the rhino upstairs (short short in 611 words–or 60 minutes–or fewer)

“Estranged” Holden said, maybe just to get Grace riled.  She yelled at him, “Patience!” And she left the singing room and went home.  He was just having fun at her expense.  Everyone knows “Welcome to the Jungle” is the best Guns n Roses song, but long ago—six months or so—they’d agreed “Patience” was their song.

Over-reaction, sure.  It was stressful at home with the stray cat they were trying to find a home for—the cat was running incessant  laps on the counter and table tops, gnawing on plants, assassinating peaceful toes.  But the real reason they were out at the singing room was to escape the rhino upstairs.  The house had been shaking every night for five hours, a large mammal upstairs doing laps or gymnastics or just seeing how long it took for the humans downstairs to come and complain.  The rhino wanted to spear the human and laugh.  Holden was sure.

It was his call to go out that night.  Everything bothered him more than it did her.  She had the uncanny ability to close her ears when watching YouTube—which she did more than anyone really ought to.  Is “Growing Pains” really that great of a show that she couldn’t at least show some sympathy when Holden was complaining about the cat or the noise or his students or the administration or the traffic or the market owner or the unsanitary conditions at the doctor’s office?

The cat was sweet to Grace.  The cat–named Pumpkin but really should have been named  Cheeto–was dubbed Stupid by Holden.  Grace didn’t like that; it was the one thing she always heard with those skillfully-selective ears of hers.  The cat didn’t like the name Stupid, either.  If only Grace would see Pumpkin during the long hours of alone time Holden and the cat spent.  Since Grace was teaching winter session all day, Holden was left to his own devices.  Since Pumpkin only understood Korean, he couldn’t sympathize with Holden’s emasculation as the house wench and plight as the ever-besieged foreigner.

Out of sheer boredom, Holden tried many times to befriend the cat; but Pumpkin didn’t seem to like being put on his back and spun on the hardwood floor and then left to bump off furniture and fall over.  Inevitably, when Holden was between cleaning the breakfast dishes and making dinner, he would take a nap or read a book on tourism in Thailand or stare at the ceiling.  Just as surely, Pumpkin would attack, an elaborate and patient assault on unguarded toes or fingers.

Just yesterday, Holden caught the cat by his tail after one such surprise attack.  He pulled the cat toward him, picked him up by the scruff of his back and flung him against the wall.  If Grace knew this, they would certainly break up.  She was or wasn’t accusatory, asking why the cat cringed behind her all night after she got home.  Holden said Pumpkin was Stupid, that’s why.

Could it really be true, Grace said to herself, that this boyfriend of hers had been a teacher of small Korean children for the past six years?  Could it really be true, she continued her internal rhetorical query, that she loved him?

When Holden got home from the singing room, Grace was surfing the net: watching the series finale of “Growing Pains” for the sixth time, looking at prices for taking a cat home with her, scanning  She didn’t look up as Holden walked toward the kitchen.  Pumpkin fled frantically from under the dining table and knocked over a small plant.  After he’d settled under the bed, Pumpkin meowed plaintively.  The rhino upstairs was pirouetting and the elephant in the room stayed absolutely still.

[46 minutes]

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