June 7, 2011 by The Citron Review
by Francesca Thompson
And just as soon as we thought that the snows were over for the season, a late March flurry was upon us. We decided to take a walk, me wrapped in a tartan wool pea coat, you in a gray sweatshirt. It was dark, late evening. We made it to the frozen, boatless harbor where we took a seat on the cement. You, distant. Me, freezing. There was a little painted picture of a diving man, encased in a red circle, a line through his torso. A warning. We clutched thermoses of hot coffee we’d made before leaving the apartment. We smoked cigarettes. We didn’t talk about ourselves. We talked about Julian the cat.
“He just keeps shitting in that little space behind the toilet,” you said, shaking your head.
I took a pull on my cigarette. “I don’t know,” I said before I exhaled a cloud. The smoke and the moisture from my breath mingled, both white on the air. They were indistinguishable from one another. “Maybe he needs attention.”
“Cats don’t want attention,” you said. “Cats are solitary creatures. They can be tricky bastards when they want something, but they don’t give affection freely. They are wholly self-centered creatures.”
“Maybe he wants something.”
“Like what? He has everything he could ever want or need. He snarfs down that specialty cat food. He gets all my old socks. And the little feathery thing attached to the stick. He loves that.”
“He hasn’t played with that in forever,” I said. The snow fell around us slowly, making small noises as it drifted onto the thin layer of ice resting atop the lake, where it was consumed. To our right the city skyline loomed, fully alive with yellow light. The pier stretched out onto the lake; the Ferris wheel twinkled like a giant eye.
I remembered the day we got Julian from the shelter. I had wanted a cat for a long time. I wanted something warm and comforting to touch when I turned away from you in bed, to remind me that I was alive. I didn’t mention this to you. I only told you I thought we should get a cat. After months of ignoring my request, you gave in only to shut me up.
I wanted a cat with socks, the kind with paws that were a different color from the rest of the coat. Julian didn’t have socks. But as soon as we saw him at the shelter, a fat orange cat curled up in the corner of a metal cage like a discarded blanket, you told me he was our cat. I couldn’t disagree. He blinked at us as we stared down at him through the cage bars.
That Halloween I dressed Julian up like Cupid. He wore a paper quiver of pink arrows on his back, and little white booties with hearts I’d painted on. He was quite indifferent about this, neither thrilled nor disgruntled. You laughed. Our friends laughed, scratched his head. He didn’t mind. You kissed me on the couch, you as Superman and me as a pirate wench, while Julian purred, perched on the back of the couch behind our heads. This was before he’d started hiding and walking strangely, stopped using his litter box.
“If he gets too sick, think we probably have to put him down,” you said finally, the thing you’d been meaning to say, the reason you started the conversation. “When cats start doing weird things like that, I think that’s when it’s time. It’s a sign of a more serious problem.”
I was silent for a moment, watching my breath drift away from me, across the ice. We sat right next to each other, our arms touching, but our warmth would not pass through all the layers.
Francesca Thompson is a fiction and freelance writer living in Los Angeles, California by way for Chicago. Her fiction has been published in Chicago’s Union League Journal, Carnegie Melon’s Print Oriented Bastards, Hair Trigger editions 32 and 33, The Interlochen Review, and others. She is an avid volunteer, working with Habitat for Humanity Okiciyapi Tipi in South Dakota, and with Chicago Public Schools. All she needs to survive is a French press, a good book, and a clean, well-lighted place.