The U-Haul was only $60 for the day. It took three attempts to get into the driveway because the cul-de-sac had a planter with tree right in the middle of it. The angle was impossible, but then he managed to do it, so he downgraded it to improbable and patted himself on the back.
He unloaded the truck by himself. The mattress and dresser he dragged upstairs, the bookcases and television downstairs, and everything else he dropped in the hallway for later. He couldn’t handle anymore. He was drenched in sweat and opted for sitting at the kitchen table with water in the biggest glass he could find.
He was home.
The large grey cat, a shadow of Garfield Himself, jumped onto the table. It boldly sniffed in Mercer’s direction and then sat back on its haunches.
“Meow,” the cat said.
“Meow?” Mercer replied.
The cat tilted his head. Mercer shifted under the scrutiny.
“That’s Catonese for ‘Pet me,’” came a voice from the foyer.
It was Sandy.
“Oh, ha,” Mercer said, playing it cool. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I see that,” Sandy teased.
Mercer joined Sandy in the garage once she had changed into her standard at-home attire: a fluffy black herringbone robe.
“I can’t believe you moved all of that yourself,” Sandy said as she passed the joint she had rolled in no time flat.
Mercer took it and leaned back in the recliner.
“I can’t either,” he said and puffed them both into an amazed silence.
“Kevin seemed to like you,” Sandy said some time later.
“Who?” Mercer asked.
“Kevin the Cat,” she clarified.
“Kevin?” Mercer asked.
Mercer mulled it over.
“Kevin,” he said, “came right up to me.”
“That’s good,” she nodded. “Maybe.”
“Yeah?” Mercer asked.
“If he likes you, he’ll probably talk to you all the time. He’s a chatty catty.”
“Okay,” he said.
“It’s not really that bad. You get used to it.”
“Is he your cat?” Mercer asked her.
“Oh, hell no,” Sandy said too emphatically as she exhaled, and she was gripped with a coughing fit. She waved her hands in the air, and Mercer expected to see a piece of lung fly out of her mouth.
He handed Sandy her cup of water. She took a big gulp and nodded gratefully.
“Oh my god,” one last cough, “Oh man, thank you.” She was still catching her breath. “That one got me.”
“Yeah it did,” Mercer smirked. He watched her put her drink down with shaky hands.
“No,” she said at last. “Kevin is not my cat. Kevin is sort of his own cat.”
Mercer eyed her skeptically.
“Seriously,” Sandy insisted. “No one really owns him anymore. David’s ex left him here for a couple of months while she got settled into her new place,” she waved her hands away from her, “where ever that loon went.” She grinned a half apology. “He kind of threw her out on her ass, so he was trying to be nice.”
“Oh, okay,” Mercer said. “That’s cool, I guess.”
“That was two years ago.” She added, shaking her head at the thought.
Mercer stood in the middle of his mattress store, lines of beds radiating out from a small center circle. He admired his work as he spun around, arms wide, making sure each row lined up evenly.
The phone rang.
“Mattress Mattress Mattress, Matt speaking,” he answered.
“Don’t do that,” Butch said. Mister North.
Mercer could see North’s mustache narrowing with his lips, his bird eyes through coke-bottle glasses squinting in annoyance.
“Sorry, boss,” Mercer said.
“You can’t keep doing that,” North complained.
“Everybody likes it but you, Butch. I’m gonna keep saying it.”
North Huffed, “Now, Mercer, I am your boss, and I don’t appreciate –”
“You’re not in charge of how I run my store, Butch,” Mercer said. “You’re in charge of whether or not the store makes money.”
“Does my store make money, Butch?”
“You know is does, Mercer, but –”
“Does my store make more money than yours?”
Butch scoffed, “Now, Mercer, that’s just rude.”
“Butch, have you checked your blood sugar? Are you keeping up with your fitness tracker?”
“I just checked it ten minutes ago,” Butch said, his edge softening.
“Thank you for asking,” Butch said finally.
“You’re welcome,” Mercer said. “So, what’s up, boss?”
“I just needed you to call Shane at the home office,” Butch said. “You just set me off when you answer the –”
“What does he want?” Mercer asked. “Why didn’t he just call me?”
“I talked to him this morning,” North preened. “We had business.”
“I talk to him every day,” Mercer stabbed at the man’s ego balloon.
“You do?” Butch asked, deflating.
“Inventory,” Mercer said. “You don’t talk to him about your inventory?”
“Of course I do,” Butch growled, “I just –”
“So, why am I calling him?”
“He,” Butch sputtered. “He didn’t say.”
Mercer failed to stifle his laugh.
“That dick,” he said to the ceiling.
Shane and Mercer agreed that Butch could be, well… Mercer likened the man to the universal little brother trying to prove to everyone that he was worthy of… something. If he could only get them to listen!
“Excuse me?” Butch asked, appalled.
“Listen, I’ll call him,” Mercer said. “I got somebody coming in, I gotta let you go.”
“Welcome to Home Towne Mattress,” Mercer said. “Feel free to try the beds. Each spoke of the wheel is a different feel.”
“Spoke of the –” Butch began, more annoyed than ever. There were rules, damnit, and Mercer refused to follow them.
But Mercer was already hanging up. He turned toward his imaginary customer.
Later, sitting at his desk with little to do, Mercer pulled a sketchbook out of a drawer. He flipped past a few weeks worth of doodles, a cartoonish vibe to them all, until he came to the newest. It was a man, power posed, with a cape rippling behind him. Beneath the outline, he wrote, “Negative Initial Reaction Man.” The face was familiar. The scar by the right eye matched David’s exactly. Mercer could hear him saying, “Nah, man,” to whatever was proposed during their smoke sessions.
Another figure to the right of the first had a woman’s face, a caricature of Sandy’s, but her body was a smudge. Beneath this, he wrote, “Lady Godiva. Ability: being naked without anyone noticing.” He laughed as he filled in then smudged the detail, trying to count the number of times he’d seen her streak past a doorway to close it before someone walked in. She would come out wearing a towel or robe, pretending that what had just happened did not, in fact, happen at all. Her varying levels of nudity were becoming routine.
The last likeness was a man with Jack Shelton’s beard and square head. Jack Shelton was David’s best friend and was turning into a regular guest in the garage. He had a penchant for telling vivid stories, but you had to watch your drink around him; he was liable to knock it over when he got really excited. In the drawing, his hands were a blur where everything else was still. Mercer wrote, “The Gesticulator.”
He flipped the page and put a pencil to something new. It was a lanky bird with coke-bottle glasses and a ridiculous mustache – a surprisingly accurate depiction of Butch North. Beneath it, he wrote, “Pecking Order,” and, amused with himself, he spent the rest of the day pitting this abominable bird/man against the rest of the gang in a battle of the mundane.