His mother had been begging him to visit all summer long and now he is here, wide awake and currently sitting on the floral-printed couch of his youth. His weekend duffel bag is open and overflowing in a corner of the living room. It is after midnight and the heat from the day has risen and settled into this silent, second floor apartment. 

Cedric is shirtless and watching the Nature Channel on mute. His mother is asleep in her tiny bedroom and he does not want to disturb her. He has activated the closed captioning on the television and periodically reads the information on the screen. A beer, covered in beer sweat, sits by Cedric on the arm of the couch and faces the TV. They’re watching a documentary on manatees, this beer and him.

Cedric wishes he was tired and had thought the combination of alcohol and the Nature Channel would encourage unconsciousness. No such luck. He is trying not to think about his life but the night is long and the internet is boring. His mother’s cat is passed out on an adjacent cushion of the couch. Her arms and legs are dramatically splayed. Cedric thinks: show off. He reaches over and rubs the cat’s head, watching as she pulls her lips back and bares her teeth.

On the television a manatee is floating serenely in the warm waters of southern Florida. It floats like a giant balloon in a parade in New York City. It floats like a vintage screensaver, like a pixelated toaster with wings. It turns out that all manatees have fingernails on their flippers. This ridiculous fact, unknown to Cedric until tonight, causes him to laugh out loud and lean forward on the couch. He takes a sip from his beer and, awake as ever, watches a manatee as it slowly dines on a bed of seagrass.

Cedric is wearing gym shorts of yesteryear: high school era, drawstring fraying, and his last name scrawled on the fabric with permanent marker. He found these shorts stuffed in a trash bag at the back of the hallway closet and they still fit. He feels good in these shorts, relatively young and pretty limber. He pulls the elastic band of the shorts out from his belly and looks down. He thinks about reaching in but instead he gets up and walks towards the big, single pane window of the apartment. One or two lights are shining from a row of small houses across the street. A semi truck rumbles by and Cedric can feel it and hear it and see it. The cat is now awake and she watches Cedric from the couch, her eyes peeking over the armrest, her tail waving slowly in the air.

Earlier in the day, Cedric and his mom had gone to lunch. When the check came they agreed to split it, although Cedric had wanted to treat her. He wanted to buy her Cobb salad and her Diet Coke but she had insisted on going dutch. In the end he didn’t put up much of a fight. It is dark enough outside that Cedric can now see his own ugly expression reflecting in the window of the dimly lit apartment. He puts his hand over his heart and grips his bare chest, pushing his fingers in as far as they can go. He contemplates whether he’ll ever be able to afford cable and thinks vaguely: maybe. Not premium but perhaps the Nature Channel. Cedric keeps thinking. Cable is outdated and this rented apartment is impossible to inherit.

He heads for the fridge and the twelve pack of beer he brought down with him. He selects one of the dwindling cans and cracks it in the dark. Takes a long drink. From the kitchen he can see a manatee on TV. The camera is panning over the animal’s back, documenting the patchwork of scars received from the propellers of various motor boats that travel along the shallow waterways of southern Florida. The words on the screen relate that these noble creatures are currently in need of protection. Cedric wonders if simply staying afloat, despite all of life’s various assaults, eventually makes you a noble creature.

The cat has joined him in the kitchen and is winding her way between his legs. She’s been following him around the entire weekend. Cedric bends down and looks into the cat’s green eyes. “Are you obsessed with me?” he asks, louder than he meant to. The cat turns away, as if surprised or embarrassed by such a direct question, but Cedric presses down on her back, pets her firmly, and she returns. For some reason, he feels flattered. Cedric sits down on the kitchen floor and drinks his beer. Keeps petting the cat. Unknown to him, his mother now barely opens her bedroom door; she stands in the dark, quietly watching and thinking about her son. Neither of them are quite tired yet.