bill's damn cats

I roll over and squint at the sunlight peeking through the blinds. He is stretched out beside me, and I have this sudden urge to bolt and run. I can’t do the morning-after thing. I want the comfort of my own bed, a cup of hot tea, a bagel, and the arts section of the Sunday paper. Bill is a blonde haired, blue-eyed Ft. Lauderdale boy with an unquenchable passion for kayaking and an annoying tendency to address everyone as dude. He’s still hung up on his ex-fiancé, who ran off to New York and married his ex-best friend. He insists that he hates Jill, which means, of course, that he loves her. From his description, she’s psychotic; something about her chasing her own mother around the house with a butcher knife and too many pills and her need to control him. I feel sorry for her, almost. I decided not to tell Bill that I’m taking the latest anti-depressant on the market, at least not yet.

Bill’s two cats come racing into the bedroom and pounce on the bed just below my feet. They roll around and wrestle with each other, a tangle of fur and claws. Bill begins to snore. Karma, the gray one, eyes me suspiciously, and I sneer back at him. What kind of guy names his cat Karma? Sylvester, the tabby, nuzzles my leg while I try to maneuver myself quietly out of the bed. One foot down, another foot down, step, step. I’ve just made it to the door when I hear a smoker’s cough, a mattress squeak, and the swoosh of tossing sheets.

“Morning,” he says. Shit. My plan of escape has been foiled. He has a perfect view of my naked back side. I pivot around and see him grinning. I am the first since Jill left him. He’s back in the saddle again. ‘You’re different,’ he had said last night on a dock overlooking the Chattahoochee River. ‘I’m really comfortable with you.’ Why do they always say that? I’m not different, just educated. I have opinions. I have theories. I have…to pee very badly.

“Morning,” I mumble.

The litter box is in the bathroom. I can feel tiny granules of scoopable cat litter collecting on the bottoms of my feet. I hover over the toilet and pee as quickly as possible, praying to the Goddess of Morning-After Awkwardness that Bill will fall back asleep, and he does. I slink into the living room with the cats following close behind. They stare intently at me pulling on my wrinkled jeans and halter top. They know too much already.

* * *

Summer has this way of making you think things are better than they really are. It’s like the sun blinds you to the stark realities of life, and everything can be solved with a tan, a bikini, and a frozen margarita. Bill and I played tennis, had sex, ate dinner, saw movies, and basically tried to date each other for two months. He spent most weekends on the Nantahala River, wielding his blood red kayak through the rapids. Toward the end of July, reality emerged, despite the scorching Atlanta heat, my tan lines, and icy, salt-rimmed glasses.

* * *

I decide to stop taking the tiny, pink happy pills, and Bill decides to stop smoking. We are companions headed down the dark corridor of withdrawal. He is slapping on nicotine patches and trying to explain to me how rough it is to quit smoking, but I have my own troubles at this point. My world starts spinning—literally. Between the dizziness, headaches, and tremors, I’m barely functioning. I slice the pink pills into even tinier increments and space the doses out as far as I can. I take vitamins and supplements to battle the side effects, and I tell myself everyday that I’m strong enough to beat this thing once and for all. At last, I level off and begin to feel again. I pop the last little shaved-off pill and make a note of this action in my journal, the faithful, green cloth-covered, unbiased receptor of my thoughts. I flush the rest of the pills down the toilet, feeling like I’ve just risen from death, and I look like it, too. But I am not depressed anymore. I am me. I know me. I remember me. It is nice to find me again, alive and well.

* * *

The one essential tool that a writer has at her disposal is the ability to sense everything on many different levels. Without feeling, there is nothing to spark creativity, nothing to make the words flow, nothing to tell.

* * *

I like the pool at Bill’s apartment complex better than the one at mine, so I head over there on one of the rare Saturday afternoons when he isn’t kayaking. The July heat has turned the whole city into a giant sauna. Kids play in the sprinklers, air-conditioners run day and night, and the murder rate climbs steadily. My interest in Bill is beginning to wane, but I ignore this fact for the time being. He buys me dinner, brings me flowers, and can at least carry on an intelligent conversation, even if he does mention Jill too often and sounds like a surfer. You could do worse, I tell myself. I walk into his living room dressed in khaki shorts and my favorite orange string-bikini. I’m shimmying off the shorts when Bill emerges clad in his swimming trunks.

“Oh, you’ll have to give me a few minutes before we head to the pool,” he says.

“Why? Everything o.k.?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine, it’s just…well, I mean…you in a bikini, and…um…”

He casts his eyes to the floor. I am now aware of his erection, quite visible despite his long, baggy, navy blue trunks. I can handle this in a number of ways: (1) Let him deal with it. (2) Help him deal with it. (3) Laugh at the absurdity of the moment and make him feel utterly foolish. I go with option number two.

“Oh, that,” I say, dropping my tone an octave, playing the seductive siren. “I can take care of that.”

And I do.

Later that afternoon, Bill rummages through some things, finds a picture of Jill, and shows it to me. She has long brown hair and a sweet, fragile smile.

“She’s pretty,” I tell him, but not as pretty as me.

Three days before, he had prattled on for what seemed like hours about how Jill and her husband, his ex-best friend, were moving back to Atlanta. Old friends of his had revealed this interesting tidbit, and it was consuming him like a lit match on gasoline.

“They’re going to live one exit away from me! One exit! The nerve of that bitch! Why couldn’t they just stay in New York!” he had ranted.

“Atlanta is a big city, and you guys no longer move in the same circles. Odds are, you’ll never see her,” I told him, but my words were useless.

I shower and change into a sundress as blue as a Caribbean sea, but Bill barely notices. He is mesmerized by the Outdoor Life Network. I should make a clean exit, but I don’t. Instead, I try using all of my feminine wiles to ease Bill’s tension, but he is having none of it. I gather my things as Karma and Sylvester swish about my legs and look up at me with mocking grins. Damn cats I think. ‘I hope you both choke on hairballs.’

“Well, it’s getting late. I’m just gonna head back home.”

Bill stops watching kayaking tips long enough to acknowledge my existence.

“Listen, I’m sorry,” he says, “I’m just really stressed out right now.”

I know he has called her or made some kind of contact. It truly doesn’t matter to me. I met Bill in a bar; I can meet another in a bar. It is all the same. I slip on my sandals, and he walks me to my car.

“You look really pretty in that dress,” he says, and then spins me slowly around to see my face. “Are you o.k.?”

“Yeah, sure…I’m fine.”

I smile at him and then sink behind the wheel. I know I won’t be back. I roll the window down, crank the radio up, and let the night air wash away Bill and the cats and all the reasons for ever being someone’s second best.

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