Come kitty, come, you call. But your cat is gone. And your grandmother is dead in New York, and your journey there and back has worn you thin. So you slump in the dark on the stoop beneath the stairway into your apartment and you call for the cat.
And your little boy is in Michigan, with his father. He’s been there for three weeks. He’ll be there another week yet. And when he gets back, he’ll be half wild himself, and he’ll want to know where Monster is. The cat you adopted six months after the child was born. And now they are four years old together.
The boy’s father was never your husband. And that man never liked cats. Where he came from—the place to which he returned—people have dogs. Even the women of that place hate cats, because cats there are wild and kill birds. That is excuse enough for people there to shoot them the way they do any other nuisance animal. Your son’s father would think very little of your lover, a married man of a different race, who you have yet to see since returning from New York.
Your boy’s father wants to keep him longer each time. He pays for your apartment while you are going to school, and he pays the boy’s daycare, and he expects to see the child when he wants to see the child. He’s old enough now, your son’s father says, for hunting. This is not the only thing that divided you. There was a time when you believed everything could be changed. He’d not want to drive his big truck forever. He’d not spend his money on four wheelers and fishing boats and compound bows for the rest of his life, not even for many more years. He probably thought the same of you, that you could be made to enter and inhabit his world. He laid blooddark meat upon the table and asked you, Why don’t you eat?
And he never made you come.
And he’ll say to you now, Whose little boy do you think he’s going to be?
And you can hear your little boy laughing in the background with some woman you do not know. Breakfasts of scrambled eggs, ham, white biscuits, sugar juice. Baloney and potato chip lunches. Late nights with smoke just beyond the open doorway, the forest dark around, your child, his father, his father’s people, and that woman, like pioneers in the wilderness, brave and boisterous and king beasts.
You blink your eyes and the place is gone. What place is it? What people are those? Every place is strange but the very place in which you sit. You lean forward in the dark of the doorway behind which the steps lurk, your apartment well lit above them, a place you know. It is autumn, hunting season, Halloween, a time for lost cats, lost children. Then it is your phone ringing, which causes you to rise and turn; you’re moving quickly now up the steps two at a time, but it’s not who you wanted it to be.
You want him to come. But the prospect is dubious. You look around the table to see what the other faces are doing, and you make yours do the same thing. If they laugh, you laugh. You sip your drink through a straw. You peek at the door and peek at the door.
He’s not coming, Jenna says.
She’s been your friend since high school. Out with the girls like this, all you want is for Colton to come in, light skinned, neat faced, his muscles compact and visible through whatever shirt he wears. You want Jenna and the other girls to see him, but he does not know if he can get away. His wife needs him too, he reminds you. If you’re going to do this thing, you have to learn to share. To appreciate what he has to offer, little as it might be, as something more than nothing.
If you want to. Do you?
You tell him yes. Always you must say yes.
You want the girls to see him because he is a man. Because he looks like the athlete that he is, personal trainer, soccer coach. Hard faced, all angles, like a pretty monster. And tonight he is celebrating. His wife has passed the bar, first try. What world is that into which she enters? And your own studies, mass communications, what does it mean?
If he would come through the door, walking with that swagger, confident crossing through any crowd of any sort, brave enough to hug you in public, in front of people, any people, as if sneakiness is beneath him. His control of his world is absolute. You want Jenna to see all that. But you’ve told her too much of the truth, and she has been saying that he won’t come tonight. That he won’t be around for long. She has been saying that she wonders how you get yourself into such predicaments.
She liked your ex. Your child’s father. Sitting cherub faced and easy mannered in some bar like this, telling with his country charm some country story that would cause all the girls to titter. A big man. Never mind his soft belly beneath his untucked shirts. Never mind his soft mind. He couldn’t make you come, and he didn’t know to be bothered about that.
You should have kept him, Jenna says. You’re not ready for all this, for anything, alone. Everybody thinks they deserve better, but then you go looking for it and you don’t find better. You find a worse place to be in.
Now she is making her face serious. She is raising her glass. The other girls raise theirs. You raise yours. Jenna makes a toast to your grandmother.
Your grandmother, who was your mother, and your father, since you were four. That first mother, that first father, are not in your mind at all; who you were then is nothing but a stranger in some strange place to which your memories can not carry you.
It was only in the last two years that your grandmother was unwell, the brick house in which you’d grown up falling into disrepair. Then her sisters moved her back to New York, onto the family estate. What place is that? Why did she leave it to begin with? What did it mean to return? What does one do with all that land, that big house, all those things in it? A place in which people get lost. There she died. And you watched her go into the dark dark earth, the grave like a gateway into what place you cannot guess.
Jenna is telling a story about your grandmother catching the two of you when you were sixteen or seventeen coming in through the back door, you sober, Jenna drunk. And it is a funny story as she tells it, but that is not how you remember it. You remember your grandmother’s face so pale and old in the kitchen light, so confused, her hair so limp, as she shook her head, asking in a panicked old lady voice, Where have you been?
You believed she would be all right if she could be made to understand, so you tried to explain. It was a party, not far away, at John Galloway’s house. His parents were there. But your grandmother shook her head more slowly. She did not know that name. She did not know those people. She did not know where you had been or that you would ever be able to come back from there.
All that chaos outside her door. That big disordered mystery. Why, she wanted to know, do you need to leave your home?
Jenna puts a hand on your shoulder. She was the pretty one, but that was long ago. Now she has aged on liquor and processed foods, and, at twenty-four, she is puffy and pathetic, even in her makeup and her party dress. And you’ve lived clean, vegetarian, mostly sober, early morning home exercises, afternoons at the health club, which is where you met Colton. An end result of all your good habits.
Then he calls. You put your fingers to your lips. If he were cancelling, he’d have sent a text. There is a picture of him with his arm around you filling up the screen of your phone. It looks like clear proof of love. You want the other girls to see it. In your secret heart, you want the woman he lives with to see it. Then maybe you can come into his home, that ordered place. You raise the phone slowly.
Hey. I’m outside. Do you want to stay, or do you want to go? I’m sorry, but I’ve only got a little time.
You can’t ask him to come inside. Everything would be too obvious. To him. To the girls. To you. So you say goodbye and you go out into the night, so cold—though it’s only mid-October—you can’t bear to imagine Monster, gone three days now, walking through it.
In the little forest between the apartment complex and the strip mall you found only a scattering of the fur of a rabbit. You found a tail, white and not quite as puffy as the cotton ball you would have used as the final touch of an Easter decoration at your grandmother’s house years ago. You looked for a long time at the soft gray fur, thinking it is extraordinary that people would wear something like what was shifting in the breeze before you. What world is that where flesh is raiment? Where meat is peeled from bone?
There was no blood.
When you told Jenna about it, she said, Coyotes begin to eat things before they’re even dead.
How was it he got out again? she wanted to know.
The stairs. He comes running down them and, sometimes, he’s out the door before I can…He’s done it before. Usually I catch him right after. He’s afraid of it, out there, mostly, just a little….
What did you do this time that he got away?
I was running late…I had a training session…I…
And now all around your complex and all through the neighborhood hang photocopied pictures of your cat, sitting angry eyed beside your son—who had kept the feline still only long enough for you to shoot the photo—and your offer of a reward.
You worry about what has eaten Monster. Your worry about what he has eaten, what smaller creatures have fallen into his clutches.
You talk about these things to Colton as he drives. You talk about your grandmother. You’re a little drunk, and you know he finds that annoying because he does not drink at all. But you can’t help yourself. You’re talking fast. And he’s driving fast. He drives up to your apartment, and you get out of the car and look at the bowl from which the now crusty food has been scattered by scavenger birds, and you realize Colton has not said a word.
What then is there but this? Colton is fucking you, and he knows how to do that. If you are lost, it is in this. A place you might never have been without meeting him. He is pushing you up a hill, a mountain, thrusting you before him, and you stagger in some kind of half consciousness, surrendered. He will get you to the very top. And then he will throw you off. You’ve been with him since summer’s end, and every time it is like that.
You fall and fall and fall, all this beautiful falling. And then you land and burst, and you look up at him, and he is more than you deserve, and you look through the window beyond his head the sky or the moon in it or the slowly changing leaves, and at that moment, this little part of the vast world will seem almost yours.
Only this time he says he has to be quick. No time for the journey tonight.
She’s still up, he says. Her mother came over and is spending the night. They’re watching a movie. What she doesn’t figure out, her mother might.
He’s clever. He knows enough about every situation to control it. You’ve never been a person like that. The first time you cheated—with the adjunct instructor of your World Literature course—on your child’s father, he found out. Then he was off to Michigan, that strange place, those strange people, amongst whom he belongs. All these worlds within the world.
Colton is undressing. His body compact and muscled, the scar through his eyebrow, the lines of his belly, the ones that divide his torso from his legs visible, everything visible in the light through the window. You wonder what his house is like, his bedroom, how it is between them in that place.
Can you handle this? he asks. He’s got his cock half hard held out before him. It’s his dirty talk, low voiced, with his slit eyes distant above his mouth. Can you take this thing?
And you speak like a child, which must be how he wants you to respond. I think so, you say. I think I can. I’ll try.
You guide him to you and watch his hardmask face as he breaks from you for a moment to look at the clock on the bedside table. Then he comes down hard and in quickly, and he starts moving frantically. I’m sorry, he says. I told you I have to be fast tonight.
You don’t have to come every time. You tell him this. You tell him you want his come. I do, you say. I really do. Give me your come. I am a place into which to pour it.
He likes this, your dirty talk.
I’m the place for your come, you say. Fill me.
And then he pulls out, as he always must, less there should be another baby. His cock is spurting, huge globs. You feel the first of them splatter on your breasts, the next on your throat, another on your belly. No man you knew every came like that, not even your child’s father. Colton is stiff and sculpted with his head thrown back and his cock doing its thing. Then it says, Meow.
You open your eyes wider.
His cock says it again: Meow.
After a moment, you get it. You push up and push past him. He half spins, the last bits of babies he won’t be having eeking out, his face confused. You can feel his come running down your chest. You take the stairs two at a time and you fling open the door, and there is Monster, bedraggled, his yellow eyes glowing, a survivor of a world he hadn’t been able to imagine. He cries out again. You lift him up and hug him to your sticky chest. His entire body is purring. You squeeze him so that his bones and your bones are resonating his pleasure. But then he places a paw on your collarbone and pushes back to look at you. He sniffs. He lowers his head and licks the flat between your breasts with his seabeast tongue. His head tilts to one side, and then the other. He kicks free with his claws and lands with a little thump on the landing. You blink a long dizzy blink and turn a dizzy half circle, and Monster is not there. You don’t know if he’s gone into the darkness of your apartment or back into the night.
Up there somewhere, Colton is getting dressed. You might pass him on the stairs. You should be all right with this. It’s what you signed up for. Your cat is alive, and he may be back, and that’s what you wanted, and soon your son will return. You’ve never even been to Michigan. You can imagine it, but you can’t really believe in it. It’s the same for so many places. New York, that estate, the grave of your grandmother. You can’t believe in your boy until he comes through the door. Then nothing much else will matter, and that time is coming. Still, you can hardly move. The stairs are so steep. Your legs are so weary. And your apartment is an unwelcoming place—dark as it is, or lit as you can almost imagine it being—though where else could you go? Colton has yet to appear at the top of the stairs, this place of transition.
Come kitty, you call quietly, come kitty.
But he does not come.
J. Eric Miller’s short story collection, Animal Rights and Pornography was published by Soft Skull Press in 2004 and has since been translated and published in France, Russia, and Turkey. Human Beast Productions has also purchased an option on the book with the aim of developing several of the short stories into a film. His novel Decomposition (Ephemera Bound 2006) has been translated and published in France, Spain, and Italy; a cinematic version is in pre-production with Gedeon Productions.
A number of his short stories have appeared in various journals, including: Starry Night Reivew, eFiction, Pindelyboyz,Clean Sheets, Manera, Burning Word, Ink Pot, and Outsider Ink. One of them, “Invisible Fish”, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.