The Cat Might Be Dead
by Kevin Casey
I am not supposed to be here, Martin thought. It was an overwhelming feeling that made breathing a conscious chore. Sheila shouldn't be home for at least two hours.
He felt a slow burn in his stomach that crept through his spine to points south, approximating one of his worst childhood moments. When he was twelve a neighbor paid him $20 to feed her two cats while she was on vacation. He took the liberty of exploring her underwear drawer. Martin's father, wondering how long it took to feed two damn cats, came looking for him and caught him examining a thong.
It was the first of two times that his father hit him; the other would be the night before his high school graduation, when he was pulled over and arrested for driving while intoxicated, his blood alcohol concentration so high it became a bit of local lore.
He went into the kitchen, first. Sheila hadn't done the dishes from the previous night -- dinner for one, thank God -- and the room smelled like stale, wet coffee grinds.
Martin looked for his favorite photograph on the refrigerator door, taken by the proprietor of the bed and breakfast in Rye, New Hampshire where they stayed once. It was of the two of them, standing on a large rock bluff that jutted into the ocean. The setting sun cast them both in gorgeous hues, made them better looking than they really were. The picture was missing. In its place hung a cocktail napkin: John 415-440-4930. Martin turned red wondering who John was.
He walked into the living room. Sheila was starting to taste success but still without enough money for very nice things. Martin had helped her pick out the couch, a plush forest green affair, definitely the nicest piece of furniture in the place. He ran his hand along the armrest, the same as the day she bought it. He caught himself smiling and stiffened.
The bedroom was the usual mess. Martin always kidded Sheila about it, wondered aloud why she bothered lugging her clothes to the Laundromat on the corner when soon after everything returned to haphazard piles on the floor.
Sheila's cat, Moose, was curled up in one such pile in the corner. He paid Martin no mind, didn't even crack an eye.
Her bed, of course, was unmade. He considered the possibility that she had shared the bed with someone else recently. Maybe this John character was more than a phone number on the refrigerator. Maybe some guy from the office plied her with a few martinis after work one Friday or dazzled her with dinner at a restaurant Martin could never afford.
A wave of dizziness unsteadied him. He gripped the handle of the door. His palm left an imprint of sweat. He called out for the cat, looking for a distraction.
Moose wasn't interested, didn't move a leg.
"Moose ... it's your buddy. Hey Moose, come say hi to your buddy."
Moose was a ball of gray fat and fur, more interested in the comforts of dirty laundry than the anxiety of his caller. He sat down on the edge of the bed to compose himself. His body jolted when the phone rang. Martin stared at it wide-eyed.
What gripped him, he didn't know. His hand seemed to move on its own, his brain's neurons firing blindly at who-knows-what.
"Hello, is Miss Sheila Murphy in please?"
"Um, no. ... No, she isn't in right now."
"Are you the man of the house?"
"Um, no. Not really."
"Well, are you the decision-maker regarding your long-distance service?"
"No. You'll have to talk to Sheila."
"OK, sir. Is there a better time to reach her?"
"Try back in a couple of hours."
"OK, thank you for your time."
Martin's heart twitched as he hung up the phone. He again called for Moose. He thought the cat might act as a salve for his nerves. Moose stayed put.
Martin stood unsurely, wondering what mistakes he had made and if he were making another now. He walked back through the living room toward the kitchen. Hoping for a cool glass of water he instead met the face of surprise. Sheila Murphy yelped. A plastic bottle of water dropped from her hand and hit the tile with a dull snap.
"Oh my God ... Jesus, you scared me."
"Sorry. I ... I was --"
"What are you doing here?"
"I ... I came for my sweater. You, know, the blue one. My favorite."
"Shit ... you scared me. You scared the shit out of me."
"I just came for my sweater."
"You should have called first. Jesus, Martin. It's a sweater. It's not even cold out."
"I didn't mean to scare you."
"I knew I should have changed the locks. This is really creepy, Martin. Even for you. "
"Yeah, well I think you should go now. And leave the key."
In spite of it all, he didn't want to leave.
"The cat ..."
"What? Moose? What about him?"
"I think he might be dead. Or sick, or something."
"What? What the fuck did you do to my cat?"
"If you touched my cat I'll fucking kill you. What is wrong with Moose?"
"It's just ... he just ... hasn't moved since I got here. I called his name and everything."
She ran out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. Martin stood staring straight ahead. He had not planned for this, but very much believed it was happening. His eyes came into focus once more on the cocktail napkin stuck to the refrigerator. John 415-440-4930. He heard Sheila's voice drift in from the bedroom as she fussed over Moose.
She entered the kitchen cradling the cat in her arms like an infant. Moose yawned and continued to ignore Martin.
"Yes, you're fine, aren't you Moose? Yes, you're mommy's little man."
Sheila looked up from the cat and glared at Martin.
"Out. Now. Put the key on the counter, and leave."
"Jesus ... I don't believe this. OK, get it Martin. Get your stupid sweater and leave. It should be in the bedroom. And Martin, I'm not kidding. If you don't get the sweater and leave, I will call the police. Got it?"
He inched warily around her in the kitchen doorway, as if she were holding a hand grenade instead of a cat.
The sweater was lying on the floor of her closet. Typical, he thought, as he picked it up and dusted a clump of Moose's hair off of it. Underneath it was his favorite photo, the one cast aside for John and his phone number. His hands shook as he picked it up for a closer look. He had told her once, after their trip ended and reality welcomed them home, that if she inhaled deeply near the picture she could smell the salt spray that had tickled the bare backs of their legs and ears. She had only rolled her eyes.
Martin wondered if she was serious about calling the police. She had threatened a lot of things during their relationship, but the only one she followed through on was leaving him. He figured he might as well not chance it. If the police showed up they probably wouldn't see things his way. He thought maybe things would be better once she had a chance to calm down.
He walked through the living room toward the door, pausing for a moment to listen to Sheila coo at the cat.
"OK, I got my sweater. I'm leaving."
The cooing stopped, but she didn't respond. Martin left the apartment with his favorite picture placed carefully in his back pocket, alongside John's phone number, souvenirs of things gone wrong.
About the author:
Kevin Casey lives in Southern California.