Well, this is the last part of the first chapter of my novel, which I must admit I’ve fallen behind on, though I am done with the second chapter and am only planning seven.
Writing this story — the story of a girl who loves cats too much — has made me feel a bit insane. But good insane! Because what is a writer if not someone who can empathize with the strangest of people? The answer: nothing.
Warning: there is some vulgarity in here. Don’t be afraid!
The Real Cat Ladies of York Street, Part Trois
On the seventh night, the night I will always remember as the day that my lucky number turned into an omen of doom, I did something out of desperation. Something I would later come to regret very much.
I think there comes a point at least once in everyone’s life where they have two options that are both terrible – the road diverges, and one path is surrounded by fire and the other path is infested with plague-riddled rats. I am a firm believer that when you are presented with two terrible roads you must make your own path, like the pioneers of old! Unfortunately, a lot of the pioneers died.
My palms were sweaty and my eyes darted across my surroundings suspiciously as I walked into the hotel that evening. I recognized the ethically dubious thing I was doing, like smuggling crack across the Mexican border but less exciting. As per usual, the moment I crossed the threshold I heard the twanged speech of my arch nemesis. “Hello, Mary.”
“Hello, Mr. Fitzpatrick.” We stared at each other, him searching me for some weakness to exploit like the villain he was, me clutching my duffle bag to my chest anxiously. Had I already been found out? Had I already had my hopes dashed less than a minute into my devious behavior? I once tried to smoke a cigarette in high school but I left my bedroom door open while my mom was home: that should’ve taught me I have no penchant for elicit behavior.
“That’s an awfully big bag,” Fitzpatrick said accusatorially. “What do you have in it? A body?”
“Nothing! No! It’s nothing! It’s… a sandwich! You can’t search it. I have rights! I’m an American citizen!” I was not very good under pressure.
As one could guess, as one often does, Fitzpatrick found my defensiveness suspicious. His eyes narrowed like a cat, only he was the very opposite of cute (which makes him nothing like a cat past the eyes). Luckily, my stammering had taken him aback. “Yeah… Alright Mary. Get to work.” He left quickly, and I imagined a putrid trail of fetid bones where he had been. I gingerly went to my desk.
As I sat my bag down, it meowed softly. I looked about quickly, making sure the coast was clear, before unzipping the top. Spuffs’ head emerged, his face displaying a mix of excitement, curiosity, and frustration at being trapped.
I scratched his ears and whispered affectionately, “I know, I’m sorry the bag isn’t that comfortable, but it’s better than being home alone, right?” He purred in agreement.
I know. I know! I’m not crazy, I just worry! Spuffs may not seem like it, but he is very needy, and clings his routine. At 6:30 he likes to be fed, at 7:00 he likes to sleep, at 9:45 he roams the house, at 10:20 it’s cuddle time, etc. He is a cat of habit. This whole promotion thing has just thrown a wrench into everything, and it would be irresponsible not to take his feelings into consideration, right?
The first few hours passed with little problems. When Mr. Fitzpatrick went home for the evening I let Spuffs out of his bag, allowing him to roam freely in the small lobby (which was basically just a hall with an alcove for me to sit at and a coffee table with some plastic flowers), and he was content.
I like to think that that night, more than any, the usual guests (politicians, business executives, etc. and their hookers, concubines, etc.) and I had a silent agreement: you don’t tell anyone about my pussy and I won’t tell anyone about yours. I’m sorry, that was vulgar, but I love cat puns.
The trouble came in the morning. By the time 6:30 came, after my quick breakfast and coffee break, more and more people began to check in and out. And I’m talking about the families with (dirty) children – unlike cats, who are generally very clean children. The kids would poke at Spuffs and try to play with him but, of course, he was not so fond of these bundles of torment, and so he would begin hissing at them, his back arched and his fur on end.
I’m not going to pretend I’m a legal expert (though I have watched about 200+ episodes of Law and Order, so I feel I could adequately defend myself in the court of law), but I knew that if Spuffs clawed these kids it would probably not be a very good situation. I hastily put him back in my duffle bag, and he became very agitated at a situation that he thought was unfair, annoying, and neglectful.
Then 10:30 came.
At 10:30, the time I normally have reserved for light cuddles and heavy nuzzles, Lady Esmeralda entered, striding forth like a majestic… I can’t think of an animal that strides. An ostrich? Yes, she was striding forth like a majestic ostrich. She hovered over my desk, radiating confidence and the odor of someone who is a bit too heavy handed with her perfume, her chest puffed out as if she thought her bosom wasn’t visible enough. “Mary, I have good news.”
“Oh?” I shiftily eyed my duffle bag on the floor next to me, hoping Spuffs was asleep.
“Yes, I have hired a new girl to operate the desk in the morning. You are done with these extra shifts, and you are getting your – what is that?”
I was smiling broadly at her first comment, but tilted my head to the side in confusion at those last three words. The words that marked the beginning of my despair. “What is what?”
She pointed down at the duffle bag next to me, her arm parallel to the ground. “Your bag, it moved.”
I gulped. “Oh, uh… Well…” My mind raced. What would you put in a zipped duffle bag besides a cat that would cause it to move. A baby? No, babies don’t go in bags… “It’s filled with… Mexican jumping beans?” I really was a terrible liar. Normally I didn’t count this as one of my many vices, but I realized at that moment why I should do more to learn the ways of deception. “Yes, Mexican jumping beans! I collect them!” I heard somewhere that if you wanted to make a lie believable, you had to commit to it. Even if it was the stupidest lie ever uttered by someone over the age of 4.
Her eyes narrowed at my questionable behavior and she reached for the bag. I bit my lower lip, and each inch her hand moved closer to that bag was one moment closer to the end of my dreams to have it all. Didn’t she know I just wanted what everyone wanted? My dream is simply to have an apartment and kitties and a husband and whiskers and clean kids and a nanny to play with my cats when I’m in Cuba studying for my next novel and she would stop this if only she knew, surely!
“No!” I squealed. “Stop! The-the beans are delicate! You can’t touch them!” She stopped for a moment to hear my pleas before dismissing them, seeing through my lies as if they were a string that I was trying to use to hide an elephant. I should’ve learned that day that nothing good ever comes from me talking.
She lifted the bag off the ground and the moment she did Spuffs began to move more. As she sat it on my desk he let out a short, displeased, “Mew.” She was taken aback by this unexpected sound for a second before firmly grabbing the bag’s zipper.
The moment before a terrible accident occurs lasts a lifetime. Or maybe just a year. Once I tumbled down the stairs and it seemed like in the time between tripping and the time I started to roll down the steps I should’ve been able to easily reach out for the handrail, right myself, and get McDonald’s.
Lady Esmeralda deftly unzipped the bag before opening the top, and that’s when time froze. Little did she know, that “mew” Spuffs had uttered was the equivalent of a human saying, “If you make another step I will shank you!” Spuffs leaped forward from the bag as soon as the dim light of the florescent bulb above my desk hit him and flew straight for Lady Esmeralda’s face like an expertly plucked arrow.
I gazed in horror as Spuffs latched onto The Lady’s face like a facehugger in Aliens. “Spuffs, no!” I shouted, and The Lady reeled back, grabbing onto Spuffs and trying to pry her face free of his claws. Spuffs didn’t maul her; no, he only held onto her cheeks and forehead with the kung fu death grip all kitties possess.
In a move of desperation I reached for the stagnant coffee I had procured earlier and threw the dregs on Spuffs and The Lady. Spuffs detached immediately, looking like a furious and soggy ball of terror, and let out one long wale. Lady Esmeralda grabbed her face in horror, doing her best to cover the 20 claw marks Spuffs had left.
I rushed to the lady with the tissues I kept by my desk (sometimes my novels get sad, like the part in Love On the Trail: An Oregon Trail Romance where Ellen’s father dies of dysentery) and padded lightly at her wounds. “I’m so sorry! Oh my gosh! So sorry!”
Esmeralda wrenched the Kleenex from my hands and pushed me away from her forcefully. “Get. Out!” She shouted, her throaty voice sounding like a mighty roar.
I must say, I firmly believe you should never antagonize the matriarch of a place, even if that place is a rundown hotel, so I fled, grabbing my duffle bag in one hand and Spuffs in the other.
That night I ate a gallon of ice cream and washed it down with a bottle of wine and let Spuffs have a pound of tuna as a way to soothe both of our emotional wounds. I hadn’t heard anything from the hotel all day, but I was pretty certain my career as a night auditor had ended and I’d be lucky to get a job working as the toilet de-clogger at KFC (I don’t think that’s a real position but I imagine it would be the most disgusting job you could ever have).
The next morning I lay in bed, stuck in that murky area between drunkenness and the worst hang over of my life. I was infinitely ashamed. I was in a black hole of shame, where no good thoughts can escape. I thoroughly intended to stay in that tiny place for the rest of my life, which seemed especially reasonable because the room was spinning and the walls were constantly threatening to topple over on me (I don’t drink alcohol often, if you can’t tell).
Then my phone rang. I flailed my arms about weakly, and I could tell my limbs had atrophied because I had been lying there for 10 years. I found my phone on my nightstand and answered weakly. “Hello?” My voice was rusty from disuse.
“Mary? This is Jim.”
“Jim?” I croaked. My throat felt as dry as if I had been walking in the dessert for 40 years.
“Jim Fitzpatrick.” Hearing his name made me want to puke more than I already wanted to puke, which was quite a lot.
“Oh.” I wanted to say something else, something sassy like a television protagonist, but that’s really hard to do when you feel like a woodpecker is trying to find the juiciest parts of your brain.
“Yes. Ella wanted you to know that you aren’t fired.” Was this a prank? Was I about to discover I was on a terrible game show where we shame people who already feel badly?
“No.” He paused, clearly waiting for a response.
“Yay…” I weakly chimed, my voice no louder than a whisper because I had no voice and also I didn’t know what to say to that and also the universe was really bright.
“She said to tell you that you won’t be getting your raise, and she’s not going to pay you this week to cover her visit to the hospital.”
“Tha’s fair,” I mumbled. My mouth didn’t seem to be working. My mouth didn’t even feel like a mouth.
“You’re working tonight. Don’t be late, Mary.” He hung up quickly, with no time for me to even try and formulate a syllable.
I pondered my situation and felt a mixture of happiness, salvation, and nausea. Mostly nausea. Just then, Spuffs crawled into my bed. It was 10:20: snuggle time. He stepped on my stomach and I orally exploded on my sheets, my hair, and my face.