by Gessy Alvarez
At home, I face a predator. I am in the living room. A plush rug is under my bare feet. Nick is in his club chair, the one he took from his father’s house. Our TV is on, but its sound muted. The cat sits on the rug next to my feet. Where is the dip in the floor? The dip that we feel when we walk from the dining room to the living room. It’s a dent made by 80 years of feet stepping on it. I pace around the room hoping to feel that dent. The cat stalks my restless feet.
“Stop moving, Sabi. You are going to piss her off,” Nick says. He has long conceded to our cat’s whims, rewarding her with treats, feeding her greed without regard to her growing paunch.
I look around the room. The piles of books next to the sofa, the water stains on the coffee table, the gold star clock I inherited from my grandmother hanging on the wall across from me. I see the careful placement of objects, mementos of a life shared, puzzle pieces for our family and friends to figure out. This home, the rug, club chair, TV, the cat, books, sofa, coffee table, the dip in the floor, Nick staring at the cat, all of it feels unreal. That clock…
And the cat stalks my movements. I walk away. She pounces. Stands on hind legs, her claws out, making contact with my calf.
“Ow, she’s a brat,” I snap at Nick.
“She’s acting on her instincts,” Nick explains with some hint of arrogance or perhaps he’s patronizing me.
“She attacked me!” I say.
“She’s afraid. Fear motivates her instinct for self-preservation.” Nick says. He’s smirking at me now. Perhaps thinking, here we go again. He anticipates my manic reactions sometimes, and I never disappoint him. After ten years of marriage, I’m now finally understanding I’m scared he’ll leave me one day, or maybe I’m too afraid to be alone. My grandmother died alone.
She had no good luck, no moment of achievement, no remembrance, memorial or testament of uniqueness. She had a distinct laugh and some smattering of words and a sensual nature and a sacrificial lamb she resurrected and killed repeatedly.
The cat cowers from me.
“Poor thing, so ferocious one second and so contrite the next,” Nick says.
“That’s not contrition. She’s plotting her next move.”
The cat licks her weapon of choice.
“Go ahead, Cat. Savor your victory.” I whine unable to hold back my resentment.
I bend down and hold out a trembling finger. The cat stretches her nose and sniffs it. Her expression is almost reverent as she waits for my next move.
“What if she wanted to attack me? Maybe she’s acting on desire and not instinct.”
Nick stretches his long legs and crosses them at his ankles. His torso slouched into the curve of the club chair. “Are we still talking about the cat or are we talking about you?” he says.
Usually, this kind of petty questioning sets me off, but this time I fly off the building and catch the wind.
I stand back up, and the cat runs for cover under Nick’s chair. I say, “Maybe she needs to hurt me to see if I’m real. If any of this is real.”
“I would think the world feels more real to her than to us. She depends on us for food and shelter.” Nick says.
“But she only needs one of us to cater to her needs, and that’s you. You’re much better at taking care of her than I am.”
“So, I’m real to her, and you’re magic. Is that it?”
In the movies, this would be the cue for a passionate gesture. But Nick is tired of the challenge. In his eyes, I see the resentment in having to act. And then there’s the burden of our shared history, and of actions, we will later interpret in a chain of events neither one of us will remember with any accuracy. I don’t want to change. And Nick isn’t foolish enough to believe he can change me.
I stare at my grandmother’s clock. A few days after 9/11, there was a bomb scare at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. My grandmother lived a few blocks away. That same day, there was another bomb scare at Grand Central Terminal. I worked across the street. I remember rushing over to my grandmother’s place and ordering her to leave her apartment. She didn’t resist me, but I knew she wasn’t happy to go. We walked about five blocks up 9th Avenue to a McDonald’s. I bought her a cup of coffee and a hamburger. We sat there surrounded by high school kids. Everybody laughing like it was just another day, but it wasn’t another day, it wasn’t ever going to be like any other day.
“Why are you staring at the clock?” Nick says. He’s squeezing the armrests as if preparing to launch himself off the chair.
“I’m just thinking about her. She lived eighty years without my help and raised children, dumped one husband, and shacked up with another. She told me she had saved some money. Not much money, but enough for her to feel like she had done something with her life. I always thought I stopped talking to her because I didn’t want to burden her with my fears and paranoia. But maybe I wanted to hurt her.”
Nick drops his arm over the side of his chair. The cat sniffs his hand, jumps on his lap, and rolls into a ball there.
“Why does pain feel more real than happiness?” I say.
Nick tries to push the cat off him, but she bites his hand. “Fuck,” he says, and she scurries past me to the kitchen. He finally gets up and reaches for me, but I stop him with one hand.
“Don’t. I need to go.”
“It’s late. Stay in tonight.”
“I can’t. The rug feels like sandpaper under my feet. I want to leave now.”
Beyond this home is another universe, outside the door an escape, down the path, a street. At the end of the road another street. Then a crowd of people gathered in a bar, and I have the first drink, another drink, until that last drop, the last call, until I reach oblivion. Nick desires my attention, wants me to be real and I want to leave, fade away. Become magic.
The sound from the TV surrounds him. The dip on the floor squeaks as I walk from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen and out the side door.
The street is my erratic ocean. I walk alone on a breakwater with waves crashing and foam rising between the rocks, battered by salt and sand. I hum a made-up tune and let desire possess me, take hold of every muscle in my body. I look down at my bare feet. I’ve forgotten to wear shoes.
Gessy Alvarez writes stories, poems, and essays about the middle of things. Her prose has appeared in Hobart, Asteri(x), Lunch Ticket, and other publications. She’s also a publisher and editor. You can follow her @GessyDigsU on Twitter and Instagram, or visit her website: gessyalvarez.com.