Short fiction: Lincoln Dunwoody

Lincoln Dunwoody is a piece of short fiction I wrote in August of 2014 as an exercise for the class Scenes from a Book taught by Candace Denning at the Indiana Writer’s Center.

Lincoln Dunwoody is the guy who opens my cans for me. He likes to tell people he’s my owner, but that’s a bit of a delusion. Lincoln has trouble remembering his briefcase in the morning, and I’m building a weather machine in the spare room while he’s at work, so who owns who in this situation?

I know it seems contradictory that I’m building a weather machine and that I can’t open cans, but you’d be surprised how resourceful I am for a cat, despite the cursed lack of opposable thumbs. I can do a lot of things with my teeth, and I know how to apply basic physics – gravitational, electrical, and magnetic forces, friction, tension, air resistance, applied force, spring force. I’ve used them all in my science projects.

It’s just that damned twisting motion of the can opener that defies mastery. I tried meowing loudly near the television when the commercial for cat food that comes in pouches comes on, but Lincoln just pets my head and coos silly stuff at me like “I’m sorry, Truesdale. That is a pretty lady cat, but she’s just on TV. Someday we’ll both meet nice ladies to go out with.” I don’t need a lady, I need food I can fix myself.

Truesdale is the name Lincoln calls me. My actual name is Jake Mortlock, but it’s probably better that Lincoln doesn’t know that, in case I have to go on the lam.

Honestly, Lincoln is a bit of a lily pickle most of the time. He’s sort of round and squishy, and he hasn’t got much hair, except for a bristle of a mustache that he needs to trim more often because it ends up in his mouth when he talks. And he talks to me a lot. He likes to narrate what he’s doing, as if I can’t see it for myself as he fusses around the apartment.

Last night was really odd, though. Lincoln didn’t talk at all when he got home after work. Usually he seems resigned and drops his briefcase obliviously just inside the door, but last night he swung it merrily round in the air and flipped it on the table, did a couple of half-steps like he was dancing, and tried a little whistling. It came out odd, so he switched to humming, which sounded better, although I still couldn’t figure out if there was a tune. He dance-hummed his way into the bedroom and started undressing. I went in to watch, because it was 6 o’clock and not time for bed at all. In his underpants and t-shirt, he pulled a bag from the closet and zipped it open to lay out a black suit I’d never seen on the bed. Then he retrieved a shoebox from the closet shelf, and a square brush, and he dusted off a pair of shiny (stylish!) black shoes that I’d also never laid eyes on before. He foxtrotted into the bathroom, brushed his teeth, combed the few hairs he still had on his head, and to my shock, actually trimmed that silly mustache. He hummed his way into the spiffy duds and even tied a bright red tie, straightening it in the dressing room mirror, brushing off wrinkles and fastening cufflinks. With neatly folded pocket square tucked in, Lincoln Dunwoody looked downright dashing. Of course, then he spritzed on some cologne that made me sneeze, but nobody’s perfect.

He checked the time – 6:50 p.m. – and danced to the front door, turning to me as he left. “You hold down the fort, Truesdale. I have a date tonight.”

Will wonders never cease? I didn’t want to miss any additional action, so I decided to put my weather machine work on hold and add to my Minions Project in the kitchen instead so I’d be near the door when Lincoln came home. The Minions Project is where I gather up all my cat hairs into a ball under the refrigerator. When I get enough of it together, I’m going to chew through the lamp cord and apply some electricity to the hairball, animating it into a tiny baby cat that I can control with my mind. Eventually I will build a small army and we will take over the world.

I was still absorbed in my cat bath at 9:45 when I heard Lincoln’s heavy tread on the stairs. He was not dancing when he came in the door. He was not humming. Lincoln was sad. His head was down and his shoulders drooped. He didn’t even seem to see me; he just dropped his keys on the table, loosened his tie, and proceeded to the bedroom. He slowly put his happy suit of clothes back into the garment bag and zipped it up as though he was putting it away forever. Back into the closet went the shiny shoes and bright red tie, and Lincoln Dunwoody sat down heavily on the edge of the bed in his underwear, looking much older and more battered than the 45 years that he was.

Even smaller-than-average tuxedo cats with nefarious plans to rule the world have compassion. Who could look at this scene and not feel some sympathy? I don’t have a white heart shape on my chest for nothing. I curled myself around Lincoln’s ankles and purred, swishing my tail back and forth to pet him. Happily, he brightened up and leaned over to pet me. “At least I’ll always have you, won’t I, Truesdale?” Of course you will, you big silly billy. I need you to open my cans. And when I finish that Longevity Mechanism, we’ll both be immortal and I’ll need you to carry my sacks of money to the bank.

But for now I needed to work on a different plan.

The next morning when Lincoln opened the door to head out to work, I squeezed past his ankles and zipped down the hall. Lincoln came running after me, because he also suffers under the delusion that I never leave the apartment (I have a strategic hole in the bathroom screen) and would get lost if I were out (I have personally mapped half of Prospect Park). At the end of the hall, Apartment 5G belonged to Alice Coddington, owner of Eagle Magnetics, a company that does sheet metal fabrication for magnetic shielding. She inherited the company from her father, and she’s a looker, let me tell you. I heard about Alice from the Gerrold the Beagle in 5B, who said that Alice also inherited a fluffy white cat I should get to know. I heard her door opening at about this same time every morning, so I took a chance. Normally I like to think things through, but sometimes you have to roll the dice, and that morning I was in luck.

Alice came into the hall at precisely the right time. I immediately rubbed my head against her pretty ankles and then flopped on the floor at her feet, purring loudly. She bent over to pet me, and Gerrold was right, she was really pretty. I shamelessly curled up on her toes just as Lincoln arrived to fetch me. “I’m sorry. He never tries to get out; I don’t know what got into him.”

Normally I’d correct that nonsense, but I was pouring on the charm. “What’s his name?” Alice asked.

“Truesdale.”

“That’s so sweet. Aren’t you a sweet kitty, Truesy?” Alice cooed at me, and I made a mental note to steal some extra treats from Lincoln later. I deserved them for this performance.

“I’m sorry; I’ve got to get to work.” Lincoln said, scooping me up.

“Oh, me too. Maybe you could bring Truesdale over this evening and he could meet my Sasha? She’s a sweetheart, too. I’ll bet they’d get along.”

Even from my perch in his arms I could see Lincoln’s face light up like a Christmas tree. I just kept purring like a jet engine.

Nobody puts a plan together like Jake Mortlock.

1,342 words.

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