This story is written in response to Cat Person, by Kristen Roupenian, published by the New Yorker on December 11th, 2017.
Robert came home on a Wednesday night babbling to himself. He smelled faintly of Red Vines as he pulled off his Pendleton and threw it across the sofa. Yan jumped down from our shared place at the windowsill and without hesitation began thrusting himself between Robert’s pacing shins. I took refuge under the coffee table and watched as our human traversed the living room, clearly lost in a thought. He repeatedly licked his thick, flushed lips hidden under an abundance of facial hair. His eyes were narrowed and focused. His hands ran up and down the length of his own torso as Yan mewed, desperate to fulfill Robert’s apparent need to pet.
I anticipated the light kick he would give Yan on his next trip across the room but instead, Yan’s persistence yielded affection. Robert paused at the far wall and stooped down from his giant height to pluck Yan from the ground. “It’s time to get rid of her shit,” he said half to Yan, half to himself. His large clumsy hand pulled a game of Balderdash from the bookshelf and glanced around the room, eyes resting on the Salvador Dali poster above the chair. “I always hated that one.” Then his eyes lowered to mine and as he had done repeatedly over the last eight weeks, he cursed the woman who named me; “Fucking Alice.”
By the next week, he was barely recognizable as the caretaker we’d come to know. The routine of our mornings halted by his frozen leviathan presence in odd places throughout the house. He startled me several times in the hallway, his form paused except for the thud of his thumbs resounding against a glowing screen. Back in the kitchen Yan and I caterwauled incessantly for the Meow Mix fixed in his hand. His eyes were locked, scanning the message on the screen in his other hand. Perplexed, he spoke to himself, trying out some humorous rebuttals, then laughing alone with his ego, he set the box of food down so his thumbs could resume their relentless flutter, and walked out of the kitchen. After he left for work I pushed the box down from the counter and Yan and I ate the spilled contents off of the linoleum floor.
I had come to know Robert as all house cats know their caregivers, too intimately. I found myself locked behind a closed bedroom door with him only once. My hackles stood involuntarily on end, ears flattened, as I cowered beside his bed. I had heard these shameful monologues before from the safety of another room. Yan never seemed to mind the vulnerability he displayed during these fantasies. Tonight the groans of pleasure echoed into the dark corners of the bathroom, where Yan and I rested, tails swishing on a bed of Roberts dirty laundry. Yan could always foresee the sensitive way Robert would interact with us afterward, free of all self-loathing. We were drawn to the temporary calm of his unwavering aura, the result of a satisfied human who seemed momentarily comfortable in his pink, hairy skin.
Margot became a household name in the following weeks. Robert’s intensified escapades in the bedroom were saturated by the name; strained vocal chords always asking her “Do you like that?” One night after he emerged from his room looking expended, he retrieved a drink from the kitchen where he found me tucked into a ball on a dining chair. He gulped down his water while he stroked my neck reassuringly. “What Mu,” he asked with affectionate mockery, “Yan avoiding you and your shitty-ass, cat moods?” Afterward, Yan bathed my muzzle reassuringly, reminding me that my vulnerabilities could be a curse or a blessing, and in any case, at least Robert had called me “Mu”, instead of “Alice’s fucking cat”.
As a cat, I didn’t have to go through the infernal suffering that humans did with their relationships. Alice and Robert had adopted us as a couple. She named me Mu. I remember the way Robert immediately chose Yan’s name afterward, making an attempt to be clever. Mui- fluid, lucid and moving. Yan- straightforward, like an edge, never changing. I could care less that Alice had left. My “shitty cat moods” allowed me to be detached, as long as Robert could remember to feed us.
But it all got worse. We noticed that Robert’s giddiness had dwindled. The excited expressions drummed from Robert’s thumbs had ceased. Instead, he sat with a sullen expression, his gross faux-fur hat pulled over his large head, as he stared transfixed at Margot’s glowing messages. Yan took a direct hit from the phone as Robert thrust it away from him and into the couch, crushing his tail without any remorse. He retreated to my side, where I crouched under the chair, judging our care-less-taker. Robert continued to sit, struggling in his voluntary remorse, resisting the urge to respond to Margot, obsessing over their shared text history, and inventing every imaginable form of betrayal hidden between her words.
We resorted to drinking from the toilet for an entire week as our water bowl sat empty. Robert resorted to drinking from a bottle of whiskey in his bedroom, silently watching porn, no self-expression left in his arousal. The cat box overflowed with shit. Humiliated, Yan and I scratched pathetically for a vacant space in the litter.
Then one day Robert’s dysfunctional fog suddenly lifted. The house became a torrent of motion as Robert dusted and vacuumed, stuffing dirty clothes into baskets and lighting a scented candle left behind by you-know-who. He heartily blurted out the lyrics of a Cake song from the shower, hot steam rolled from under the door as Yan and I sat outside it, ears twitching. As evening descended, something volatile was in the air. With wet hair dangling in his face Robert pulled off the jeans he had just put on a minute ago and shook his naked legs into a pair of khakis instead. “I’m too old for this.” he murmured while glancing up into his nostrils, face pressed into the mirror over the bathroom sink. I stealthily followed him through the house as Yan napped, unperplexed by the recent uptake in Robert’s energy.
Nervously Robert checked and rechecked his pockets as he stalked through the tidied house looking for his car keys. He found a forgotten pack of Starburst on top of the fridge and tore into them, eating half the package before checking the breast pocket in his jacket and finding his keys there. He rushed out the door, slamming it behind him. I jumped a moment later when he came barreling back through the door. He tore the Salvador Dali from the wall, leaving Starry Night up over the mantel. With his free hand, he swooped down and grabbed Yan from his reverie on the couch, stuffing him beneath his arm so that he could grab me with his free hand. I made to run down the hallway but he caught me by the scruff of the neck. I yowled as Yan dug his claws in silently to Roberts Pendleton and his grasp tightened, pulling my skin.
Then nothing but the night air was holding me. Flung into cold darkness, over the hedge of the neighbors, the framed poster shattering just beside me as we both hit the ground. I couldn’t see where Yan had hit. I quickly dove under the hedge and watched Robert stuff his supersized self into his white honda civic. He peeled out, leaving a wake of colorful starburst wrappers to settle in the gutter. “Fucking dick” I hissed.