SHORT STORIES

CRYSTAL BALL EYES

     Vincent is silent and as combustible as the coal under the earth. He attracts trouble and orphans with the ease of metal to a magnet. Freaky gray eyes that look with disdain at the world and the entire foolish goings on in it - kind of like those paintings that seem as if the eyes are following you around the room and are always watching, always watching, that’s Vincent. His coat is black, almost a charcoal blue and impossibly thick and shiny, misty morning dewdrops, even on the driest of days. Neighbors have told me they have found him watching outside their windows or inside their open doors. He is known to stow away in minivans and under strollers. Always watching and waiting. But Vincent is not all bad. As cats go, he’s pretty good to have around. A life saver, actually.

     The disdain that Vincent so obviously displays toward our emotional world was born of this ability to be the proverbial fly on the wall. Laissez-faire. Silently slinking in or out of the house at will and without any thought of letting anyone know, Vincent tours the neighborhood around our home with purpose, not the slow languishing sway of most cats. He gathers what he sees, and remembers. It doesn’t appear that he does anything with all the joy and dirt and such that he sees, but that’s not true. He steps in every once in a while.

     Vincent the cat has a dog-like characteristic. When he needs something, he will bang up against you, demanding your full attention, then walk a few steps toward whatever it is he wants you to see. If you follow, he leads you on to his desires. Not following or persistent refusal to get it will result in a nasty nip of razor teeth on the finger closest to him -- “Do I have your full attention now?” he often seems to be saying. But I am getting better at reading him, I am a quick study and he has trained me well.

     When Joan, the neighbor from two doors down, would come to visit, Vincent would immediately leave. I don’t know why. Well, ‘though I don’t want to even think it, maybe I do know the reason, in the black, evil places of the mind that I don’t ever want to go to. But if Joan brought her daughter, Megan, still in the carrying chair, with her, Vincent would react quite differently, standing sentry protectively between Joan and the baby, giving Joan an awfully hard time when she tried to touch the baby. Something deep, fearful and horribly unsettling inside of me tells me that Joan is not a good mother, not even a good person. She smells evil. But only Vincent knows for sure.

     Emily, Joan’s other daughter, four years old, “fell down the stairs,” one night. She died. Joan claimed that she thought the little girl with the curly Q ebony hair and haunted eyes was asleep in her Growing Girl bed. “It was only the racket of my poor baby falling down the stairs that made me wake up and find her. I sensed something was wrong in my heart and I woke up.” The racket? The nausea I still feel at not saving that child haunts me, in sleep, and in daytime nightmares too.

     The day after Emily died, Joan came over, to supposedly borrow some aspirin. Joan had been hitting on me since well before her husband of six months, and father of both Emily and Megan, got the hell out of Dodge, but I knew to evade the endlessly conniving Jezebel Joan. She wasn’t going to get any sympathy love from me. Vincent knew better too and cleanly sliced Joan from ear to lip with one finely sharpened paw as Joan passed by the eye-level cabinet that Vincent was sunning on. It couldn’t bring Emily back but Vincent had a message to send. He knew what Joan had done. The cops suspected, but only Vincent and Joan knew. In the months that followed, I saw how Joan’s husband, while on his supervised visitations, went from doting father to empty shell, hollow eyes daring to dart a look at something, before resuming their depths of desolation, so lost. I think the doubt in his mind drove him away. He tried to get custody of Megan too but the courts are stacked against a man.




Carolivia had been Emily’s best friend. She lives between Joan, and Vincent and I, and was inseparable from Emily while Emily was alive. I think Carolivia knew Joan was evil too. One day Carolivia’s mother tried to get her to go to Joan’s for an hour while she ran some emergency errand. Joan kept trying to cajole Carolivia into coming with her, but Carolivia would have none of that. She threw a tantrum unseen before or since. She just would not go.

     Reading on my porch, with Vincent perched on the bay window sill behind my shoulder, I heard the commotion. Vincent gave me a nudge to get up and as I walked toward the neighbors, I asked if I could help. I was determined that I would take Carolivia or I’d do the errand myself. That woman was not going anywhere near her. Carolivia abruptly stopped her screams, walked over to me and held her hands up to be picked up. I had never held Carolivia before. I had barely even talked to her.

     “Mommy, I will stay with Vincent’s Daddy, can you bring me back some booberry?” I nodded to her mother, both of us equally shocked. The transformation from flailing, wailing child to cuddly Hallmark-card child had taken all of one half of one second. Carolivia knew that I had Joan pegged. Joan just wilted and slinked away, her speed picking up as she moved further from us.

     My new friend started coming over a lot. She expected Vincent and I to protect her, and Megan, from Joan. “Vincent, your daddy doesn’t like her either. He won’t let her hurt baby Megan like she did Emily, I know it.”

     The overheard one way conversation from Carolivia to Vincent chilled my soul. More unsettling deep inside of me. Vincent licked Carolivia’s hand, looked up at me almost hidden behind the door frame and silently ordered me to do something about it. I didn’t have a clue of what to do but I was scared. Scared for Megan, and scared of Joan, of what she might do.




I think Megan missed her sister. She became more and more restless and Joan became more and more frazzled. I could hear her screaming at the child once in a while. I could hear the child screaming more often. Vincent always heard it first. He would rise, hiss and arch his back, all hackles and spikes and spewing angst. Out he would go as I watched him cross our yard; Carolivia’s, and then turn the corner up Joan’s driveway. Vincent’s silent reproach each time he returned to our house burned a hole in me. Yesterday, he came back almost immediately. And he was running.

     Vincent never ran. He moved quickly and with purpose, but he never, ever ran. He was way too cool. He didn’t try the bump and lead this time. Vincent bit me, hard, pulling me toward the front steps, tail swishing and cutting through the air. I knew before my mind could process and I ran. I don’t remember leaving the house. I don’t remember anything, until I found myself at the window of the bathroom of Joan’s house, which faced out into the backyard. I looked in, my heart pounding, violent unease in my stomach.

     Megan was in the white porcelain tub, the water rising, and Joan was nowhere in sight. The steam was rising too. I out screamed Megan, for Joan, and the very surprised mother instantly popped into sight, turning from where she was leaning against the wall, just outside of the open bathroom door. She saw me, her vacant expression wavered, eyes rolled upward, then snapped back into this world and grabbed Megan from the tub, all soothes and murmurs, the concerned mother.

     She had been caught, it was fake, and we both knew it. I knocked out the screen, vaulted through the window and found the phone, dialing 911. I trembled and my fingers followed suit. Joan screamed at me, "Stop, she’s fine. It was an accident.”

     I didn’t believe her. She had been leaning just outside the bathroom door, not four feet from her baby, and not responding to the screams, the steam or the rising water. “She’s trying to kill Megan, as sure as she killed Emily,” I muttered to Vincent, who had followed me though the bathroom window.

     I took the baby from Joan, placed her on the hamper and wet slightly cool facecloths, resting them on the writhing baby. The ambulance, and the cops, arrived. Megan was still screaming of course; she had burns all over her tiny white back, hands and sides. Both officers talked to Joan as I leaned in stunned silence against a kitchen countertop, the E.M.T.’s feverishly assisting Megan. Vincent sat on his haunches, between my legs, and never moved. The ambulance rushed off with Joan and Megan and I sat down for a chat with a police officer.

      I told my story, skipping the part about Vincent “telling” me that there was a problem. He is a smart cat though and I knew he would understand. The cop walked with me back to my house and I found the phone number for Megan’s father. He was going to be the full time parent again, if Megan survived this.




As I’m drifting off watching TV, Vincent suddenly rises from my chest, he had been especially cuddly and happy with me all evening. He softly steps to the door and looks back at me. I hit the mute on the TV and then I hear what he had heard. A little knock on my door. A little knock. I rise, open the door and find Carolivia there. She is holding her mommy’s hand and gazing up at me.

     “Carolivia wanted to tell you something,” her mom informs me. “She wouldn’t call on the phone or wait until tomorrow.”

     “That’s okay, do you want to come in?” To Carolivia more than her mother, I think.

     Carolivia shakes her head no. I step out and kneel down on one knee. Carolivia moves close to me and I see one tear slip away from the puddles in her eyes as I wrap one arm around her. I feel her little open hand rest on my knee. Her forehead to my bent down cheek, Carolivia slips her other arm around my neck.

     “Vincent was right. You saved Megan,” she spoke softly

     A sharp intake of breath. I feel such a chill. Goose bumps and the flip flops of my stomach all rush over me at once. “I think it was Vincent that saved her,” I whisper back, my throat almost completely closed up now.

     “No, he could see, but you heard. You saved Megan. Emily is happy now.”

     My tears join Carolivia’s, and as I hug this most precious little girl, I see two tears splash on the porch, from her mother’s eyes.

      Vincent’s swishy tail sweeps my side. He looks right at me as he settles on his haunches to watch us. I see, for the first time ever, no disdain in Vincent’s freaky gray eyes.


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From Tommy's Song

Freedom’s Sons are singing;
singing sad songs,
to their love, songs.
Pretty Maggie O’, Sally O’,
Pretty Saro and Rosie.

for some,
a Song For The Children.

In The Time Of Scented Roses,
let they be not black,
The Long Woman’s Grave.
Rather Sing Me The Old Songs;
of Rambling Rivers
in The Rambles of Spring,
Clear Blue Hills
or Grey October Clouds,
among Long Winter Nights.

If I should return,
If You Should Ask Me,
I’m Going Home To Mary,
Smiling Mary
I can see her, as she holds
our Gentle Annie in her arms,
listening to
The Listowel Blackbird sing;
Music In The Twilight,
In Newry Town

I will return again.

                  ~ John O'Brien, Jr.

John O’Brien, Jr.
14615 Triskett Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44111-3123
P 216.647.1144    John@songsandstories.net

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