The Cat Came Back
A short story by Meagan Deming
The cat first appeared sitting on my chest one morning as I woke. I was too shocked to scream or shove it off. I’d never had a cat in my life, and I was living alone. How had this feral creature snuck into my lovely loft apartment? And why was it looking at my nose as if it were particularly delicious?
“Psst,” I hissed, trying to wriggle under the covers in a way to knock the beast away from my exposed face. I felt little pin pricks through the cloth as it sunk in its claws and held fast. The creature narrowed its shockingly yellow eyes at me, as if daring me to make another move.
“Oh please get off,” I whined at it. My bravery had been spent in my bold wiggling. The cat lifted its nose and lept to the floor. That caught me off guard. Since when did cats respond when you asked them politely?
I picked up my blanket, determined to scoop the black little monster up and deposit the thing in the hallway. But as my bare feet touched the cold floor I realized it had vanished without a sound. This was even more troubling than its mysterious appearance.
I looked for it for a solid twenty minutes before I had to get ready for work. For the rest of the day little shadows kept flickering in the corner of my eyes. Was that a tail? An ear? Was that a purr or the hum of a phone vibrating in someone’s pocket?
When I got home I checked every crack and crevice, every drawer, even took off the lid the giant pot I’d once used to cook pasta for an underwhelming dinner party. Nothing in it but dust. Once I was sure my loft was feline free, I triple checked every vent and window. Everything was sealed tight.
Yet I knew, I just knew, as I laid there in bed that night. The cat would be back. Like that terrible song. I was right, but it was not the very next day.
On Sunday I invited Matt from the corner cubicle over for some friendly coffee and a chat. He was due at eleven. It was while I was re-applying my new shade of lipstick for the fourth time that the cat leapt from nowhere and landed in my bathroom sink. This time I did scream, and drew a line of “Saucy Siren Red” straight up to my earlobe.
The cat stared up at me, and I could not help but feel he was judging my retro cat-eye eyeliner with particular feline cruelty. I had been using a tutorial I’d printed out at work, and I’d thought my efforts had been admirable.
Matt had mentioned his love of Greta Garbo to another co worker. I had been, by coincidence, just so happening, be standing in the break room right behind them. Adding more and more sweetener to my coffee as I listened. I had to pour that coffee into the trash back in my cubicle, but I spent the rest of the day researching this critical information. And this cat was not going to ruin my chance to introduce Matt to my newly discovered weekend self.
“Oh no, you…” I started, reaching blindly for a towel to scoop the cat up in. The let out a little huff from between its long whiskers, clearly unimpressed.
“You look like a prostitute themed clown,” the cat said. I paused. That had been a voice. With English words. That I understood. The cat rolled his eyes when I stared at him with my mouth hanging open. “Well, now you look like a blow up doll.”
Of course, that was the moment of Matt’s knock. I ran to the front door, but managed to stop myself before I flung it open. I’d come face to face with my reflection in the full body mirror I’d hung from the back of my front door. I liked to check my appearance before I left for work each morning, and thank God I did. I could just see it now. “There’s a talking cat in my bathroom and he’s a damn bastard!” With my lipstick smeared face and wild hair. I might be going crazy, but I refused to look it so transparently.
I smoothed my hair with my fingers and used the heel of my hand to smudge off as much “Saucy Siren” from my cheek as I could. Though soon I just looked like I’d been slapped by someone with too many fingers. Matt knocked again.
“Just a minute!” I shouted, realizing too late that he would be able to tell I was right on the other side of the door. I looked over my shoulder, but couldn’t see into the bathroom. I hesitated, flitting frantically about what to do. But really, what could I do? I opened the door.
A spectrum of expressions splashed across Matt’s perfectly cheekboned face as he caught sight of me. It was rather impressive to see shock, confusion, amusement, befuddlement and a few others before the curtain of a polite smile descended. “I’m not early, am I?”
“No, right on time!” I twirled a bit of hair behind my head that turned out not to be there. A moment too late I added a mortifyingly shrill giggle that I swear came out of some black part of my soul I’d never met before. “Please, come in!”
I motioned far too dramatically towards my leather couch. My loft was so small you could see it from the door. Really, it was more of a studio, but loft always sounded so sophisticated. And if the classified listing could use it, so could I.
“Thanks,” he said, his tight lipped smile showing the kind of polite resignation one usually reserves for toddlers and the infirm. I knew I was acting crazy, but how do you tell a man that there is a talking cat in your bathroom? Should I shriek and act like it was a spider? Fall into hysterics and hope for rescue? Instead I closed the door and hid in my kitchenette with my Mr. Coffee machine.
I stared at the back of Matt’s head. I’d seen this view so many times as I slowed to walk past his cubicle. His perfectly symmetrical ears, the wisps of hair that peeked playfully over the back of his shirt collar. What a fool I’d been to try to get to know the front of him. Here he was, in my loft, about to drink terrible coffee AND I was going crazy. Cat lady crazy. The worst kind of crazy a woman in her thirties can go.
I wiped as much lipstick off my cheek as I could get with a wet dish towel before bringing two mugs of coffee out on a large plate. I’d realized too late I didn’t have a proper tray. I carried a package of oreos under one arm. After I set the coffees down on the modest coffee table, the only table in my loft, I spread the cookies in a lopsided circle on the plate. My hands trembled the whole time.
Every second I was sure the cat would pop up again, maybe singing opera. Maybe wielding a cat sized butcher knife. I was going crazy, all bets were off.
I realized as I sat down that Matt had, of course, been watching me the entire time. I picked up my coffee mug and grinned the most insane “I am not crazy” smile one person has ever grinned at another.
“I was just thinking,” I said, several decibels too loudly. “How funny it is that I invited you over to do something we do at work every day.” It was a line I’d prepared in advance. I’d planned it to be witty, maybe followed by a graceful laugh with my head thrown back just so. Like the old movie starlets I’d overheard him admiring. He did not laugh like I’d hoped, so I instead threw my coffee back like I was downing a shot.
“Yeah, I’d seen you around,” he said, after an awkward pause while my throat burned. “But we never really hung out at the office before…”
No. We hadn’t. And now I was sure, that he was sure, that I was about to tie him to a bed and break his ankles so he couldn’t escape. And all of this because I was seeing talking cats. A talking cat. A very rude talking cat.
And there the beast was, again as if from nowhere, between Matt’s ankles. I screamed silently inside my own brain, managing to keep my terror to my horrified expression. What if the cat was truly only in my mind? I couldn’t scream and point at nothing.
The cat opened his mouth, and in what felt like slow motion, sunk its nasty little teeth into Matt’s perfectly coordinated argyle sock.
“Jesus Christ!” He shouted, jumping up all the way onto the back of the couch, and then going over like a sack of uncoordinated flailing limbs. He landing with a dull thud on my expensive throw rug.
“Oh thank God!” I blurted out. The beast had interacted with another human being! The cat was real! It leapt up onto the back of the couch. It hissed down at Matt with spiked fur, not unlike a horrible Halloween decoration.
He scooted away from it like it had rabies. Perhaps it did. “Your cats a bloody monster!” Matt shouted, clasping a hand to his bleeding ankle. “Jesus Christ!”
The cat landed on the floor in front of him, moaning low and guttural like only cats can. I placed my coffee cup on the table, standing up to clear my throat. This madness had to end.
“NO! That is a very bad Muffins!” I yelled at the cat. It turned to give me a look of disbelief and disdain more potent than any a human face is capable of. “Yes, your name is Muffins!” I yelled at the cat. I would wrestle sanity out if this situation if I had to do it with my teeth and fingernails. “And you are a cat!”
“Right, lovely coffee, nice to see you, good day,” Matt managed to spout as if it were one word, hopping up rather spryly for someone on an injured ankle. I watched him flee as if my soda had suddenly burst into flames. If only that were the case.
I sat down hard on the couch after the door had slammed, taking stock of my untouched plate of oreos and the spilled coffee on the floor.
“Muffins, indeed,” the cat huffed, sitting beside my head on the back of the couch. “Really.”
I glared at it, but refused to acknowledge how totally off the deep end I was. If I realize I’m crazy, I can’t really be crazy, right? I read that somewhere. I know I did.
“Oh don’t sulk,” the cat purred, licking his paw obnoxiously right next to my ear. “Such behavior does not befit our kind…”
“Shut up, cat!” I finally snapped. “You can’t talk and you’re a bastard!”
To add insult to injury, the beast licked me right on the nose. I jumped up in a tizzy, ready to pummel the little ball of fur until I beat the crazy out of myself.
But of course, he was gone.
I called in sick to work for the next week.
I woke up with the cat curled up and purring on my chest the last day of my sick leave. I’d been seeing him in flickers and shadows all week.
But there he was, purring peacefully. The cutest little demon tormentor the bowels of hell had ever belched.
“…Are you ready to go home yet?” He asked, the words mingling with his purring in a deep baritone.
“I am home,” I said. But my voice faltered. Cracked. He sighed, opening a yellow eye.
“Really. I tire of this silly game. Thirty years is too long. Ten years is too long. You’ve lost every ounce of grace and beauty.” He put out his dainty paw, pads up. “Come home, Darling.”
I hesitated. Something pushed against the edge of my mind. A voiceless command. I touched my finger to the thick pad in the center of his paw. And then I remembered.
And then I licked my own white paw while he licked my ear. I touched my pink nose to his black one, our purrs mingling after so much time apart.
And then we were gone.