Not for Nothing

There go the ships 

and this Leviathan you formed to play with

    —Psalm 104 

The judge sent me upstate for sixteen months for something that wasn’t really my fault. Sally wouldn’t take me back when I got out, so I had to live with my mother down on Ocean Parkway. She had three cats, two or three cats too many for a one-bedroom co-op apartment. There was a large black one, a smaller black one, and a calico. Sometimes they spread out and watched each other warily from perches of various heights. Other times, they swarmed together and cried out for food. 

The small black cat, who we called Zayit, was the most recent arrival. His owner had been deported. She went in for what was supposed to be a routine immigration check-in, and was taken directly into custody. The next-door neighbor, a coworker of my mother’s at the Department of Social Services, heard the abandoned cat wailing through the wall and the super let her in to rescue him. But she already had a pit bull who was a sweet dog but couldn’t be trusted with a kitten. So, my mother took the cat. 

She insisted on going into work the day the storm hit the city. The statement read on the news said everyone should avoid unnecessary travel, stay away from windows, and be prepared for the hurricane to make landfall in the late afternoon. But my mother couldn’t stand to miss a whole day of her job, trying to help people who didn’t want to be helped. As for myself, I had nowhere to go, anyway, so I lay on my back on the fold-out couch, while Zayit kneaded my paunchy stomach with his sharp, little claws. The two larger cats, who had formed a coalition against him, watched from atop the bookshelves. 

I scrolled through employment listings on my phone. Sally had made it clear that she wouldn’t even consider getting back together with me as long as I was unemployed and broke. But as much as I needed to find a job, there was no point looking today. No one would be hiring during a hurricane. Not that I was a great candidate in any weather: twenty-nine, with a class-B felony and no legitimate experience to speak of. 

I had an idea that, if no one would hire me, I could rent a kiosk at the Kings Plaza mall and start some sort of retail business. I knew a guy who could get me authentic-looking fake sneakers at a good price. Some of what he got wasn’t even fakes, just B-grades with barely perceptible flaws. But even this scheme seemed out of reach. My mother had had higher hopes for me—I was a pretty smart kid, graduated from Brooklyn Tech. But then I drifted in a different direction, too far out to swim back. 

Giving up on the job search, I closed the browser and opened Instagram. Sally had posted a picture of herself dressed up for her new internship. Her hair was straightened, and she wore a navy blazer that made her look like the CEO of my heart. I spent the rest of the morning playing games on my phone while Zayit dozed beside me. 

Around noon, my mother called from the office to say that she was going to head home in a bit. The mayor had declared a state of emergency, and all city offices were closing early. But she still wouldn’t make it home for a couple more hours, and she was worried about her Aunt Frayda. Frayda lived alone in Coney Island, in Hurricane Zone 1, whose inhabitants had been ordered to evacuate. I had never considered our neighborhood’s elevation before, but it turned out we were way up in Zone 6. Frayda refused to leave or accept any help, but she was apparently upset that the Chinese restaurant she ordered her dinner from three times a week wasn’t delivering during the storm. 

“So if you could please just go down there,” my mother said, “to bring her some food, and sort of check up on her, that would be a big help to me.” 

The Adidas windbreaker I threw on proved to be too light, but you don’t expect a day in August to be so cold. I flipped up the collar to cover my face. The wind blew trash around on the street and threw dust up in my eyes. A sign hanging on chains in front of an optometrist danced like a marionette.