Alive from Radio City

–JACK–

SMACK!

The fly fell to the white linoleum floor, landing on its wings. Its legs twitched one last time before curling inward to the insect’s hairy black body. A skinny brown tabby cautiously approached from its hiding place beneath the desk where it had fled as the flyswatter smacked the glass. It batted the small body, flicking it across the floor to where a small but growing pile of swatted flies rested beside a dirty little box. Satisfied, it returned to stare out the large windows that encompassed a quarter of the office walls.

“Score! Good job!” a voice from above mused. “Do you think we should clean your box?” The tabby’s right ear twitched in recognition, acknowledging it had heard the person speak but, as was so often the case, also understanding that the speaker did not require its further attention.

“Ah, maybe later,” the voice continued with a sigh. “Hey, Peter.”

The tabby turned and stared up with its pale green eyes. “You ready to start the show?” A flick of the tail in irritation served as its reply, then Peter returned to peering out the window.

The person laughed and fell into the swivel chair, her reflection in the glass spinning around until she faced stacks of metal boxes with knobs and levers. Once, lights sparked from little bulbs along the box of knobs and levers and a soothing, warm heat like the heat from the sun pumped from the side of the biggest boxes. It would click and clack, boop and beep in a decidedly annoying way to the Tabby, but it was also a sound it had grown accustomed to ignoring. But now the boxes remained silent.

The person adjusted the microphone in front of her. She cleared her throat before learning forward. “Good morning, Radio City! How is everyone doing out there? All stocked up on water, I hope! A mere 8:00 in the morning and already we’ve reached 85°F down for those at the surface. Fortunately, up here in the station we’re always a good 5, 10 degrees cooler than down below. Don’t let dehydration sneak up on you–never leave without a full flask and remember to boil before you drink!”

The woman swiveled her chair to face the tabby. She rested an elbow on the table and continued to speak, still projecting her voice at the microphone hanging near her nose.

“You know, Peter, I remember the first time I tried to drink without boiling. I thought I’d be fine because I got it not long after it rained. I figured, hey, if it just rained it should be really fresh, right?” She laughed and shook her head. “I was sick for days! Trust me, it’s the worst feeling. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, all you do is just lie in agony by your toilet dugout.”

The tabby turned from the window and jumped on the circular table where the woman leaned into a silver tube to speak. A hand reached out and scratched the tabby’s head. It felt nice but not what the tabby wanted and it jumped forward, landing on the woman’s empty lap to sleep on her ripped shorts and unwashed thighs. The hand followed and continued to stroke along its body, the sensation sending a happy vibrating purr in its throat.

“This was back when I lived up north by myself. Actually, it was this that prompted me to join a group. I had been asked before but… it’s scary to join people you don’t know you can trust, am I right? But at least a group can help care for you when you’re as sick as I was, even if you don’t end up staying together forever.”

The voice had paused and the tabby’s purring became the loudest sound in the room. The tabby remembered when the office was full of humans who crowded around the desks and never stopped talking. But this human often lapsed into silence as the words seemed to fill her head without making it out of her mouth.

The woman cleared her throat and continued. Sometimes the silence lasted for a long time, sometimes it ended rather quickly. The tabby enjoyed the sound of the human’s voice, its presence was a comfort. It meant water and food and attention, when the feline wanted it. Before the human had kicked in the door of the office and then barricaded it shut with plywood, Peter had been very alone and hungry.

“Anyway: Water. That’s Jack’s tip of the day, ladies and gentlemen of Radio City! The summer will be over before we know it but, until then, stay cool and stay hydrated with clean, boiled water.”

The chair rolled away from the desk and Jack let out a sigh. Her dirty nails scratched the scruff of the sleeping cat. She looked at the jugs of water lined along the far wall. They were all empty save a few dozen glassfuls left in the final blue container. She looked out the windows to the desert city that stretched unobstructed for miles from the radio tower. Dunes of sand piled high against the windshields of the cars left abandoned in the streets. The time to leave again was coming.

flash fiction

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