Linda’s cat is not well. The cat, in so many words, has told me this. Linda does not know the cat is not well, but I do. I would tell her, but she wouldn’t understand anyway, so why should I?
Linda and I live together. She keeps the kitchen clean, which I resent. Its cleanliness makes it unusable. If I leave the colander hanging on the coat rack, she will notice. I have heard her rearranging things with a sigh. But she will not say anything to me. She does not know how.
Sometimes, Linda’s friends come. Sylvia, Mary, and the other Linda. When I hear their scratchy voices I wait in my room. I do not want to see them. The cat waits with me. If I must use the bathroom, I do so in a small white bucket. I cover its rim with a threadbare scarf to cushion my bottom whilst I sit on it. When Linda and her friends leave, I empty the bucket into the toilet.
Linda and the other Linda met in college, where they were arranged alphabetically by first name. Imagine: a room full of Lindas. I do not need to imagine, because sometimes, after Sylvia and Mary have left, that is our living room: a room full of Lindas.
Linda named the cat Mister Soda. She pronounces this by running the two words together so that they sound almost like Minnesota. “Come here, Mistersoda,” she calls in her saccharine voice. The cat scurries away. Sometimes it sits in my lap. Linda does not know the cat’s real name.
Linda and I are developing our own language. The signifiers are subtle. An open door means “I am here.” A closed door means “I am not here.” It may also mean, “I want you to think I am not here.”
If Linda is to be believed, she works as a secretary in the city. This I know because she talks to someone on the phone about it in a strained voice. “No, you’re not listening to me, that’s not the problem,” she says. She speaks only to the cat in soft tones. The cat does not even like her. The cat is not well.
My diet, because Linda has besieged the kitchen, consists entirely of food that may be prepared and consumed in my room. I primarily eat cookies. When the cat was well, it would come into my room, and we would eat cookies together. Oreos, it told me, were its favorite. The cat does not eat much now.
Linda and her friends gossip. They drink wine, and talk about men and other women. I leave my door open. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but you’re my friends, so I will,” one of them says. This is why the cat prefers me. Because I can keep my mouth shut.
I draw the cat in my journals. It models well, but I struggle with its abdomen. Where does it end and where does it begin? Looking through my drawings of the cat is like watching a time-lapse video of a cancer patient. It is wasting away, and Linda does not know.
Mister Soda is not a good name for a cat. I am not even sure the cat is male. It may be hermaphroditic. What’s more, it is telepathic.
Not all cats are. Most aren’t, in fact. But this one is. It communicates to me in pure meaning, beyond the silliness of spoken names and words. The cat has told me its name, its true name, but I cannot pronounce it. I can’t even think it. But sometimes, when I am sure that Linda has left, I rearrange the pots, the windows, and the doors to spell it. It is nice to see one’s name.
Linda, if she is to be believed, has lost her job. She says this on the phone. The cat looks at me knowingly. This concerns us. Things are better when Linda is not here. Linda cries loudly in the living room.
Go to her, I tell the cat. I form the thought in my head, a moving picture of the cat going to her, and the cat plucks it away.
You go to her, it tells me.
“Mistersoda!” She calls, and then calls again when it does not go.
The kitchen has never been so immaculate. I relocate the cookies to my room. Sylvia, Mary, and the other Linda come. They share more gossip. This appears to lift Linda’s spirits. The cat maintains a sarcastic attitude about Linda, even though it is not well.
The cat does not have long to live.
What would you like to do? I ask it.
I would like to see the world before I go, it tells me.
Don’t say that.
But you know it’s true. It yawns, which, in turn, makes me yawn.
My financial situation imposes limits on where we may go. Zimbabwe, or Egypt, which the cat would prefer, are regrettably not possible at this time. We may go to the sea, or to the mountains, but not to both. To the sea, the cat says.
Linda complicates our endeavor. Her presence and her feeling that the cat is hers make things difficult. I may not simply walk out with the cat. “What are you doing with Mistersoda?” she would say in her strained voice.
A plan presents itself. I leave the kitchen window open (which, coincidentally, spells out part of the cat’s middle name). This window leads to a fire escape, down which the cat may plausibly escape. While Linda is in her room, we leave. I take the cat in my trench coat.
The crowded subway confounds the cat, though it enjoys transacting underground. It remembers traveling in a taxi, when Linda got it from the kennel. Cloth fibers spilled out of the cracked leather seats. The cat wanted to play with them, but Linda, of course, forbade this. That was when it knew.
A strong wind blows as we exit. I cover the cat with my trench coat. A woman walks backward on the beach, clapping her hands. She wears a pink fleece and a blue hat. The cat and I agree that we like her.
I walk to the high tide line and sit down. The cat squeaks out of my jacket and gravitates toward a wet log. The cat paws at it, turning it over in the sand until it has arranged it just so. I watch the cat’s abdomen contract and expand. The cat has positioned the log between a piece of dry seaweed and an empty milk carton. Together, they spell out my name.
Come here, I tell it, and it surges back into my arms. I rub its head. I have brought some Oreos, which I share with the cat. I hope that it will eat, and it does. It licks the frosting from each side of the cookies, which I have separated.
We sit for a while, the wind blowing and the waves crashing. The woman returns, now walking forwards with long, elliptical high kicks.
“Hello, you!” She says to the cat as she passes.
Tell her I say hi, it tells me.
“It says hi,” I say.
I am ready, the cat tells me.
I take off my trench coat, and then my top and my skirt. I have a bathing suit on underneath. I lay my things on the beach above the tide line. I bend over, and the cat jumps into my arms. I lift it up, and it licks me on the cheek.
The water is cold on my feet as I walk out. I look back at the empty beach. I cannot see the woman anymore. I walk out to my knees, and then further. The cat asks me to dunk it, and I do. Its wet fur feels slick, like a bird’s. I walk out to my chest, holding the wet cat over my head.
It purrs. Thank you, it says.
It was my pleasure. I only wish … I begin to say.
But we are here now, it says.
I am ready, it says. I kiss it once more and throw it into the sea. I catch a wave back to the shore.
“Have you seen Mistersoda?” Linda asks me when I return. I confirm later in my journals that these are the first words she has said to me in eleven days.
“No,” I say.
I go into my room and begin to draw the cat from memory. I draw it floating like an otter on its back in a bathtub. Only when it is wet can I get its abdomen right. I wait for Linda to leave, and then I rearrange the place to spell out its name. The spelling changes now that it is dead. To add the appropriate postfix, I must enter Linda’s room and un-make her bed, which I do.