was a dicey choice.’
‘There’s a chunk of my hair that has yet to grow back…’
‘I did tell her, you know. I said that to her, I said it’s Buble or it’s claws out. It was a deadly combination, what with the music and the flashing lights and the antlers and the snifter of Bailey’s he’d snuck from Uncle Terry. Things were bound to kick off.’
‘Frankie,’ said Gen slowly. ‘Why are we talking about Percy?’
Frankie cleared his throat and stared at the ground. ‘The point is that you guys never really got a chance to properly know each other.’
From within the vehicle came the muffled yet unmistakable sound of a feline sneeze. Gen took a tentative step forward as Frankie opened the car door. Sitting in a travel cage on the back seat was a black, snub-nosed cat, frowning up at the two humans with as much contempt as is possible for a cat to express. Words teetered on the tip of Gen’s tongue, but did not fall.
‘David organised a surprise weekend away for us, and our neighbour who usually looks after Percy is away.’ Frankie spoke warily, each syllable venturing out from his lips into the cold silence. ‘I thought of you straight away. You live so close now, and… Well… I know how much you like cats.’
‘WudyoufuckinNOwut?NO!NOFrancisJamesLightfootyoucan’tNOHELLDEMON,’ articulated Gen, as the cage was, despite her protests, lifted out from the car and placed gently on the ground. She shuffled backward and forward on the driveway, alternately deciding to escape from the cat and kick its owner.
‘He is honestly the least amount of hassle that any pet has ever been,’ said Frankie, who had found he could maintain his momentum if he did not make eye contact with Gen. He plopped a box of cat accessories on the concrete, then squatted down beside Percy’s travel cage.
‘You won’t be any trouble for Auntie Gen-Gen will you, Perce?’ he cooed.
‘Francis,’ hissed Gen. ‘I am not allowed pets here. The landlord doesn’t even know about Mack.’
Frankie turned and, still avoiding Gen’s eye, directed a reassuring smile to the patch of air beside the increasingly red face in his periphery.
‘It’s just until Monday,’ he said. ‘You will adore him, I promise.’ He looked at his wristwatch and jumped. ‘Oh shit, Gen. It’s 7.30 already. So sorry, but I have to head off.’
He slammed the rear car door shut and walked quickly to the driver’s side.
‘I thought you were going to…’ Gen began, but the sound of the car’s ignition drowned her out. Frankie wound down his window.
‘Call me if you need anything. Love yooooooooou…’
Gen watched helplessly as the red Suzuki reversed out of the driveway and disappeared down the road, and her cousin’s last drawn out syllable was swallowed up into the thick, humid air. Apart from the gentle hum of Percy’s wheezing breath, the world was quiet once more.
To be continued… For anyone interested, this is a story that builds on an already-posted set of chapters from the perspective of Brian Killjoy: found here. Both are part of a bigger thing (novel??!?) I’m working on, but may never finish.