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Ginger. By Martin Green.

Paul Lerner slept late that Saturday, the result of not sleeping well the night before. When he appeared in the kitchen, his wife Ellen said, “Ginger’s back. She’s on the porch. I gave her something to eat. Ken’s not up yet.” Ginger was their wandering cat, who disappeared for days at a time before turning up again. Ken was their oldest son, who since graduating from college had been staying with them without giving any sign that he was interested in getting a job, which was the reason Paul was having trouble sleeping nights.

After having breakfast, Paul sat in the living room reading the morning paper. There was a scratching at the door and Ellen let Ginger in. Ginger promptly came over and jumped onto Paul’s lap, then moved up to sit on his chest. She liked to sit there, her yellow eyes fixed on Paul’s face, purring while he stroked her. Paul did so now but carefully. You had to be careful with Ginger as she might suddenly decide she was tired of your stroking and scratch you.

“Do you know what time he got home last night” asked Paul.

“It was late.”

“What’s he doing this weekend?”

“I don’t know. He’ll probably go to Helen’s.” Helen was Ken’s girl friend, who shared an apartment with two other girls.

“I wonder if he’ll ever start looking for a job? He can’t loaf around here all summer.”

“We should try to talk to him again.”

“Maybe we should just tell him to get out.”

“You know we can’t do that.”

“Well, he’d have to do something then.”

This was the kind of conversation about Ken they’d been having the last two weeks and Paul was getting tired of it. Just then, Ken himself came into the room. He was dressed in a pair of baggy shorts and an old tee-shirt. His long hair was uncombed and the beard he’d grown while at college unkempt. Ginger, distracted, jumped down and went to the front door. Ellen let her out.

“Where’d you go last night?” Paul asked Ken.

“Just hung out with a few friends,” said Ken, not really answering the question.

“What are your plans for next week?”

“I don’t have any plans?”

“How about looking for work?”

“I don’t know what I want to do.”

“I told you I can set you up with a couple of interviews.” Paul was a manager in one of the State agencies and had already talked to some fellow managers about Ken.

“That’s one thing I know. I don’t want to work for the State.”

“Well, you have to do something.”

“Jeez. Why are you always on my case?”

“Do you want to go back to school and get a teaching credential?” asked Ellen. “They’re begging for teachers now.”

“No, I don’t want to be a teacher.”

Paul was getting that exasperated feeling he always had when trying to talk with his son. “Well,” he said. “From now on we want you to let us know when you’re staying out late.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Ken. “I’m not a little kid any more.”

Paul wanted to say that as long as Ken was staying in his house and being supported by him he had to abide by his rules, but that was such a cliché he found himself saying instead, “Well, if you’re so grown up you can move out and live someplace else.”

“Okay with me. I hate being here.” He turned and left the room.

“Where are you going?” called Ellen.

“To get some of my shit. Then I’m going to Helen’s. I can stay with her.”

“What about her roommates?”

“I don’t know.” They heard Ken banging around in his room, then he came out carrying a gym bag.

“Dad didn’t mean you had to leave,” said Ellen.

“I’ll be at Helen’s.” He slammed the door as he left.

“Do you think he’ll be back?” asked Ellen.

“I don’t know, but he can’t have gotten much stuff in that little bag.”

“We can’t just kick him out.”

“Why not? You heard him say he hates it here.”

“He didn’t mean it.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“If he’s not back tonight, I’m calling Helen’s.”


“I’m going shopping now, to the supermarket. I have to get out and do something.”

A little later, Paul heard a scratching at the door. He let Ginger in and filled a bowl with cat food for her. When she was done eating, she came and perched on his chest again. He stroked her, again with care. Ellen was right, he thought. They couldn’t just kick Ken out, much as he’d like to.. He continued to stroke Ginger until the cat suddenly jumped to the floor and went to the door to be let out.


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