Shoes slapped the wet pavement.
The gutter gurgled from the hard shower that’d just passed.
Neon cut hot, red slashes in dark puddles dotting the tarmac.
I spied bright light shining from the window of the corner shop up ahead. It fought to hold back a small patch of night.
I was a thief.
I liked the dark.
But tonight, I headed for the light.
I was being watched.
Someone was pissed off.
I went to buy milk. Not my choice. Awake at 1am. No milk in the fridge. The milk was for my cat, Sam. If I sent Sam out to buy milk, he wouldn’t come back for three days.
So I had to get the milk.
Being more reliable.
I pushed open the door. A bell tingled above my head. At the till a boy bought bread. He turned at the sound of the bell.
Our eyes met.
We both looked away.
The milk was in the back. The milk case door opened. Whoosh. Cold air escaped. Warm air fogged the glass. I snagged a pint then shut the door. The bell above the door tingled.
The kid left.
I waited. I looked up the center and side aisles, saw no one, then marched directly to the cashier seated behind the till reading a book.
The Stranger, by Camus.
I’d read it.
A famous opening line, “Today, Mother died.”
I bet he had no milk in his fridge either.
I knew just how the guy felt.
Sam would’ve cared less.
Again. That creeping feeling. Someone was watching me. I saw no one else in the store.
Dressed all in black, a piercing through her left eyebrow, black eye shadow, the cashier rang up the items.
Never made eye contact.
Just sat back down and opened her book.
She was reading the right book.
Not ready to leave yet. Hesitant. Crouched.
“Toilet?” I asked.
“In the back. Employees only.”
Her eyes hadn’t lifted from the page.
She’d not lift a finger to stop me.
Or help me.
A door in the back marked ‘Employees Only’ stopped me. I cracked open the door. The other side dark. I slid through the crack. It closed behind me.
I flicked my lighter. The toilet, a ruse. Like Camus, looking for a way out. Half-glowing above a door, a red EXIT sign. No push bar just a deadbolt.
A distant bell tingled.
They were here.
They were coming.
The deadbolt slid free.
I entered the alley. Turned away from my flat. Sam would be disappointed. The milk was warm now. To his liking.
I’d left the fire escape window open.
He’d fend for himself.
It’s hard to accept.
But cats don’t really need us.
They just need a way out.
Copyright 2016 by James Shaffer. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.