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Post Road Magazine #33

Bishop Street

Sophia Veltfort

Riva made no friends in her new city except a black cat who sat between curtain and glass in the window one house over. While Riva tutored kids for the SATs over Skype, her eyes met the cat's across the driveway, and she felt they were in accord. This was more than she could say of her other neighbors or Sam's family. Across the street, a stoop-backed old man in jeans and a windbreaker rolled the trash and recycling bins each Wednesday to the curb. He did not see that she kept watch. One day, trash shrouded his yard. He walked down the sidewalk. When he noticed the empty tuna cans and milk cartons strewn across his hedges and raked leaves, he stopped, quavering. Then he sprinted faster than she would have believed possible in the opposite direction. It was three days before she saw him again.

Meanwhile her relations with Sam's family remained tepid. Sam's mother and sister were unreserved, bubbly people who went spinning together—which it turned out involved not great spools of yarn, but machines, spandex, and money—and took for granted that good people participate in group activities and don't sleep in. This became evident when they let themselves into the apartment one morning with Sam's spare key.

Riva was several layers of cold fish atop molten love and loyalty. Make your way there and she was yours for the long haul. Until then she was unlikely to go spinning.

Sam's cousin Quentin started college in town and wanted a sofa. In their shared common room, he and his three roommates had a coffee pot but no hot plate, several volumes of Romantic poetry, and a plastic ficus tree in a wicker basket.

"You guys live on Bishop Street?" Quentin asked from the back seat while Sam finished up in the liquor store. Quentin did not want a fake ID, but he did want a thirty rack and two bottles of Kahlua. "Your neighbor died." He leaned forward to unfold a flyer for an estate sale. The address was for the house across from Riva's and Sam's.

"If business school were less harsh a mistress," said Sam, returning, "I'd love to take you." He dumped several brown bags and a thirty rack into the backseat. "Unfortunately I will be in class, learning the ins and outs of financial modeling and commodity swaps."

Riva picked Quentin up from his chemistry class the next day. "Cool hat," she said.

Quentin took off his purple beanie and examined it. "My mom made it. I have three."

Riva turned onto Bishop Street and parked in front of the green and eggshell Victorian house across from her own. Someone had already taken the sofa. Quentin bought a wooden nightstand for five dollars and a small notebook the size of a matchbook for twenty-five cents. His dorm room barely had space for the bunk beds, so the nightstand went in the common room, where it held the unused coffeepot like a ceremonial urn.

It turned out Quentin liked beekeeping and the radio and hated a cappella. Riva thought for sure he would not spin. In fact he was spared the need to say so, since nobody invited him.

"I don't think he appreciates my jokes," Sam said one evening. "Which makes it hard to talk to him."

"That has not been my experience."

"He likes you better. I guess he has good taste."

The black cat had made a friend, too—a slender, young grey cat who seemed to have inherited the green and eggshell Victorian across the street. No more did the black cat sit between curtain and windowpane. The cats chased real and imaginary prey at all hours.

One dry, windy afternoon, the grey cat darted across the street, and the black cat followed. Riva saw the back wheel of the bike. The black cat lurched across the street, its body broken, and collapsed beneath the door of a parked silver Honda. She convulsed and howled.

Riva ran to the window and craned to see around the roof of the porch. The bike lay on the side of the road. Its rider, from what she could see of him, just watched the cat.

Riva flung open the window and screamed, "Are you going to help that cat?"

"I'm trying to call someone," he said.

"You'd better do it fast. That cat is dying."

Riva looked up the number for the nearest animal hospital. "A biker ran over a cat outside my window," she told the woman on the other end of the line. She started giving her address, but the woman cut her off. There was a different number Riva needed to call, for the mayor's office. Riva wrote it down, called, and reached someone who gave her another number, this time for the police station. As she dialed, the biker stepped into clearer view.

From the back of his head hung a purple and blue beanie. For a moment I thought it was Quentin, Riva imagined telling Sam later. Quentin who killed the cat.

The phone only rang. Then someone else was calling. Riva read the familiar name on her phone. "Hello?" she asked Quentin.

"I spoke with the animal hospital," he said. "I think they'd talked to you already."

"Oh God," Riva said. "Quentin, I had no idea."

"I got a series of numbers. Someone should be coming."

"If I'd known—"

"I can't believe that car didn't stop."

"There was a car?"

"I thought for sure it would stop. Anyway, I have to get to class. Let me know if they come."

Across the street, a man with a messenger bag slung over his shoulder was pulling keys from his pocket and approaching the silver Honda. When he got to the door, he jumped back, his hand on his chest. By then the cat lay quiet and still. Riva and the grey cat watched the man, probably a grad student, search the street.

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