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by Paul Thelen

I’d never seen someone walk a cat, so when I saw Marin Foster and Tyler Green — tenants in my apartment complex — leading a soft orange feline with a harness-like-leash contraption, I couldn’t resist approaching them.

“They’re not much different from puppies,” Marin said. She was a blonde, with green eyes, and two penny-sized dimples that were seemingly always present. I knew very little about her. Our run-ins around our apartment complex informed me that she possessed an absurd number of jackets. She had long ones, short ones, shiny water-resistant ones, leather ones, an inflated powder-blue winter one.

“Does it hurt him?” I asked. The blue contrivance centered around the cat had two loops, one coming down his neck positioned about where his shoulders began and the other behind his front legs, pulled tight around his torso.

“Not at all! You love going for walks don’t you, Marcel?” Marin said, rubbing her fingers under the cat’s white belly. I have no pets of my own, scared off by my crippling fear of attachment. I had a pet rabbit as a boy named Hershey. He was brown and languorous, eating and sleeping through his days, and I never once spoke to him but when the little guy died I remember crying a great deal.

“Haven’t seen that lady of yours around lately,” Tyler Green said.

Of Tyler Green I knew a good deal. I knew he considered himself a writer and didn’t have a source of income. Fast at work on his novel titled Emojis With My Mother, he was always taking an assortment of drugs and hanging out in the parking lot, accosting me about how he was going to become the “literary giant of the smartphone generation.” He said in the year 2030, readers will look back at the works of this decade in search of nostalgia and that if I was smart I should hang around so that I might appear in one of his chapters. He was a string-cheese looking fellow. Thin, well-dressed, a pitchy whine for a voice. Emotionally he was a difficult read. His eyes were bloodshot and he appeared fatigued from repeatedly convincing himself that his talent was true, that he wasn’t squandering his white privilege.

“Tokyo, I’m afraid,” I lied.

“Pity, she has such nice skin,” Marin said.

“Have you guys been to that new sandwich shop down the way? Chet’s, I believe it’s called?” I said. I knew the name was indeed Chet’s.

“Tyler doesn’t eat meat but I’ve been wanting to check it out. Have you had their pastrami?” Marin asked.

“Too much sauerkraut.”

“Hard to find a good one up here,” Marin said. “Lovely day, want to walk Marcel with us?”

I complied, hiding my excitement to be invited, and the four of us strolled around the partially frozen lake. It was the first fifty-degree day of the calendar year, which in Minnesota causes quite the ruckus. Zombie-like pale bodies parade as far as the eye can see. Disjointed in their strides. Julia, my ex-girlfriend, wherever she was, was probably wearing a dress — striding her tanned legs for all to witness.

Every one-hundred feet or so, Tyler or Marin would have to pick up the plump cat and carry him for a spell. Marin told me about her job at a Catholic hospital on the edge of downtown. Her primary duty was to stick needles in people’s arms and withdraw blood.

“A phlebotomist?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said, her eyes glowing. She said that she liked the hours but rather disliked being surrounded by death. “It becomes overwhelming.”

We kept walking. Long out of shape, my legs began to strain. To my delight, we took a break on a round little hill, the earth still firm and chilled from winter. The cat fell asleep and the three of us sat there, watching the lake slowly thaw, not wanting to wake Marcel from his nap.

Paul Thelen is a writer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published with Atticus Review, Front Porch Commons, Bull, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. His blog and links to his published work can be found at paulthelenwrites.com.