The doorbell rings. My wife hasn't been home from work very long and we're watching Wheel of Fortune. Our front door is in the corner of the front room, adjacent to a window and a sofa. Cats sat on the back of the sofa have destroyed the lower slats of the blind over the past few years. Originally there was a just a peculiarly neat square missing from the lower right-hand corner of the blind, which Gus chewed out for herself so she could gaze from the window and see what was going on in the neighbourhood. We called it the Gus Portal after its architect. Subsequent cats have lacked the delicate touch for which Gus was renowned, and have just hacked away at the lower slats regardless of aesthetic concerns; so it's now quite easy to see out of the window without getting up from the other sofa, the one upon which we sit to watch Wheel of Fortune.
Ordinarily it's Damean from across the way, come to hang out with the kid, but we haven't seen him for a while and there's a chance he might have signed up with the army or the army cadets or whatever. Occasionally it's some friend of Shooty the Drug Dealer asking if we want our lawn mown in the hope of raising funds with which he'll presumably make purchase of more num-nummy-numptious drugs of some description. It's always the same guy and he seems harmless, and he never seems to mind that we're completely capable of mowing our own lawn even though we be white folks.
'Who can that be?' Bess wonders.
The window affords me a view of a large-ish pair of tits in a grubby t-shirt, old lady tits I suppose. I wonder if it's Dee Dee and hope it isn't. She keeps herself to herself so when she calls it's something serious, usually sick or dying animals, struggling kittens she needs someone to look after while she goes to the store for food, kittens in such a state that they need a person to watch over them. It never ends well.
I open the door and experience relief that it isn't Dee Dee, then confusion because it's the hillbilly woman from down the road. I don't know her name.
We have a large fluffy cat who briefly went missing when we first moved here. We walked up and down the road looking for him, and eventually found him safe and well, but both of us had encountered a similarly large fluffy cat living down the road bearing a strong and misleading resemblance to our guy. Since the beginning of the year, the same large fluffy cat has started hanging out at our house, having discovered that I feed the strays in the morning. I've started calling him Gary for the sake of something to call him because he reminds me of Gary - my neighbour back in London - in so much as he's a big lad and he's always there. One morning I noticed he turned up wearing a lime green collar with a bell. Later that afternoon I found the collar discarded in our garden. I guess he hadn't been too keen on the thing.
I took the collar down the road to the house where I thought I had seen Gary, where I assumed he lived, then decided it looked a bit scary - shit car, weeds in the yard, bags of rubbish out front. I went to the next house along. It was tidier, and Gary's home might just as easily be this one, and it didn't look like a knock on the door would summon angry rednecks with firearms and tattoos. Unfortunately my knock on the door didn't summon anyone, so I took a deep breath and went back to the first house.
The woman was old and slightly stumpy with white hair. She looked confused as though suspecting foul play; so I tried to explain about Gary and the collar as quickly as I could before she called the cops.
'You mean Fat Cat,' she grinned and hee-hawed as realisation dawned, and I gave her the collar. I was a little shocked by the name, hoping Fat Cat was simply a misjudged term of endearment. On the other hand Fat Cat - or rather Gary - seems healthy, happy, and friendly, so I suppose he must have a good home, even if he always seems to find room for a little more at our place.
I've seen the woman once since then, as I was mowing the front lawn. She strolled past and yelled out something incomprehensible but obviously cheerful, probably something along the lines of you're mowing the lawn!
Now here she is again on my doorstep like an old friend.
'Can you give me a ride to the Valero garage so I can buy me some beer?' She says it twice because I didn't quite catch it the first time, or I did but couldn't quite bring myself to believe that this had been the question. Someone I don't know has knocked on my door seeking assistance, not medical assistance, or can I use your phone?, or I need someone to take me to the hospital, but I need to buy beer from the garage.
The Valero garage is on Rittiman Road, about ten minutes walk away. She may be old and slow but I'm pretty sure she can make it in fifteen.
'I can't drive.'
'You can't drive?' She is incredulous.
'I ride a bike everywhere. You must have seen me.'
'Well you got a car.'
It's true. The Prosecution has made a good case. We have a car parked in the drive way.
'That's my wife's car.'
'You can't drive?'
'No. I never learned.'
'Your wife here?'
'Maybe she can give me a ride.'
'She's not home.' It's a lie but I feel I have the right. This is one of the strangest conversations I've had in a while.
'I live down the road,' she grins.
'I know. The cat—'
'You're from England.'
'I'm German,' again she grins, proud, although to be fair German ancestry - which I assume is what she means - isn't much of a boast around here. In San Antonio you're either Mexican or German or something else - everything that doesn't belong in the first two categories having been mixed up somewhere in that last one. That said, her accent is odd; although some of my wife's German-American grandparents barely spoke any English, so it probably only seems odd to me.
Miraculously she leaves, walking slowly back down the garden path. She isn't running any marathons, but I'm sure she can make it to the garage under her own steam if she really needs a beer that bad, and I've a weird, slightly unsettling feeling that this wasn't about beer. This was howdy, I'm your neighbour by someone with no real idea of how to go about such things.
Next day as I pass on my bike, I notice a second car in her driveway, and there's a young woman chaperoning a kid around the front lawn. They seem like regular people which comes as a relief. Maybe that's her daughter and a grandchild. She has people who care for her, and who can drive her to the Valero garage for beer.
Two weeks later, we do it all over again, except this time she needs a pack of cigarettes from the Valero garage.