A pitcher was in my hand when I spotted the flyer, old and wrinkled on a backwoods telephone pole. Last week I had planted seeds around the perimeter of the neighborhood and this was my first round of watering them.
LOST, read the flyer, accompanied by a picture of a cat on a lap. MR. BIGGS was handwritten underneath it, with a phone number in blue pen. The fingers petting Mr. Biggs were pale and long-fingered, with tiny streaks of lightning painted on the nails. I entered the number into my contact list under the name BIGGS.
I went home and did not think about Mr. Biggs again until that night, when I saw a commercial for cat litter. It was long and I was trying to be more spontaneously social, so I picked up my phone and dialed BIGGS and after four rings a woman’s voice came through the other end.
“Hi,” I said.
“I saw your poster,” I said. “Mr. Biggs.”
“Oh,” she said. “You saw Mr. Biggs?”
“No,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Just the flyer.”
“I looked for him though.”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s a little bastard.”
“But I miss him.”
There was a pause. I pictured Mr. Biggs knocking over food and scratching at people and I thought to myself: what a little bastard. And then I said,
“Lightning terrifies me.”
There was another, longer pause, and I almost hung up because I thought that she’d hung up. And then she said,
“I promise to never point at you.”
And I hung up because it felt like the farthest we could go, like when you’re swimming across a pool and you hit the other side, or when you have to leave wherever because the parking meter’s up.
On Monday, I devoted the whole of my morning to the search for Mr. Biggs. I didn’t call his name because if a stranger called my name I would probably think that I had broken a law. I saw other animals that nobody was looking for and chased after them for a moment to make them feel wanted; a chance to reject is the worst source of pride but at least it is something. Around noon, I came across a woman walking through the fields in back of the supermarket. She wore a sequined blue dress and high heels, fingernails bright pink.
“Mr. Biggs!” She called. “Where are you Mr. Biggs?”
I approached and asked if she was the owner, telling her before she answered that it was me; the caller from last night.
“I’m not the owner,” she said. “I’m just looking.”
“Oh,” I said. “Me too.”
The woman nodded.
“We’re gonna find that little bastard.”
We looked for Mr. Biggs together through the afternoon. Next to the old high school soccer field, we came upon a middle-aged man pacing slow through the grass, eyes scanning the horizon. When we saw each other, there was something distantly understood between the three of us, as if we had robbed a bank together in a previous life. Without words, we continued the search as a party of three, ascending the hill that marked the edge of the neighborhood and reaching the top by nightfall, where we gathered up twigs and made a bonfire and sat around the perimeter warming our hands, eyes resting on the gleaming lights of the next town over. The air was thick with defeat and my head sunk into my knees. I thought about my plants and how they, at least, were getting somewhere. When I looked up, the middle-aged man had fallen asleep. The woman and I stood and agreed to try again tomorrow.
The next day, there was a crowd with the woman when she met me in back of the supermarket.
“Who are all these people?” I asked.
The woman shrugged, still wrapped tight in her dirtied blue dress.
“Guess word got out,” she said.
The two of us led the way, the crowd following. I had never had a crowd follow me before and it made the haunting sensation that I was somehow supposed to know where I was going very real. We explored back alleys, peaked inside dumpsters, and tried to think like a cat. The consensus was milk and mice and yarn stores. There weren’t many of the last two around and the first wasn’t readily available to animals. One of the new searchers was a boy with a toy airplane and he attached the Mr. Biggs flyer to it and flew it across town until the airplane ran out of batteries and crashed on top of a Chinese restaurant.
By the end of the week, we were knocking on doors and handing out flyers on the street. New people were joining us every day and we had someone on every corner, in every neighborhood. The city itself seemed to be growing with us; it was as if more people lived there than ever before.
Months passed. The woman in the stained and torn blue dress went with me to make a presentation to the mayor, who declared the search for Mr. Biggs a citywide priority. Homeowners were instructed to leave bowls of milk on their porches at night and volunteers took shifts watching from their cars to see if Mr. Biggs came to drink. The sense of comradery in the streets was wonderful. Strangers stopped each other to ask if they had heard of any sightings and heads shook in unison at the bad news. We were like Christmas elves, all working together in pursuit of a single day: the day we would find Mr. Biggs. There was an unspoken feeling between all of us that when this happened, other things would follow. Things like love; world peace; the end of all sorrow. Or at least maybe an orgy.
When the boy with the toy airplane had his bat mitzvah, the streets outside the synagogue were packed with humanity, everyone doing the wave. The woman in the blue dress and I sat in the front row as honored guests, clapping until our hands got red. During his speech, the boy attached a piece of paper reading thank you to his new airplane and flew it above our heads. The paper dropped somewhere in the middle of the synagogue and a young girl caught it and blushed. Before landing the plane, the boy said,
“We’re gonna find that little bastard.”
And the crowd erupted in applause.
Nobody ever asked the woman in the blue dress about her wardrobe, but it got so you could smell her coming three streets down. I thought that it was probably something she planned to keep up until we found Mr. Biggs, like some sort of religious vow, and I admired the dedication. Sundays were my favorite, when the two of us would meet in my apartment and plan the week’s actions. Out there we had become celebrities, but in here we were just people again. Even though all we ever talked about was the Mr. Biggs movement, I felt closer to the woman in the blue dress than anyone. And there were moments together; moments when we agreed on a new tactic in shared jubilance and smiled across the planning-board; moments when we walked out of my apartment and she said goodbye as the paparazzi swarmed us; moments in which I began to feel slightly less concerned with Mr. Biggs.
After a few years, the movement began to die down. People lost hope and moved away to cities less preoccupied with the finding of a cat. I still gave my regular Thursday night pep talk at the diner, but there were fewer and fewer people in attendance. Our weekly search parties dwindled until we were back to double digits.
The boy with the toy airplane got married at 21 to the girl who caught his thank you message at the synagogue. All of the Biggs searchers and former Biggs searchers were in attendance, the mood between us like that of a college reunion, our glory days firmly behind us. There was a fear creeping up in the back of my mind that all our movement had ever been was a bunch of people pretending to be not lonely. It was an outdoor wedding and a toy airplane flew through the air, carrying a paper that read: Harry and Cindy together forever! Most of us didn’t know who Harry or Cindy were but we could assume out of context and we smiled with parental affection as the boy-with-the-airplane/Harry kissed his bride at the altar. During the reception, the woman in the downright filthy blue dress asked Harry for a dance, sulking away after he gently suggested she take a shower already.
At the final search party, I was alone. After ten minutes of retracing my steps for the thousandth time, I felt around in my pocket and removed the original Mr. Biggs flyer. I stared at the fingernails, I stared at the lightning, I stared at that little bastard in the lap. And I turned the flyer over, eyes widening when I saw the address, printed on the back the whole time. I found a telephone book and looked it up immediately, landing on the name: Deborah Evans.
I felt nervous when I knocked on her door, as if I was showing up for a date nine years late. The woman who answered had lightning-bolt fingernails and wore a tank top with applesauce smeared on it in several locations. I held up the flyer in place of a hello and she looked at me long before inviting me in.
Deborah gave me a cup of coffee and we sat at her kitchen table. Behind us kids ran around and shouted and disobeyed her in a variety of ways.
“I found Mr. Biggs in the backyard a few days after we talked on the phone,” she said. “He was old, but I got three more years with that little bastard.”
I sank back in the chair; it seemed impossible.
“Mr. Biggs is dead?”
“He’s in kitty heaven.”
Outside, Deborah told me where Mr. Biggs was buried and pointed towards the gravesite. Her directions led me to the top of the hill that marked the edge of town, where the middle-aged man was still sleeping, his belly swollen with a gentle rise and fall. I stood next to the mound of dirt that poked up with the presence of a dead cat and closed my eyes, waiting for lightning to strike me. Before this happened, I heard a rustling noise to my right and looked over to see the middle-aged man waking. He shifted up to a sitting position and looked around, as drowsy as nine straight years of sleep will make you.
“What’d I miss?” He asked.
I shook my head.
I thought about all the dreams that the middle-aged man must have had over the years, all the love and world peace and ending of sorrows he must have seen. There was probably an orgy in there too. And I thought that perhaps it was not him who’d been sleeping his life away, but the rest of us who’d been living our lives away. I looked at him and said,
“Do you ever think that life is a bunch of people pretending to be not lonely?”
The middle-aged man put his hand on my shoulder and sighed, then began to walk slowly down the hill.
Five minutes after our meeting was supposed to start that weekend, I got a phone call from the woman in the blue dress.
“I can’t make it today,” she said. “Can we reschedule?”
I took a deep breath.
“Sure,” I said.
I knew that this rescheduling was never going to happen; our meetings had come to an end; there wasn’t even a reason for them anymore, and the woman in the blue dress was just trying to make it less dramatic.
“Great,” she said. “I’ll talk to you later.”
I sat over our planning board, with the notecards and post-its and thumbtacks. The hopes and dreams of our time.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
There was a pause and I knew that we had reached it; the end of the pool, the limit of the parking meter. Still, I held the phone tight.
“Amy,” she said.
My plants would be grazing the sky by now.
Timothy Day is a restless, absent-minded and awkward person living in Seattle. His fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Menacing Hedge, The Apple Valley Review, Bird’s Thumb, Fiction Fix, WhiskeyPaper, Mulberry Fork Review, Burrow Press Review, and Petrichor Machine. You can visit him online at frogsmirkles.wordpress.com.