I could describe to you the events that led to me standing outside my former friends-with-benefits’ apartment at nine in the evening, but that is one humiliation I’ll spare myself. Don’t think me some lovelorn stalker. I had a key, of course. And instructions. Sergio asked me to look after things while he was out of country. I agreed to do it because doing so would prove how little I cared, whereas if I refused it would have indicated that my desire for him was too great to form even a casual friendship.
Such were the mental gymnastics I put myself through as I turned the key in his front door and took off my shoes in the entryway.
The place still smelled like him, felt like him, tasted like him. Those insufferable prints still hung on the walls to either side of the hi-fi (no television, not for him) and air plants clustered every available surface.
The only new thing was winding around my ankles and making an attractive purring sound. Sergio had refused to get a cat while we were together, said they were all the drain of children and twice the mess. Well, it looked like my leaving had rattled him more than he cared to admit. I scratched the agreeable creature between the ears and felt a bit of smug triumph.
First order was the air plants. Sergio was an avid collector; his instructions for their care would have filled a book if he could be bothered to write it down. He would never admit it, but I was the only human being on earth who he could trust with his extensive verbal inventory. The cat slithered around my ankles, making each step perilous.
Of course Sergio had not mentioned his new pet, nor had he left instructions on where the food or his bowl was. I was forced to go through cupboards like a common burglar. I found that he had eschewed plates and bowls for a new shallow trencher that served the purpose of both, that he had finally carved his compressed brick of darjeeling to the last hockey-puck sized lump, and that he had painted the shelves without bothering to put down liner paper. I’m sure you’ll notice the absence in that sentence.
The landline rang, and I nearly tripped into the glass conversation table when the cat darted across my path at the exact wrong time. The caller ID was no one I cared about, and I cursed myself for getting worked up.
The succulents in Sergio’s study were listing in their pots, their sandy soil had been scattered and used as a litter box. No doubt Sergio had some newer, fail-safe system that he hadn’t bothered to implement properly before leaving. That had been our relationship in a nutshell, him leaping ahead and leaving me carrying the luggage.
But I wasn’t bitter.
As I stepped out to fill the watering can, a toppling vase nearly brained me. I looked up to find green eyes winking at me from the depths of Sergio’s tallest shelf of collectibles, ten feet off the ground. The feline was a remarkable acrobat; Sergio himself had to resort to a painter’s ladder to reach that spot.
As the pitcher filled, I searched some more. I found his copper mugs, green patina eating the rims. Beneath the sink his all-natural cleaners with all the scrubbing power of weak tap water. His emergency stash of condoms (expiration date showed last year.)
The cat came musing up to my outstretched hand, turning on the charm. I let it tickle me with its whiskers. It was the friendliest thing I had seen in this apartment since I’d left in in a huff so many months ago.
Damp seeped into my sock.
Somehow the watering can had fallen at an angle, now it overflowed onto the counter and down to the linoleum at my feet. I watched the spreading puddle almost idly until I saw the water nearly touching the still-plugged-in electric kettle. I could have cleared a cyclone fence with my leap as I shut off the water. The cat disappeared once more, and I was left to wring out Sergio’s microfiber mop in the dirty sink.
Something speared into my heel as I stepped from the kitchen. I held my foot and saw the floor now littered with broken trinkets, the upper shelf cleared. I cracked. I texted Sergio, editing and re-editing my message so many times it sounded almost nothing like what I wanted to say.
WHERE IS YOUR CAT’S FOOD was my weak attempt at a missive.
As I pulled glass splinters from my foot, I heard a thumping sound and a muffled mew. I looked up at the window to find the cat blinking benignly at me from the other side of the glass. Sergio lived on the seventh floor.
The air was frigid as I heaved open the window, my hands almost froze to the thin concrete apron that ran the length of the building. The cat sat a comfortable distance away from me, curled into itself. I could just barely graze its paws with my fingertips if I leaned all the way out the window. The cat retreated.
I looked down at the ledge and then up at the cat. Truly, if it wanted to it could walk right back to the window and into the safety of the apartment. But there was frost clinging to the ledge and such a long drop beside me and the cat was so tantalizingly close that I thought I could just grab it up and be done with it.
As I half-clung, half-crawled to the cat, it edged away from me. I found a piece of ornamental brickwork and pulled myself fully onto the ledge. Favoring my injured foot, I gathered in a crouch for one final rush.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. As I glanced down, I felt pressure and four sets of nail spikes driven into my leg as the cat leapt past me. I overbalanced and then I was in the air.
Seven stories for a person is not seven stories for a cat. I lived, barely. I broke my fall (and other things) on the way down to the ground, landing spine-first on a filthy pile of snow. Looking up, I could see the cat peering down at me from the window, curled up picture-perfect like something out of a Christmas card. My phone had survived impact in my pocket. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was the cracked screen and a reply text from Sergio reading, simply: I DON’T HAVE A CAT.