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A freezing wind blew in from the ocean with a warning of imminent snow. Max had delivered all his newspapers and even managed to get the money owed by that weird lady with the dog. On one occasion he had gone to her door and seen her through the glass and she had been dressed only in a small t-shirt. Previously he had stopped to pet the dog and chat with her. Now he cycled by, surreptitiously tossing the paper and quickly moving on. Recently it had landed in an icy puddle. The delivery manager, Mr Caliendrelo, had not been happy. But now Max’s pocket was weighed down by the coinage, no tip this time.

The route was one of the more challenging in the paper’s circulation area, with its steep hills and meandering driveways. Of course these people were the worst tippers. They were the descendants of old money whose name still adorned the top of a city building. It was an added injustice that descending the steepest hill, Max had to apply his brakes hard to turn left and begin the ascent up the steepest driveway.

He was now on the homeward leg and soon he would be safe in his room, well before his mother arrived home from work. His rusty old Schwinn rattled up the last hill, the baskets beside the rear wheel scraping annoyingly against his heel.

“Have to fix that soon,” he muttered.

Now his goal was to get home and get the winter chill out of his hands and toes. As it grew dark he wished to avoid any meeting with the local guys. They were the sons of fishermen who had not seen work in years, and could be unpredictable. Mostly, they hung out in the park near the waterfront. As night fell they seemed to move into small dark alcoves, sharing a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. They could smell an easy mark and the boy had a habit of attracting their attention.

Home safe at last he entered the kitchen. Max kicked off his sodden sneakers. Cycling made him sweaty and then riding downhill froze the damp clothing to his body. He peeled away the bits of clothing and tossed them down the basement stairs, hopefully well out of sight. Opening the fridge door he scanned the contents for prospective prey. A few slices of Bologna rolled into a tube were his first course, consumed as he stood in front of the fridge. His mother hated when he did this. Next he went to the pantry where his quick scan revealed a box of cereal, Cheerios. A large bowl, a few spoons of sugar with lots of milk and the meal was ready.

He retired to his room. As he opened the door the pungent smell of cedar chips mixed with the urine of small animals were immediately noticeable. This was a sharp reminder that he needed to feed his menagerie and clean their homes. Previously he had paid dearly when he became lax in attending to their needs. Allowing the mice to overpopulate and not feeding them properly had caused them to become cannibalistic. They began to devour their colleagues, leaving only remnants of the rib cage and fur. As he shovelled the cereal into his face, he moved around to each cage, adding pet mix to each and scooping out the moist corner they used as a latrine. He knew not to overfeed the hamster as this would only incite him to pack the food into his cheeks and hide it around the hutch where it would rot.

He went back into the kitchen and quickly organised things to look as orderly as possible. Previously he had paid dearly for infractions such as letting the bathroom sink overflow, which had been the cause for a severe belting. She had pushed his head through the plate glass window of the kitchen door for leaving spilt sugar on the table. She was always so nice afterwards. Once he had mentioned finding her correspondence with his father. After the slap for his having mentioned the letters, she had laughed as if they had shared a good joke. He had learned to never mention his father again.

He fell onto his bed and let out a deep, full sigh. He savoured these moments of solitude, wandering through his day’s activity and then turning them into part of his daydreams. They were his comfort on those frequent nights where he found sleep impossible. He could change the character’s situations as if turning the dial on a television. In this world he ruled all that was around him. There was comfort and security. At this moment he heard his mother’s Volkswagen entering the driveway accompanied by the sounds of her Chihuahua-terrier going ballistic. Up to this point the dog had remained hidden in his mother’s room; the animal’s high pitched yapping now reaffirmed her imminent arrival. There would be something wrong. There always was.

 

This is part two of a three part series. Check out the next edition of Togatus for part three – coming soon to online.

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