The Nightlife of Cats
Grover hadn't wanted to let the cat out nights, but something dark and feral had taken possession of the creature, and he feared the havoc of her claws. In the end it had been easier to drag himself from bed and throw open the door than to contain her.
The scruffy calico stray hadn't asked to be adopted, had never warmed to him. His wooing of her only inflated her disdain. Still, he was troubled when she failed to appear for breakfast. Late for work, he barely had time to spoon half a can of Tuna and Liver Delight into her dish and replenish her water. He left the window ajar and drove off casting wishful glances in the rear-view mirror.
"Crazy cat," he muttered, scanning the roadsides.
He'd never liked this neighborhood with its boxy little houses and chain link fences, the dogs barking for no reason, the people pretending not to see him. What would a greeting cost them? Like on sitcoms, where the neighbors still used manual clippers to trim the hedges. He had a vague notion that the world was not getting better, that it was, in fact, devolving. How else to explain the cat's creeping savagery, the frenzied insistence of its claws against the front door demanding to be set free?
Stopped at a red light, his thoughts groped toward truth: what if it wasn't the cat who was crazy but all these people shut away in their boxes? What then?
The idea made him shudder. He switched on the radio and fiddled with the buttons until he found a Spanish station. He understood not a word of what was being said, but the announcer's cheery tone reassured him. Then the music started, dance tunes, lilting and full of brass. He drummed on the steering wheel, whistled, told himself the cat would soon get hungry and slink home. No use worrying.
The cat didn't return that night, or the next.
"Coyotes must've got her," Grover lamented, emptying her dish and storing it in the tool shed.
He ate dinner alone with the radio on and a plastic mouse perched on the next chair. The sun dipped behind the skyline; his heart sank with it. He didn't exactly miss the cat, but he regretted never having given her a name. He'd always been too shy to speak to her, though he often would have liked to. She had a way of cocking her head at him--prophetic, the gesture suddenly seemed-- as if to say, Who do you think you're fooling?
Grover slept badly that night, imagining the cat tearing at the door, making ribbons of the welcome mat, whining and howling until all the lights came on up and down the narrow street.
"Wait, Lucy!" he cried out. "I'm going with you."
Weightless, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. All the sounds of the night hummed and trilled in his ears. The moon swung low. He could see the cat's silhouette outlined against an orange horizon as he leapt headlong through the open window.
The cat raced ahead, the scruff of her neck barbed as a porcupine's quills.
He could smell the musk she trailed, feel the animal longing that drove her out, beyond, away. Where the road forked and the sidewalks ended, Grover, panting, tore open his pajama top.
"I'm going with you, Lucy," he repeated, aware suddenly of his bare feet and the earth warm and alive beneath them.
His chest hairs prickled. Off in the distance a canyon gaped, its banks spiky with ocotillo. He watched the cat polevault from one to the other with a hysterical grace, her outstretched paws raking stars from the sky.
At his back a woman's voice hissed, "The devil's loose."
Spinning on his heels, he gazed down the street and saw his neighbors arrayed in one long even row.
"Go back to sleep!" he called to them. "Crazy bastards, can't you see I'm dreaming? Can't a man dream?"
He pulled off his pajama bottoms, noticing out the corner of an eye the sprightly angle of his erect penis, and set off at a run into the moon-drenched desert
Grover awoke to the growling of his own stomach. Stepping into his slippers he padded to the kitchen, intending to put on coffee and fry a couple of eggs. The morning glare threw shadows across the linoleum. On reflex, he glanced toward where the cat's dish had once been. Groggy, he rubbed his eyes.
And then he saw her--Lucy--poised on the windowsill with her customary look of disdain.
Taking pains to dissemble his joy, he got down a soup bowl and heaped it to overflowing with Tuna and Liver Delight. The cat approached creeping with her belly grazing the floor, eyes wild. She seemed not in the least hurry to accept his offering. Her bared gums revealed remnants of unidentified rodents; bone slivers and blood oozed down her tongue.
"Nice kitty," he couldn't resist cooing.
The cat dozed. Grover taped shut the curtains. Whistling a rhumba, he crouched in a corner to wait for night.