Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“Do you think I did the right thing putting this shirt on?” Tim asked Milagros, as we sat on their back porch having a beer.
Since he didn’t look up from his phone, it wasn’t clear if he expected an answer. At any rate, the most Milagros did was glance at his phone to look at another shirt he was thinking of buying again after already returning it twice.
“What happened at the vet?” she asked instead.
Unfortunately the vet hadn’t been able to figure out why their new cat was puking so much and Milagros somehow blamed Tim. She wanted to take the cat to the vet herself but unlike certain people she had to work.
“Don’t worry,” he said defensively. “They were very thorough. They checked his ears, his gums, his stomach, all up and down his body, his legs and his arms. They didn’t just say, ‘Who is this dumb ass with his stupid cat.’”
He leaned over and patted the cat apologetically, not that it was the first time the cat had heard anybody curse. Milagros hadn’t been too happy to get home late from work and discover Tim and Ethan had brought an extra cat home from the vet.
“Did you see the doctor who used to carry him around on her shoulder?” Ethan asked. “Did she ask how he was doing?”
“I saw her but she was running out with a dog,” Tim said.
“Who was the dog?” Ethan asked.
But Milagros had a more pressing question. “How much did the vet cost?”
Tim checked his pocket. “I must have lost the receipt at the grocery store on the way home.”
“I thought you told me you happened to be near The Snug so you went in there,” she said.
“That’s possible, Wife,” he said. “It could be that the intake was such that I have no lasting memory of it.”
Angela had already informed Ethan that he better never show up with an unexpected cat.
“Maybe I could get a fish,” he said. “Does anyone know a stray fish that needs to be adopted?”
At any rate, more than the vet bill, Tim wanted to know on a scale of 1 to 10 what Milagros thought of the shirts he’d put in his shopping cart.
She gave them all a minus two without looking at them.
“You did it wrong,” Tim said. “Now we have to start over.”
But Milagros wouldn’t look at the shirts again. She’d already seen them in person when he ordered them before.
Instead she was preoccupied with something else. At first I thought she was just upset about the new cat, especially since in addition to puking a lot he wasn’t much fun. He wouldn’t even chase a catnip ball when she rolled it across the porch in an effort to bond with him.
“Because he’s not a kid anymore, what do you expect,” Tim said. “When you pass the playground, do you go on the jungle gym?”
But it wasn’t the new cat that was bothering her. She eventually picked him up and draped him across her lap. So I thought she might be worrying about money. I figured all the shopping could be getting her down, even if Tim usually returned everything.
“Where should we get a second home?” he asked, having moved on from shirts for the moment. “On a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give Boston, Providence, or Montreal? Or what about New York or Philadelphia?”
He was toggling amongst various real estate sites.
“There’s so much to buy,” he said. “Look at all these places for sale in Presque Isle, Kennebec, Penobscot, Boston, Montreal.”
Not that they had any money.
“Or you could just buy another shirt,” Milagros said.
Apparently they had recently opened a joint bank account for the first time.
“Are you going to take off with the money?” she asked. “You should at least wait until we’ve saved something and there’s more in there.”
“I don’t know if I can wait,” he said. “I might have to run off and live on what we’ve already got for a few months and then come back and ask forgiveness. ‘Aw, come on, let me back into your bank account.’”
But it wasn’t their money situation that was bothering her either. She looked at the real estate listings with Tim without any complaint, even though it was utterly pointless.
It almost seemed like music was the problem. Milagros was playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, one of her top choices for a summer evening on the porch, and Tim didn’t like it.
“Anyone could write that stuff,” he said, turning it off. “My cat could write that stuff.”
Milagros sighed. “Then why doesn’t he.”
“He has too much integrity,” Tim said.
He put on an Eric Dolphy album instead and coincidentally the cat got up and puked on the porch step.
Milagros chuckled. “See, even cats hate this music.”
“You’re wrong,” Tim said. “Cats love Eric Dolphy. They often mistake his caterwauling for one of their own.”
But it turned out music wasn’t the problem either. It was something entirely different, as we soon learned by accident.
“Today was Lourdes’ last day of school but for some reason she’s sobbing in there. I don’t know why,” Tim said, coming back out to the porch from the kitchen.
“Maybe because her cat is sick?” Ethan asked.
Tim shook his head. “It’s not that kind of sobbing.”
Apparently she was crying about being away from a boy who was going away to summer camp. She’d seen him for the last time at the class picnic that afternoon.
“Who was at the picnic?” Milagros asked Tim, who’d gone with Lourdes.
“The kids, the parents,” he said. “And a baby.”
Milagros’ eyes brightened. “Whose baby?” she asked.
Suddenly I could see what she was thinking. Maybe Lourdes was the one crying, but Milagros was pretty hard hit too, realizing Lourdes was getting to the age where her mother wasn’t going to be number one any more.
But Tim didn’t give her much encouragement.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should think about having a baby before it’s too late,” Milagros said, looking at Tim intently.
He shook his head. I figured he was thinking about their lack of money, his job situation, and his OCD problems as obstacles to going down that path. But that wasn’t it at all. It had to do with the new cat.
“I don’t think so, Wife,” he said. “With two cats now, we’ve basically replaced ourselves.”