By Larry O. Grand

Chapter Four

WEARILY, she shut the door and slid the bolt to the right.

Laura tossed the keys onto the small and cluttered table next to the 
door.  She attempted to fling the small stack of envelopes that had been 
in her mailbox onto the table, but was unsuccessful and the mail gently 
fluttered to the floor, generic white envelopes with plastic windows 
tumbling on top of a square pink envelope.  Sighing, she stepped to 
switch on the lamp next to the sofa.  She grimaced as the dim bulb 
provided some illumination to her otherwise squalid and lately unswept 

"Mitochondria! I'm home!" she called out into the darkness, as she 
stepped around the coffee table and flopped onto the worn-out green 
sofa, a gift from the dumpster two blocks down.  She picked between the 
cushions for the remote, found it, and clicked on the t.v.  As the box 
of cathodes began generating heat, she tossed the remote back onto the 
sofa, somewhere, and began to slip off her snowboots.
The urgently blinking message light on her answering machine caught her 
eye.  She reached over to the telephone, buried underneath a sofa 
cushion, and jabbed the large grey button.  She silently prayed that one 
of the messages wasn't the supervisor, telling her to come at a later 
hour tomorrow in order to make up for the extra hours from this week, as 
the holiday season had brought an increase in activity at the bank; 
Kristi's drawer coming up $200 over tonight didn't hurt either, since 
everyone had to stay and re-count their drawers to find the difference.  
The tape rewound itself as her left foot escaped the confining prison of 
her black boot.  There was a definite click as the tape reached the 
beginning and the answering machine speaker came to life.

"Hey Laura, this is Donna .... just found out that my Tuesday 
appointment decided to make it a four-day weekend, so I'm free for lunch 
if you are.  Gimme a call back, okay?  Bye."  There were two seconds of 
blank tape before the stiff, robotic voice of the creature that lived in 
the answering machine recited "Thursday, two-fifteen p.m." BEEP

The next message was approximately five seconds of dead space, then a 
young male voice exclaimed "Ooop!" before hanging up.  "Thursday, three 
forty-five p.m." droned the machine.  BEEP.

"Hello .... Laura?  This is Beverly .... are you there?  Uhm, I guess 
you're not .... uhm, just wanted to let you know that we're gonna be in 
town tonight at the Infinity Cafe, it's a last minute gig, so if you 
want to come down, that'd be great .... I'll leave your name at the door 
.... sorry if this is short notice but we'd really like to see you again 
.... well, hope to see you there .... bye."  "Thursday, four fifty-nine 
p.m." BEEP.

Click. "End of messages."  The answering machine message light had 
resumed blinking, but Laura didn't have the energy or the intestinal 
fortitude to reach over and hit the "erase" button.

" ... who worked at the rendering plant, had only recently been released 
from prison.  We'll have more on this story as it develops.  We'll be 
right back." belched through the dusty television speaker, five seconds 
before a picture flickered onto the screen.  "Tonight, on the Bob 
Blanding Show, local serial killers and the women they love!"  Laura 
groaned.  She wasn't in the mood for the 7 o'clock news at the moment.  
"Damn, damn, damn." she grumbled as she groped around in the labyrinth 
depths of the sofa cushions, searching for the remote control that she 
had displaced only seconds before.  Giving up, she proceeded to simply 
ignore the television.  She pulled off her other boot and flung it to 
the floor, hoping that she would be able to find it the following 
morning and knowing that she wouldn't.

"Mitochondria! C'mere, girl!" she called out, once again, into the 
darkness.  Her request was answered with a plaintive murmur and a 
rustling from somewhere in the kitchen.  Laura waited four more seconds 
before calling out again, "Mitochondria!  Where are you, ya little 
shit?!"  The rustling sound again, then a dim yellow-eyed fuzzy striped 
cat crept out of the kitchen and onto the sofa, stepping over the 
crumpled bits of paper and dirty underwear to Laura's inviting lap, 
claws digging into her green skirt.  

"Hey, watch it girl, these are my work clothes!" Laura said, gently 
picking up the feline and holding her above her head, "Maybe it's time I 
had you clipped, eh?"  The cat purred loudly, which struck Laura as odd, 
since Mitochondria hated being held up in the air.  "What's with you, 
cat?" Laura mumbled, recalling how ever since Mitochondria was a kitten, 
since that first day when she stumbled onto Laura's porch, less than six 
weeks old, she detested being held in the air.  She enjoyed being 
cuddled, and held in Laura's arms, but really disliked being suspended 
high in the air.  It was a playful game between the two, since Laura 
would always hold Mitochondria in the air whenever the cat clawed at 
Laura frowned as she brought the cat down to her knees, readjusting her 
grip on the cat's armpits, and then lifted her up again.  Paws dangling 
in the air, head looking down, eyes staring straight into Laura's, a 
loud, contented hum coming from that beautiful little face.  No, that 
was definitely a purr.  Laura frowned again as she placed the cat back 
on her lap.  The cat curled up in a ball, continuing to purr as Laura 
stroked its head.

"The Van Der Poole family is back in the news tonight, this time making 
an appearance at the Biological and Medical Reserve Center.  Mr. Van Der 
Poole, shown with his three daughters..." came blasting from the 
television, briefly jerking Laura's attention to the now-bright screen 
and renewing her resolve to locate the remote.  "I really don't want to 
hear about Mister Van Der Poole right NOW." Laura muttered.  Being 
careful not to jostle the cat on her lap, she groped around the sofa for 
the small, elusive controller.  "A-HA!" she exclaimed, finally 
uncovering the remote, which had somehow slipped underneath the pizza 
box from two nights ago.  The pizza box rattled with something solid 
skidding inside; she wasn't exactly sure what it could be.  She jabbed 
the POWER button with her forefinger, and the eighteen-inch box fell 
silent.  She sighed.

"Sorry, Mitochondria, but I need to take a shower." she said to the cat, 
gently lifting her off her lap and placing it onto the hideous pink 
power suit that had once laid in a neat, folded pile on the sofa, where 
her mother had placed it during her visit two weeks ago; a little 
something Mrs. Regent had presented to her daughter as "... something 
more dynamic for your job."  "Mom, I'm sorry, but this outfit .... is 
horrendous!!  No one actually WEARS anything like this."  "Oh, come on, 
dear, this is what all of the successful businesswomen are wearing, I 
saw it on that t.v. show, and BESIDES, Laura, you really need to wear 
something more dressier than what you normally do.  Maybe then you'll be 
NOTICED by one of the higher executives and you'll be promoted to 
something .... BETTER .... than a ..... LOW-LEVEL .... bank teller."  
"Mom, first of all, I am not going to dress up just to get something, 
and second, I LIKE being a teller ... I could've taken that position 
last year, but I chose NOT to, okay?"  "Well, if you say so, but I'm 
just going to leave it right here, just in case ..... "  The cat purred 
as it settled into the soft folds of the linen outfit, ready to take 
another nap.  Laura stood up, kicking off her right boot, and approached 
the kitchen, to the right of the t.v.  

She snapped on the light to reveal a small kitchen, featuring a stove 
with two gas burners, a single sink filled with rapidly decomposing 
dishes and new strains of microorganisms, a tall green refrigerator, and 
an all-too-small countertop barely supporting a microwave oven.  Her 
left foot stepped into something moist and warm; she didn't bother to 
look down.  She crossed the kitchen in the span of five steps and 
entered the dark bathroom on the far side.  She pulled the chain that 
dangled from the ceiling to switch on the light, which promptly vanished 
with a bright flash and a gentle POOF sound as the filament burst.  
"Shit!" Laura mumbled, stepping up to the sink and the mirror above it.  
She looked at herself, using the reflected illumination from the 
kitchen.  She reached behind her head to unclasp the barrette that held 
her dark brown hair in place.  She shook her head, then reached for her 
brush, sitting faithfully by the edge of the sink.  "Ah, who needs the 
light anyway?" she mumbled to herself as she combed out the curly 
strands.  As she slipped out of her clothes she reached over to switch 
on the small cassette/radio that sat on the shelf next to the bathroom 
door, whose deck contained Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad" 
album that had been in permanent residence since its release in 
November, 1995.  Halfway through the second side, the strains of an 
acoustic guitar and violin crackled out of the small speaker.  Laura 
flipped on the hot water tap -- it would take about two minutes to warm 
up to a comfortable temperature-- and stepped into the shower.

"For what are we ... without hope in our hearts?"

Seven minutes later, Laura stepped out of the shower, steam barely 
rising from her shoulders.  She resolved to mention the problem with the 
shower, how it took too long to warm up in the winter but was always too 
hot in the summer, to Mr. Reynolds, that chain-smoking bastard, even 
though she knew she probably never would.  She grabbed the fluffy orange 
towel that hung lazily next to the shower and wrapped it around her 
body.  She took a second towel that was lying on the floor to dry her 
hair.  She quickly moved from the dark bathroom to stand in the doorway 
to the kitchen, where at least it was light.  Mitochondria had 
apparently decided not to nap on the sofa and had trotted into the 
kitchen, where she was currently shredding the roll of paper towels that 
hung over the sink.  Sensing Laura's entrance, she leapt to the floor 
and ran back into the living room.  Laura sighed; that cat wasn't going 
to listen to her anyway, so there was almost no point in making a fuss 
about it.  She stepped across the kitchen, once again stepping into 
something moist but now lukewarm, and made her way back into the living 

The message light of the answering machine was blinking wildly, but she 
couldn't remember if she had erased the messages or if it was a new 
message.  Deciding not to take a chance either way, she walked past the 
sofa and the front closet to the bedroom that lay on the other side of 
the apartment.  She flipped on the light switch and stepped over two 
random piles of soiled clothing to the bed.  The bedroom was slightly 
wider than the kitchen, with some extra space in the back where she kept 
her dressers, the only furniture that she had brought from home.  With a 
grunt, she heaved herself onto the bed and lay flat on her stomach, 
staring into the corner of the bedroom, at the dusty acoustic guitar 
case that leaned against the dresser.  She glanced up at the top of the 
dresser, and it was still there, where she had left it, the picture in 
the gray frame.

Then Laura did the same thing she had done every night for the past 
three years.

She cried.

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All contents copyright (c) 1997 Larry O. Grand
Please do not repost or reprint without permission from Larry O. Grand, except for review purposes.

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