Man and Cat – Paul Thompson

Man and Cat

     There is a man sitting in a room. A cat is also in that room. Notice, I did not say, “A man is sitting in a room with a cat.” No. The cat’s location is not subject to the man’s. The cat is his own entity. He goes where he wants, and is there under his own volition. The man does not enter the room with the same intent as the cat. The man has more reasons to be anywhere else.

     The man, seeking responsibility (or so he thinks), procures a kitten. In the early stages of this strange fate, the man makes sure to employ all the knowledge of kitten ownership that he can find (by this, I mean he just did a Google search and clicked on the fourth or fifth source, which was probably a website that looked slightly unofficial but was easy to use). The first fact he read was this:

DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION

  • If you’re wondering why your kitten is showing you its sphincter, don’t worry! According to research, cats flash their anuses as a way of showing you that they’re comfortable with you!

     The man, understandably upset with the concept of any living thing flashing its anus at him, begins to regularly observe the cat with a slight disgust; completely forgetful of the initial split-second skepticism experienced when reading the incredibly vague phrase “According to research.” According to research, [PROCEED TO STATE ANYTHING].

     Quite predictably, the man becomes entirely too fixated on this piece of information, and two weeks later, quite unpredictably exclaims, “He showed me his anus! He showed me his anus!” to a group of once-close friends, following the cat’s unintentional ‘DISPLAY OF AFFECTION.”

     The cat cannot leave. Yet he is constrained only by his size.

     The man cannot leave. He knows that if he leaves and walks down the street, his forehead will shine and the wind will grab ahold of his hair and reveal his (admittedly too-early) receding hairline, which is awful and hideous and makes his head look grossly incongruent, and he will sweat throughout the humidity of the day and his glasses (which contain a strong prescription and an annoyingly obstructive scratch on the left lens) will make his eyes small and birdlike and his face will look too flat, based on the way the light bends through the thick lens on the glasses, which also sit unevenly on his face and are only knurly enough to where it kind of just barely pisses you off when you look at them.

     Both the man and the cat enjoy tuna. They even alternate bites from an outstretched fork.

     The man scratches the cat’s chin. The cat purrs. The cat scratches the man’s arm. The man bleeds.

     The man scans his own reflection in the dirty mirror, pouring over his blemishes and patchy facial hair and bulbous nose, and wonders, to himself, what the girl upstairs (who reminds him, on a visceral level, of the wonderfully exhausting summers he spent playing badminton and hide-and-seek in a cramped and humid backyard on the wrong side of Long Island, NY) must have thought when he told her she looked nice today. She had smiled and said thank you. Yet the man cannot shake the hypothesis that she secretly believed he was implying that she looked comparatively better today than every day previous. He fears that such a small, intended pleasantry could likely have been interpreted as a trite banality; an admission of the fact that he’d been scrutinizing her appearance.

     The cat centers himself in a room full of humans, stretches his leg over his head, and proceeds to lick his balls for a full ninety seconds.

     A cardinal sitting on the fence outside catches the attention of the cat, who instinctively lowers his head and issues guttural, clicking noises in frustration. If the window, which the man leaves unobstructed for the cat every day, were open, there would be nothing to stop the cat from taking the life of the cardinal in the most brutally natural way. Yet the cat remains indoors. Stock-still. Waiting for the glass window to dissolve. Waiting for the cardinal to divert his attention to a centipede or worm or seed, giving the cat just enough time to spring forward with an absolute disregard for his own falling path, catching the cardinal between his outstretched paws just as the cardinal takes flight, the cat’s rear haunches thudding into the gravel below, rocks and dust flying outward and settling slowly and gently, juxtaposing a serene precipitation of earth around a scene of utter carnage; red feathers strewn amongst the dirt. The cat waits.

     If only. If only the man had spent his hours reading and writing and learning music and watching documentaries and absorbing headlines and cooking and exercising and experimenting instead of going to birthday parties and family reunions and playing countless hours of seemingly endless and expansive online video games and rolling crooked, loose little Zig-Zag joints and smoking them incognito on the uppermost levels of a nearby parking deck. If only he had talked to someone. If only he had signaled for help. If only he had communicated to someone how he felt. How he felt like he was being slowly sucked into an enormous cyclone of a storm. How he had a recurring daydream of laying quietly in a small, wooden sailboat, drifting into the void of a dark ocean, allowing the currents to guide his fate; simply surrendering himself to a greater ebb and flow just so long as it went slowly and peacefully. Just so long as he wasn’t caught in a torrential downpour. Just so long as he could remain alone, in the boat, wrapped in the softest linen, safe and dry.

     The memory of this very dream flashes across the mind of the man as he lies, spread-eagle, on the floor of his dusty living room; his head resting on the bottom of his tattered couch, his limbs stretching out across the stains of unknown origin that somehow continue to appear without conscious witness. The man is racked with an unnerving and idiopathic headache. He tries his best to simply focus on the sound of the coffee maker, which emits the all-too- recognizable whirling, dripping, coughing sounds – sounds that he had heard in his youth, when on the off-chance he would hear his grandparents going about their rising rituals at wee hours that just seem ungodly to him now. The man, seeing only darkness and eye-floaters, can feel the cat sniffing his forehead, and the man anticipates a lick. But it never comes. The cat moves on, disinterested.

     As the man leans over the exposed motherboard, the desk lamp shines intensely down on the components, and his glasses, from the right angle, are filled with a brilliant, iridescent jade. The man is prone to capricious outbursts when doing these types of tedious repairs, particularly when the cat seems so hell-bent on knowing just what the man seems to find so goddamn interesting. The cat jumps. The man drops the tiny screw into a tight crevice. The man let’s out a jarring “FUCK” as he stands and scoops up the cat, turning and hurling the cat, in one motion, toward the bed, restraining himself just enough to control the cat’s trajectory. The cat lands with a muted dup-dup onto the piled pillows, immediately making a hasty exit with special intensity.

     The man sits in the shower, his head resting on his arms, which are folded over his knees. He lets the water drown his scalp and neck, running along the contours of his face and down and off in a torrent to the shower floor, between his feet. The cat, in a curious fashion, continues his investigation of the shower with routine commitment. He probes the edge of the shower curtain, alternating touches with his paw and his snout. The man, feeling the curtain touch his arm, speaks aloud without raising his head. “What do you want? Huh?” The cat continues his prodding. The man raises and turns his head, grabbing the cat’s paw. The cat jerks backward, freeing himself. He shakes his paw. He sniffs it and licks it. He is not pleased.

     On the days when rain is falling in huge, fat sploshes, the man does his utmost to shield himself from the onslaught of moisture when he leaves his apartment. He pulls the hood of his raincoat as far over his head as possible. The water runs off mere inches from his forehead. Every time he walks anywhere in the rain, the water somehow manages to collect in a lower fold of his raincoat, and inevitably he always corrects and smooths this fold, which means the water drops and soaks his thighs around his groin, and for the rest of the day the man is wet and uncomfortable and slightly irritated. And he knows that however long his pants take to dry is an irrelevant piece of information, considering he will soon have to return home, repeating the process all over again.

     The cat, in the man’s absence, lies curled on the bed. The soft patter of the rain lulls him to sleep. His belly rises and falls. He is warm and content.

     The man returns homes from an evening spent with the girl upstairs. He is upset. She is not what he expected her to be. He can’t purge the thought that he had already known this. In reality, he hadn’t, and now he feels isolated and alone and anxious and the first thing he does when he returns home is resume his usual position on the floor. The cat sniffs his hand. The man lifts his head and looks at the cat, and all at once is filled with gratitude. “Cat” he says, “You are the only constant I have in this world. Do you know that?” The cat paces for a few feet and then sits, gazing at the man. “I love you, kitty.” The cat continues to stare blankly. The man, suddenly remembering another “DISPLAY OF AFFECTION,” blinks very slowly, making sure to maintain eye contact with the cat. The cat looks away. “Hey!” says the man. The cat looks at him once again. The man blinks slowly. The cat returns the blink. The man is pleased.

     The rain is falling still. It will continue forever. The man is sleeping, his head resting on his pillow, his arms tucked underneath him. The cat is sleeping, his body resting in between the man’s legs. Here now, they lie, man and cat, the man dreaming of the sailboat, the cat dreaming of the man.