What You Missed While I was Watching Your Cat

by Christopher Gonzalez

The woman upstairs—have you met her?—moves furniture between 10pm and midnight. She drags what must be an anvil across the floor, and the whole apartment rattles. The Cat is not a fan. He stood on his hind legs, one night, balancing on top of the sofa, pawing wildly toward the ceiling. Stretching until he was past my eye level. I rewarded him for his efforts with a healthy splash of a double IPA in his water bowl. Then I lit every candle you own—the scented Yankees and the waxy, white sticks that weep when they melt—and watched the Cat’s shadow flicker and bounce around the walls, on the floor, against the windowpane, flashing in the corner of my eyes when I closed them, like the boogeyman from my childhood nightmares.

*

The whiskey you got me lasted a week. I rarely drink on Mondays, Wednesdays or Thursdays; on a Tuesday, I killed half the bottle. Once I got a strong buzz going, I opened your dresser drawers, pulled out your boxers, bras and panties. I held them against my groin and thrusted, hoping for a smidge of what it feels like for you two to have such close contact. Finished with the undergarments, I tossed them into a pile at the center of your bed. To see the product of your relationship reduced to these most intimate bits of fabric, all those tough, impossible-to-remove stains, and to fantasize about sixty or so of you in the bed, tangled up like a web of fitted sheets, with no cat to muck it all up—that was pure delight.

*

The Cat knocked over: a teacup, a bag of Doritos, library books, my toothbrush, a take-out container of dumplings, and your perfume and cologne bottles, which exploded like grenades all over your bathroom floor. The aroma made me so dizzy I draped myself over your bed and passed out for three hours. I woke to the Cat licking my face, his paw heavy on my throat.

*

Money is tight. This should come as no shock to either of you. I advertised a night’s stay in your lovely one-bedroom, on Craigslist. Wanted to make a quick $75. One catch: the couple had to be O.K. with a man and his cat.

*

Then, yes, I lost the Cat. No idea how it could have happened—all the windows had been closed, only one door into your apartment—but the Cat has his ways. I spent a night on my hands and knees, peeking under the couch and the bed, around your fridge; I arched my back like the Cat, ass in the air, chin to the ground, a prayer position. Clicked my tongue and called out his name. There was a pitter-patter behind me, then it disappeared in the walls.

*

One night, I posted up in your windowless kitchen, on the floor in front of the sink, to avoid the chaos outside. Gunshots in the alley. The metallic crash of trash cans hitting pavement. Yelling. Cursing. You left twenty cans of Fancy Feast, that good shit, out on the counter. I peeled back eight lids, a can for each day the Cat had been missing, and fed myself with a spoon. By the time the noise died down, I was flicking my tongue around the inside of each can to scrape up all the stuck bits.

*

The woman upstairs accosted me downstairs. She was lurking in the shadows of the staircase when I returned from work. Jesus, God, she said, your cat won’t shut the fuck up. All day long with the wailing. It sounds like he’s belting out the score to goddamn Cats. I looked at her, unsure how to react. The Cat is missing, I said, I don’t know what you’re hearing. It must be someone else’s cat.

*

A dead cockroach tumbled out from under the bed one morning. It made a satisfying snap beneath my bare foot. I can’t explain why, but I stood there for a while, grinding the roach into your carpet until my foot burned.

*

The Craigslist couple really got their $75 worth. They had sex in your bed. I’m talking tantric fucking: the headboard smacked against the window so hard I thought it would crack. I watched the whole thing perched atop a stool you keep in your bedroom, which after that night I realized you must keep around for this very reason, as a place for others to sit and observe you with stilted envy. I ate a bowl of cereal while I watched, barely getting the spoon in my mouth, all the milk and little marshmallows sticking to my cheek and chin. The couple finished up, settled into your bed for the night, and I excused myself to the kitchen, where I picked the marshmallows from my face and dropped them into the Cat’s bowl. And then, of course, there was the Cat, crawling out from a cabinet, beaming up at me with his yellowed eyes. I cried. I reached to grab him in either a hug or choke hold, but he bolted into your bedroom and started screaming. Shrill, loud. The couple screamed with him. Together it had weight, sounded like a full choir.

*

Now it’s just me and the Cat. I am sprawled out on your couch, looking at the words in a book but not reading them. The Cat lands on my lap. I lower the book and see a tail dangling from his lips, the plump body of a mouse. And the Cat keeps moving, crawling up my stomach, my chest. I’m leaning back, my neck following the curve of your armrest, but the Cat keeps going. His front paws are pressing down on my shoulders, and the dead mouse is not even an inch away from my face, swinging above me like the blade of a guillotine, its delicate, pink nose the very thing that will break me.

 

 

Christopher Gonzalez grew up in Cleveland and now lives and writes in New York. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, jmww, Split Lip Magazine, Pithead Chapel, The Acentos Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he works in book publishing as a digital production manager, serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse magazine, and is a contributing editor at Split Lip. You can find him online at www.chris-gonzalez.com or on Twitter @livesinpages.