There are advantages, he thought as the weeks went by, to not having a cat. His apartment slowly emptied itself of cat hair, whereas before cat hair floated in the air and formed itself into tumbleweeds that blew menacingly across his floor when he moved around. He brought strange men home and none of them did about-faces upon entering, or whined about their allergies in lieu of "getting down to the business between his legs." His apartment no longer smelled of urine and feces, unless his friend Dan came over. He didn’t have to worry all the time about what would happen if his cat died, this little soul he had been given to nourish, nor did he have to worry that he wasn’t playing with the damned thing enough.
As time went on, his friends, being helpful, would say “You should get another cat. Another cat would make things better.” He would smile at their good intentions, and think, things are already better. A little better, at least. Different.
It’s not like he didn’t miss the Colonel. He still expected him to scramble into his bed at night with a great and unintentionally comic effort. He still got twinges of sorrow when he looked for the cat’s food and water bowls, to see if they needed refilling. Those had been the first things he’d thrown out, and then all the toys. He still had a full bag of litter, though, lying against his bookshelf. He had a thought that he would one day fill a glass with litter and use it to hold his incense sticks as they burned. But there was less and less need for incense these days, without the cat.
He’d really only gotten the cat to prove that he could keep it alive. He’d gotten his previous cat, Laffie, from the Humane Society, and she ate barely anything for weeks. He’d called up the Humane Society, and they had assured him that this was normal. “Cats don’t eat anything until they get used to their surroundings!” they chirped merrily. He had tried out different foods to try to make his cat eat – cat food at first of course; then organic cat food; then cans of tuna fish; then, once, some crab from a sushi restaurant. Laffie just hid under the dresser. He had fractured his foot and was getting around his apartment on crutches when one day, he’d noticed Laffie lying motionless on the floor, looking at him pleadingly. He’d picked her up and her head lolled around; she had no strength to lift it. He’d rushed her on his crutches to the hospital, where they put her on life support and told him to go home. They called him later to tell him she kept dying and they kept resuscitating her. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked. “We don’t know,” they replied. “Is she in any pain?” “We don’t know.” Then they called him again and told him she’d died again. “Let her go,” he’d cried. He got stoned that night and cried so hard he thought his face would break. Later, the hospital sent him a bill for $1700 and he bitterly thought, you’re such a loser. You could only keep a cat alive for a month.
“Get another cat,” his friends had said at the time, so eventually he’d reached out to City Critters to “foster a cat.” He took the cat home and quickly learned that this cat could have taught a course on eating. A week later, City Critters called him up and told him he should just keep the cat. “Okay,” he replied. “Okay.” (He was easily manipulated).
At first, he and the Colonel sparred often. He would try to pet the cat, and the cat would scratch his hands. He often went to work those days with bloodied hands and would tell his co-workers that he and his cat had had a fight. Oh, how amusing he thought he was with those co-workers, but they just looked at him like he was a freak, just like his parents did. His cat sometimes ate meals and then immediately blew chunks on the floor, and he would look at the cat with a kind of fond pride, thinking, like father, like son. Sometimes he would come home and the cat would be walking around in his kitchen sink or atop his refrigerator, tracking its own feces across areas where he prepared his own joyless meals. His constant eating gradually rid him of his gift for high-jumping, although he couldn’t be put on a diet. The Colonel would stalk him if he didn’t have a full bowl, eventually driving him insane with constant meowing and head-butting. “Get away!” he would shriek. “Can’t you see I’m on Manhunt?!” He had a constant fantasy that he would put a fanny pack containing twenty dollars on the Colonel and let him outside to seek his own fortune wherever fate willed.
Fifteen years went by. During that time, his moods and fates swung wildly and he learned that he was bipolar. Sometimes when it was hard for him to stay alive, he would think, well, who is going to feed your cat? Other times, he would hold back from his sometime drug use for fear that if he overdosed, the Colonel would immediately eat his face. Cats are not finicky about eating the dead, he remembered grimly.
The advantages of having a dead cat continued to present themselves to him over time. A woman he met outside his friend Royal’s art opening saw his cat t-shirt and his cat tattoo and asked him if he had a cat.
“I had one,” he said. “He died a few months ago.”
“Well, now you have to get another one,” she said.
“No. There are advantages to not having a cat. The biggest one, of course, being that I don’t have to have a broken heart when it goes away.”
“Nice to meet you!” she said suddenly. “Goodbye!” He noticed suddenly that she was wearing a cap with the word “cat” on it.
At night sometimes he lay awake, thinking about his own death. He worried that he was an alien who the doctors would want to dissect upon his death, in hopes of helping medicine with what they discovered from his unnaturalness. He was often being cut open in his fantasies. His ribcage was constantly being separated and hands probed his organs (all of which were in the wrong places).
“What do you think this is?” one of the imaginary doctors said to his colleagues, holding up an object removed with a tweezer from the surface of his heart.
Of course, it was a cat hair.