It took him a while to climb the eight flights up to his apartment, but he finally made it. After the second landing, he had slowed down a bit, then at the landing after the third floor, he started going a lot slower, and he would rest at every landing, and hope he didn’t get a leg cramp again. At last he finally opened his apartment door, and sat down on the old and faded green couch.
From somewhere, someone had found some folding chairs, and had left one at every landing, because this building was full of old-timers, and the kind soul who put out the chairs understood, probably all too well, the value of such a thing as a place to rest while climbing the stairs, especially when carrying a bag of groceries.
The old man made a mental note to get with the other folks in the building, to try to figure out some way to set a small table or stand of some sort by the chairs, so that you didn’t have to put the bag or package you might be carrying on the floor, and that way you wouldn’t have to bend down to pick it up when you got up from the chair – you could just slide it off the table, which would be so much easier on your back and your legs and hips.
He wished he could afford one of the apartments on one of the lower floors, but his pension only went so far, and if he took his time on the stairs, it was worth the savings he got for living on the top floor. It was enough so he could buy some extras once in a while, and two of those were sugar for his tea, and some canned milk, which he enjoyed, instead of drinking it plain all the time.
His wife, bless her soul, would have told him he was being over extravagant in buying sugar and canned milk, when he needed the money for other things, but she was only with him in memories now, and he could talk back to her a bit when she came around and nagged him, like she did at times like this, and he could tell her how he would buy what he wanted, and he would have a low-keyed argument with her, for a bit, which he dearly missed.
So he sometimes bought some sugar and some canned milk, just to show her! And also, he admitted, because it made him remember how she would scold him, and he would sit and have a conversation with her again, while he sipped his tea. He could almost see her there, opposite him at the small table they had shared for 54 years… her elbows at the edge, there, where the worn spots were – she had always put her elbows right there…
Benjamin, as if she knew, somehow, that there was cat food in the grocery bag, immediately rubbed against the old man’s leg, determined to be fed now, and not have to wait until later, when she would also want to be fed again.
Cats are like that, the old man had learned from his wife – they are quite good at the game of playing the human for a fool, and the human, because he is allowed to pet the cat, which is as close to stroking a tiger as he will come, is still awed by that fact, and is quite capable of being conned by a mere kitty cat. All it takes is some purring, and a small bit of attention, and the human is putty in the paws of a cat.
And Benjamin, as any female, was very good at playing the old man for a sucker. And the old man knew he was being played, and he liked the attention, so he went along with it. Both the old man and Banjamin thought they were the smarter of the two of them, but then, perhaps they both knew that the other knew…
Benjamin is a stange name for a female cat, but the old man’s wife liked the name, and she was the one that found Benjamin when she was just a kitten, half frozen and covered by a coating of slush and snow, shivering, and looking as sad and miserable as any kitten could look, and she brought that little kitten home, to get warm by the stove. (And she was not about to admit to her husband that she didn’t know that Benjamin was not a boy.) And after eleven years, Benjamin didn’t seem to mind being called Benjamin, so there it was.
Then later, warmed and dry, that little mottled and striped kitten had laid in the old woman’s lap as she fed the kitten some slightly warmed milk, with tiny bits of softened corn bread in it, and the old man remembered how good it was to watch that once-frightened and shivery tiny bit of cute fluff, as it curled up and fell asleep, feeling warm, fed, and safe, in his wife’s lap and caring old hands that evening. Snow covered the ground outside, but from that moment on, Benjamin would never have to walk in it again.
So the old man simply put the cat food in the cupboard, and left the grocery bag on the floor, and Benjamin promptly curled up inside it, and fell asleep. Cats are a lot like kids, sometimes, preferring a paper bag to a couch, just as a child sometimes prefers a cardboard box to a regular toy.
The old man smiled, as he brewed a small pot of tea, happy in the thought that when he went to bed later, that Benjamin would be right there, curled up next to him, softly purring, the music of that purring putting the old man to sleep with a smile.