Instead of catching the next bus home, she walked out onto the avenue, down past the frozen trees of the park, and down the hill into the heart of the city. It was dark, and cold, and she tugged her long coat tighter. She needed a change in atmosphere. She crossed a glass sky-bridge, colored lights twinkling in the frozen air, and the open sky made her feel a little better.
Mark wanted something, but she had no idea what. Even when they were together, he had been enigmatic at best, and often deliberately misleading. And so, like a seed caught between her back teeth that she couldn’t dislodge, a feeling of dread rooted itself into the back of her mind and slowly began to spread.
Now Melody needed something to eat, and a chance to relax. Downtown was surprisingly busy for the season. She was rounding a corner when she noticed she was being followed, but not by anything dangerous. She stopped, and peered down an empty alley. Amidst the garbage and discarded furniture, several sets of yellow eyes peered up at her. She grinned.
“Hey, babies,” she called into the alley, and three alley cats appeared from the shadows. “I wish I had some food for you.” The cats mewed their agreement with that sentiment. Two of them – an orange tabby and a fat Siamese – approached Melody fearlessly, butting up against her. They had only been abandoned recently, she knew, and still hung onto their domestic nature. The third was a wild-eyed tom, thin and feral, and took his time trusting her. He stared her down, perched atop a stack of broken wooden pallets.
“I’m sorry, sweethearts,” she said, and the orange cat at her feet mewed sadly, nearly breaking Melody’s heart. “I’m going inside for a while, where it’s warm. No, you can’t come with me. I have to get some people food first, but if you find me later, I’ll get you something to eat.”
The orange cat turned her head to one side, licked her lips and with a leap and a scuffle, vanished into the shadows. The Siamese wasn’t so graceful, but wandered off as well, leaving the tom still perched, roughly the height of Melody’s head, glaring at her.
“You too, you big meanie,” she said, and stuck out her tongue. “But you have to be nice to Francis. He’s not good with strangers.”
The black cat yawned wide, his pink tongue flicked out, and he leapt down from the pallets into the darkness.
Down the street, she passed Frond’s – the dance club that throbbed uncomfortably and radiated much more sexual energy than Melody was entirely comfortable with – and the Watchtower Pub. Something trickled through her as she passed the Watchtower; someone inside made her curious. She peeked through a window, and caught a glimpse of a handsome man in a starched white dress shirt sitting by himself at the bar. She stared another moment, trying to glean what was so interesting about him, but scurried away quickly when he turned to look outside.
In a nearby Greek restaurant she ordered a falafel and a coffee and sat alone, just inside the window. An untended fire slowly burned away in a fireplace across the room, providing little heat. With no other customers, the proprietor wandered into the back where Melody presumed his wife was cooking, as snippets of an argument trickled back to her. She didn’t understand the language, but the anger that filled the air needed little translation. Melody began to feel a little uncomfortable. The argument quickly escalated; the man and woman began shouting and stomping about, oblivious to the business they may have been scaring off. Grateful that she’d paid her bill when she ordered, Melody wrapped up her pita and trudged outside to a covered bus stop, soaking in the bitter cold. A few minutes later, a curious meow and a bundle of orange fur joined her on the bench.
“Where are your friends?” she asked. “Not as brave as you?” Melody offered some falafel but after a sniff the cat turned away and sneezed in disgust. “I guess you’re not a vegetarian.”
She finished her dinner in silence, and sipped her coffee while the cat made herself comfortable in Melody’s lap, quickly falling asleep. Her turtleneck was warm enough, she thought, and the night was beautiful, if cold. She amused herself by watching her breath waft away in the frozen air.
And, though she rarely indulged herself, she decided what she really wanted was a cigarette.