Damn cat. I happen to like living in a mess, I mean, I really like it. If I want to use a dish I take it out of the sink and wash it, no big deal. The bed I figure I get into every night; why make it? So the place smells like an ashtray, and old newspapers, books and dirty clothes cover the furniture. Accessibility; I donít want to have to go too far to find things. Is it anyones business? Iím a private guy. What goes on outside my door I donít bother with, what I do in here ainít nobody's concern. I sure as hell donít need a cat telling me how to live.
I didnít ask for this job. Itís not like I have advertisements out ------- take care of your cat for the weekend. Iím a friendly guy, thatís what the problem is. When I see folks down at the mailboxes I give them the hi, howdy, but thereís no percentage in being neighborly. As soon as you do that someoneís up knocking on your door asking for favors. Like that new chick that moved in last week; long brunette hair, bazooms that donít quit. I opened the door for her, helped her carry in a few things. Next thing you know sheís laying on my buzzer.
"I need you", she said it just like that, I need you. I fell onto yesterdayís Tribune not knowing if I should light up a cigarette or wait for the more appropriate moment. Sheís from out of town, poor baby, doesnít know anyone else in the building let alone the city. Lucky me. Sheís taking a long weekend downstate, she said, couldnít possibly enjoy herself knowing it was at the vetís in some cage, and wouldnít I take care of kitty?
"You mean a live one?"
"Youíre not allergic, are you?"
"Me? I was raised with cats. We had the same doctor." So Iím a sucker for tank tops. She said her and her fiancť were going down to visit her parents. Fiancť! Where was he during the move-in? Great, I can flush my chances of getting any appreciation. I grabbed my pack of smokes and told her to bring the damn thing over. Well, I didnít say it exactly like that. You got to be nice. Fiancť or not, you can never be too sure about your luck these days.
She brought the catís necessities over first; the litter-box, the feeding dish, two kinds of food, soft and crunchy. "It gives texture to her meals," she said. Iím eating catsup sandwiches, but the cat needs texture. I kicked the litter-box under the kitchen sink. "It should stay fresh until I get back if your remove the ---you knows. You want me to bring over the scooper?"
"Donít bother, Iíll use a spoon."
She carried in the beast, a white, long-hair, dark face and paws. Alright, so it had cute little blue eyes, what of it? Princess, she calls it. Whereís peopleís imagination these days? She set the cat on the floor. The cat stretched out its neck and lowered its bushy tail. It walked around the room on wooden legs, bobbing her head, checking out the apartment looking like, who did it and what for? As if to say, maybe the vets wouldnít be so bad.
"Iíve got to be gone awhile Saturday," I told the woman. "Will she be okay by herself? She wonít be lonely or anything?"
"Just watch the door when you leave or sheíll bolt."
Thanks for the excuse, lady. The woman exited backwards, bent over holding her hands down to prevent the cat, who was nowhere in sight, from shooting out the door, or maybe she always left a room that way. The last bit of her I saw was her nose held somewhere between the doorknob and the dead-bolt lock. I went into the kitchen to put the cat food away and noticed the label: One-hundred percent meat. The puss poked her head around the corner. "You might have some competition for this, cat."
The cat hid under the couch and stayed there all evening long. Fine with me. Cats shouldnít be heard or seen, not in my apartment anyway. At least she knew her place. I sat on the end of the couch listening to the baseball game on the radio. Three hours. No cat. I had the nerve to be concerned, knelt down on the floor and lifted the bottom flap. The cat laid there in the dust balls, her glass bead eyes staring out at me.
"Good place for you."
I shut the game off, a thirteenth inning loss, hit the lights and laid down on the futon. I was about to doze off when the cat jumped on the end of the bed, walked up the length of my body and pushed its face into mine. My eyes were itchy, my sinuses plugged. The glands in my neck were tight. "This better be the start of a cold, cat."
Nightmares ruined my sleep. Sad little cat eyes, dozens of them, stared at me wrapped in giant dust balls. The futon seemed harder than usual; my sleep a whole lot lighter. I couldnít stand it anymore. I got up, stiff-legge3d it into the kitchen, opened the fridge, pounded a Bud, threw the empty into the sink. I stepped on a piece of kitty-litter, stubbed my toe on the stove, and hobbled back to my bed where I laid until sunrise too nervous to sleep.
In the morning, I sat on the end of the couch reading the funnies, bent over a cup of coffee and a smoke. The cat came out from under the couch, stretched, yawned, and gazed up at me. My toes felt better, but I wasnít going to let her know that. "Watch it, cat, or youíll end up taking swimming lessons inside a burlap sack."
Raised the newspaper and watched the cat pad across the rug. She slammed her body against me, gave my leg a rub-job., jumped on the arm of the couch and sniffed my ear. I looked at her through the corner of my eye. She must be some kind of Persian, Siamese mix. The dark coloring of her face had a blue-grey tinge; shiny like. Her paws and tip of her tail painted the same. The eyes threw me. You donít see blue like that outside of a jewelry display or northern lights in a midnight sky, not me anyway. Dust bunnies clung to her glossy white fur.
"Now look at you, dummy cat, got yourself all dirty and everything."
I picked the dust clumps off her belly and rubbed her tail as she jumped over onto the vinyl chair stuffed with old papers and magazines. I was afraid she might start a landslide, maybe bang her head against the coffee table and hurt herself. How would I explain a cat with a concussion lying in a hospital bed with IVís in its arm? I set her on the couch and brushed off the rest of her fur. The chair was next. It had to be done. I stuffed the old newspapers and magazines into the already full trash can and wiped the vinyl chair down with a handkerchief. I put the kitty on the chair, patted its head, and sat down on the couch. The cat pranced on the chair apparently dissatisfied. I snapped open the education page of the dayís news. The cat jumped over onto the arm of the couch and stepped down on my lap, her silky tail curled around my head. I pointed out a comic strip: Garfield hanging by his paws from the limb of a tree.
"It could happen to you, cat. No one would ever know."
She crossed my lap and made her way over books and papers to the other end of the couch. "I cleaned the chair off for you. Isnít that good enough?" I slammed the books back onto the shelf and brought the papers into the kitchen. There was no way I could stuff anything more into the can. I pulled the bag out, tied it off, threw it over by the door. I even vacuumed off the top of the couch; used the attachments to get underneath. "Are you happy now? Listen to me. Iím talking to a stupid animal. Youíre gonna drive me to lithium, cat."
While I was at it, I thought I would do the once over on the carpet, no sense dragging the vacuum cleaner out any more than I have to. The cat pawed at the rim of a wastepaper basket, tipped it over in a cloud of cigarette ashes, and batted a wad of paper across the floor. "Get out of there, cat! You donít see me messing around in your litter-box, do you?"
I emptied the wastepaper baskets and collected all the newspapers this time. Three plastic bags were lined up at the door. The cat laid on a pair of underwear in the corner. "Now youíre getting personal, cat!
I collected all the dirty clothes, stuffed them one by one into the hamper, and considered throwing the cat in there with them and nailing the lid shut. Maybe when I got around to the Laundromat I could amuse myself by watching her tumble around n the dryer. The cat walked across the table between the empty beer cans and laid down next to an ashtray rounded with butts. I picked her up, carefully so as not to ruin my vacuuming, and cleared off the table. I brought out the spray wax and got down on my knees to wipe off the legs. The cat sat on the chair staring down at me.
"Youíre a Princess, is all you are, youíre no goddamned Queen. You just remember that."
The trash bags had to go. I can get around them all right, they donít bother me, but I could imagine the mess the cat would make; tearing them open, scattering things about. I canít tolerate anyoneís mess but my own. I humped the bags down the back stairwell to the dumpster., huffed and puffed my way back up the stairs and leaned against my door. Youíd think theyíd put a chair halfway up so people could rest. There are plenty of rent increases, you bet, but you never get anything to show for it.
I butt-pushed the door open, and the cat shot out between my legs in a white streak punctuated by the black tip of its tail, stopped at the head of the stairs and looked back at me. Good riddance, I thought and stepped inside my apartment, but how could I explain this to the babe? I thought of stranger abduction and of having to wake up in the morning to the catís face on the side of a milk carton, or on some Have-You-Seen-Me? flier. Responsibility I donít mind, itís the guilt I canít stand.
The cat was nowhere in sight. Nothingís ever easy anymore. I grumbled down the stairwell, stopped to check the hallways on each floor. No sign of her. My steps quickened, my chest began to pound. I was about to hurry down another flight when I saw her hunched in a dark corner at the end of the hall. When I walked up to her the cat lowered her head and arched her back. I balked. She had shredding her arms and legs on her mind, I could tell. The cat jumped through my hesitation and made a fast dash down the stairs. That died it. I can outrun a dumb cat downhill any day. The rail-posts clicked by like telephone poles at a hundred miles per, two steps at a time, three-----check the halls, watch the torn rug-----leapt over a banister and smashed into a wall; chunks of plaster fell from the edge of a hole. I took the next flight backwards, rubbing my shoulder. The cat was half a flight below me in front of the glass door leading out onto the street. I vaulted over the stairs, landed on all-twos with my hands outstretched.
"I got you now, stupid cat!"
A shadow passed over the glass door. In a single bound I was on top of the cat and grabbed it up into my arms. The mailman had finished stuffing the boxes and was heading back to his jeep. "Do you know the meaning of the words, Road Kill, cat?"
Miller Time never meant so much. Thereís not a lot of money to bar hop with my buddies. Saturday is it. The one day I set aside in the week to party. Is that too much to ask? I donít have any responsibilities; no kids, no alimony, no credit cards, nothing like that. If I come home blitzed I just bend over the toilet and give myself the finger. Itís my life. The cat can take care of herself. Didnít I leave the light on for her and change the radio channel from country to classical? I donít need to be worried that sheís okay, or miss her company. I donít need my one night out on a bar stool to be haunted by some princess with gem-blue eyes sitting at home all alone. Besides, sheís probably clawing up the furniture. Cats need constant supervision. After the second beer I made like I was going to the john, ducked over to the phone and called my machine. Maybe I could hear her scratching around in the background. Dead silence. Iíd bet the place was in a shambles.
"Cat, this is Cujo. I know where you live."
What the hell, there are other Saturdays. Anyway, Iím tired of hearing the same old jokes. I never had much in common with my friends sober. At my apartment door, I looked down the hallway both ways, bent over, held my hands down, butt out, and shouldered the door open. No cat. "Kitty, kitty, kitty; kitty Princess."
Bitch. The litter-winner comes home and gets not so much as a meow. She probably called over a friend and they are bouncing around together on the bed. Not there. I grabbed a beer and plopped down on the couch. The coffee table was spotless, naked even. I picked up the ashtray and spilled out the ashes, and patted them in real good. Thatíll teach her.
Ashes dripped of my hands, rubbing them together made things worse. I ran the water at the kitchen sink; ash-water puddles collected in the glasses and on the plates. Poor kitty, doesnít deserve a guy like me. I rinsed off the dishes, filled the sink with hot, soapy water, and washed the table before sheíd notice. The coffee table gleamed. I felt kinda proud. The place wouldnít make the cover of Good Housekeeping, but it was a place where maybe a cat could live in---wherever she was.
I looked under the couch; nothing. She wasnít in the bedroom; the closet door was closed tight. "Whatíd you do, call a cab to grandmaís?"
The bathroom door was open. I lifted the lid on the seat; not in there. The shower curtain was pulled across the tub and ruffled slightly at one end. I slowly raised my hand, pinched the plastic sheet, and ripped it open. The cat lay on the gritty bottom of the tub under a ring of brown scum.
"Youíre always pointing out the bad, never any of the good. Nothing ever satisfies you!"
I lowered the lid of the throne, picked up kitty, set her down on the seat, and nabbed up the Ajax. "Females! Theyíre all alike."
Sunday morning I woke up to an apartment clean enough to hold services in. The cat lay on the end of the bed. She had curled up near my pillow the night before. I massaged her back and fell asleep to her purr-music. The owner would come for her later in the evening. A small pit began to grow inside my stomach. I made the bed, and brought a cup of coffee into the bathroom while I shaved. The cat leapt up onto the seat and put her paws on the sink.
"You want to inspect the job?"
I pressed my nose against hers; gave her a little peck, and opened the medicine cabinet. An oily film covered the cologne bottle. I pulled out my shirt-tail, looked at the cat. I tucked myself back in and took up a paper towel. Youíve got to make an effort.
Later in the evening, I was on the couch holding kitty, sipping tea from grandmotherís gas station, free-with-a-fill china cup, airing out my pinky. The knock came early. She stood there at the door, the owner, stiff-bodied, bobbing her head around, kind of with that tell me the bad news first look. I helped her carry the stuff over to her apartment.
Her place was immaculate, everything where it should be, tulips in a glass vase. The cat lay on the back of her recliner and rubbed her head in real good. She looked happy. I went back to my place and stood in the open door. The apartment was immaculate, everything where it should be. Maybe flowers.