Partial Credit • Gina Nutt

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Someone carries up a box of mismatched drinkware wrapped in dresses. They stare down, scrunching their nose, and ask, You’ll wash these?

I say, I think we’re done here. 

After all my small life is brought up, they insist, Do you like it? Do you want anything moved around? Is this good?

Let me live with it awhile.

The coffee tastes like a hotel morning, contained oneness, only enough to wake me. The cat flashes through the hall. She stretches long on the living room carpet and rubs her face against a stain, a dark spot where the pile appears permanently saturated.

Are you crying again? I ask. Did you spill something? 

She tears toward the bedroom, the sill where she chirps at birds out the window.

I buy a few knives, some flatware, a chair. Two someones don support belts and stroll the chair out a wide retracted door. They push the chair into the back of my car. I see one of them pat the back bumper. Driving home, I listen to people on the radio sell hardware, nourishment, an upcoming parade. 

I knock on the door to the loud unit below mine. Three someones answer. Payback, I say, but they don’t see it this way. Two have on shimmering mesh shorts, a mascot embroidered above the hem, a bison. They put on tee shirts and heave the chair up the stairs. They ram an arm on the handrail. Something falls from a split in the cambric. A button taps down the stairs. 

Do you worry something is alive in there? 

I’ll go back for it, I say, but I then forget and when I remember, I don’t retrieve the button. I’m anxious who I could meet, how they might hold an ordinary thing before my eyes and say something like, This yours? I almost slipped.

I bleach the knives, the flatware. I feed myself and fix senseless cocktails. I think of all I’d have done with the extra dollar had the chair been an even $25. These endeavors seem private, locked off, even to me.

The neighbors come to dinner. Two wear their shiny shorts. One wears corduroy and a tie. We eat pasta with dessert forks and sip from glasses with holly and red ribbon painted on the rims. 

Arby’s, says Corduroy, turning his drink. My parents have a bunch of these. They don’t use them. 

The cat climbs on the table and bends to examine a lost inch of spaghetti. She weaves around the serving bowls, the plate with garlic bread heels. She settles on a Shiny Shorts lap.

I go in the kitchen and unwrap four gas station bear claws. I bring the pastries out on paper towels, set one at each place. I feel as if I am married to each neighbor for a different reason. 

The Shiny Shorts leave and Corduroy stays. He speaks more of home, the paper grocery bags filled with crayons in his bedroom closet. His father bought out entire shelves years ago. The colors were getting retired or renamed. The father expected the crayons to accumulate value in the coming years. 

I share my bear claw crumbs with the cat while Corduroy’s in the bathroom. She eats the flecks from my fingertips. Her tiny sharp teeth part and close like filthy little knives. She tilts her head like she’s thinking it over, the sweetness. The bathroom door whines open and the cat runs off and Corduroy sits beside me on the floor.

The walls fur with breath, mouth smell. I spend my sleepless hours dreaming of the lost chair dollar, the button on the stairs. I study a peeled spot on the wall near the head of my mattress. I pick at the wallpaper. Beneath a floral motif I find columns. Thick, sturdy supports draped in garlands and ribbons. I keep picking to see if I find any angels. I try not to pick because already I dread leaving, the landlord asking, What’s happening here? 

It was like that. It was the cat. It’s a nick, I’ll shrug at some vast exposure, a fray I kept rubbing because I wanted to see some angels. That’s hard to explain. Which may be the best way to put it when the landlord asks, What did you do?

I want you to be happy, she says four states away. I hope you like yourself.

I assume she’s kidding until she adds, I hope you like loneliness.

It’s greatIf only I had more extension cords.

Some ripping sound behind me fills my throat. The cat flexes her claws in the chair upholstery. I don’t stop her. She works intensely, shredding to release a secret about feeling or infestation, the line that hums between the two. She’s trying to let something out.


Gina Nutt is the author of Wilderness Champion (Gold Wake Press). Her writing has been published in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Ninth Letter, and Salt Hill. 

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