Prologue - Early May, 2001
Snagglepuss, his former owner had told Gina, had gnawed through an electrical cord when he was 8 weeks old and lived to tell the tale. The shock hadn't killed the kitten, but the electrical jolt had sent him rocketing yards across the room, and left him with the right side of his upper muzzle frozen in a permanent, Elvis-like sneer, exposing a few fangs. It didn't interfere with his lifestyle, just made him look like a badass to all the other cats in the neighborhood, but Snagglepuss was an indoor cat now, and he wasn't happy about it.
Snagglepuss meowed again, pacing feverishly before the bookcase that Gina had pushed in front of his swinging pet door. The tabby now looked actively pissed; the side of his muzzle with the teeth exposed faced Gina, adding to the effect.
Gina sighed, picked Snagglepuss up gently, carried him to his new plastic litterbox a few steps away, and set him down. Snagglepuss looked at her and back to the box again, as if to say just what the hell am I supposed to do with that thing? Gina placed him in the box, took one black and dove-gray paw, and carefully made scratching motions in the sand with it.
"C'mon, S.P. , work with me," she told him gently, standing back. Snagglepuss promptly jumped out of the box and peed on the carpet, glaring at her. So, Gina thought, I guess this is a setback.
Gina cleaned up the mess and stretched out on her couch. So far this week had room for improvement. She had called up a referral service for therapists last week, got names of two to start. They meant well, but they hadn't helped. Gina was beginning to be frightened that no-one could help, that the concept of being past the point of help wasnt a joke, but actually possible. Her first visit had been to Dr. West, who had a bright, cheerful office with a view of the Sound. Most of the 50 minutes were spent simply giving him a rundown of the events since January that had lead her to seek therapy. Even though he'd let her go 5 minutes over, she'd still barely finished. Gina had trudged out to her car afterwards to be greeted by the sight of a blue Diamond envelope stuck under her windshield, and discovered they had a new policy: they now tacked on a handling fee of $5.00 with a ticket. The only surprise was that it was 5 bucks instead of 10 or 20.
The second therapist, Dr. Ridley, was located within two blocks of the Vine Building. At first, Gina had thought the close proximity to her office would be a plus, then wondered later what she'd been thinking when she had to walk nearly into the street to navigate around a derelict asking for spare change. He spoke in such a slurred voice that she couldn't understand a word; she just interpreted what he wanted from his gestures.
Gina thought she would make one more appointment with Dr. West, give the guy a chance. She hadn't even begun to tell him about the stress from work. The last month, her job consisted mainly of trying to talk people out of quitting. She needed to figure a better method of doing this, but God, everything made her tired. Some employees Gina talked to had a job offer, or at least a prospect. Most, however, did not. She assumed they had savings, since they were giving up their severance package. "Not really, but fuck this," Soul Patch had responded when she asked him if he had money to live on till he found a new job. Fuck this had become the unofficial new motto at work.
Annie had told her a few days ago that in the long run, she knew this job wasn't life or death. Short term, however, was another story: she and her husband needed that severance check. So did Toni, and quite a few others. Annie was counting down the number of days left to wrestle through. Along with many others,she had a large, hand drawn countdown sheet
thumbtacked above her cubicle headed DAYS TO GO in which she crossed the days off, such as a convict in some old-fashioned prison movie would. Annie said that she wouldn't be a bundle of nerves forever, but Annie's hands still shook, and she still frequently and obsessively checked her stats for the day. Gina wondered if she should just drop all pretenses and supply them all with a blackboard and a stick of chalk.
Later, in the middle of a halfhearted update on her website, she realized she had no cash for the parking lot for her second appointment with Dr. West tomorrow. Gina pulled on her sandals; her limbs felt full of wet sand. Go to the grocery store with an ATM tied in with her bank, save the fee. She should have gotten the cash before, but she had forgotten. She found herself forgetting lots of things the last few weeks; her short term memory was shot to hell. Jogging had already gone right out the window months ago. Some things she just didn't bother with anymore; everything was too much trouble.
Oh, fuck the grocery store, Gina thought dully. She'd just drive wherever was closest, and pay the fee. There was one around the corner from Walgreen's. "Park on the goddamn street, get the goddamn 5 bucks for the Diamond lot tomorrow morning, so I make my goddamn appointment, which probably isn't going to do me any goddamn good," she muttered as she drove. Gina parked, slammed the door of the Swinger shut --chunk-- and walked around the corner of the cinderblock building to the ATM. She jammed her card in, and saw, with little surprise, a sign informing her that her own bank would charge an additional fee. Fine. Screw it. She thumbed the button to continue.
The machine bleeped and asked her how much she wanted, in denominations of twenties. Gina realized disgustedly that this wasn't going to work, she needed fives, and she'd have to drive all the goddamn way to--
"Give it up, bitch," a low, menacing voice behind her said as she heard the sharp click of a gun being cocked.
"No," Gina heard herself say.