The cat scratches at the back door; time for his late-night feeding. Trouble is, Remy’s been dead for three months. I open the door but there he is, yellow eyes blinking, pink triangle of a mouth open in a silent miaow. He weaves about my legs with a purr, lighter than a breeze, and disappears.
“Loneliness” is heartache, an affliction; but to be truly “alone” in this day and age is a blessing. No WiFi, no notifications, no texts: just me and the quiet noises of the house settling, birds in the tree outside. And Remy, padding about on creaking floorboards. Until he wasn’t. Until he was again.
Black as coffee with pale yellow eyes, Remy came into my life by accident. Someone mistook my “aww, free kittens, how sweet” for a request, leading to a ding-dong on my doorstep and the first of many silent miaows, eyes round in the shade of the cardboard box. He had a good life for a cat, mistake or no. Old houses have mice; cats have instincts and boredom; homeowners get wee gifts on the doorstep every morning.
Since he died, the mice have been creeping back.
He paces the front window ledge, back arched, tail tip wiggling, watching the birds; through him I can see a dim outline of the garden and the sugar maple. If I lean too close he jumps down and disappears. So instead I read in the square of afternoon light and he rubs against the glass and I can almost hear the purr.
Alone is only parceled out on weekends.
Monday–Friday, 9–6, my life is a cacophony of corporate strife and false scarcity. Other people’s deadlines and problems. Open office, open planning, open minds: I long to shut the window on all of it but fear holds me back. It’s not a gold-watch world anymore, I am an independent contractor tethered to nothing except someone else’s desk.
My boss’s boss schedules a meeting. Twelve of us in a room for two hours and only in the last quarter do any of us admit we don’t know why we’re there. That’s when I see him, Remy, he’s batting at a power cord, wee white claws flashing. But he cannot hook the cord, he’s too insubstantial. Or perhaps the cable is too solid. I feel dizzy. Someone’s talking to me and I reel my attention back up from the depths. “. . . sorry?”
“We’re asking, Kathleen, if you can have the pitch designed by Tuesday morning.”
This problem has a stock answer. “Sure, if I have all materials by end of day Monday.”
“But Kevin’s away Friday and Monday and Dave’s still away for another week,” someone else volunteers, sneaking a glance at Kevin, who is on his phone and paying less attention than I am. Another half-hour of meeting washes down the drain and it is established that I won’t have any copy or image assets from Marketing until “some point” on Monday. But the deadline of Tuesday 8 a.m. still stands.
I know from experience that Kevin, after a half-dozen email reminders, will finally send me the copy at 9 p.m. on Monday night along with a passive-aggressive reply that I “worry too much.” He will sign it with a winky face.
While everyone else mutters on about percentage points and data-leveraging, I glance down at the carpet just in time to see the tail-end of my dead cat disappear through the grey-beige wall, the one with the cutesie name for the meeting room stencilled in red.
Once the meeting is finally over I stumble out of the boardroom and make my way to the bathroom. I’m not the only one in a stall.
I’m not the only one crying.
It’s Sunday, and Remy stalks something across the room, perfectly still except for his translucent tail-tip twitching. He’s young and glossy, not the ancient scrawny bundle I took to the vet three months ago. Healthy, except for his opacity. A little wiggle, a crouch, a bound. A blur and a leap. He lands claws-out on the mouse, which continues eating its crumb nonchalantly before noticing my attention and disappearing behind a loose baseboard.
Remy miaows, head low, the sound trapped behind the barrier. I put my book down and pad across the room in my socks, just as silent, to fetch my toolbox. Remy winds around my ankles but cannot trip me. I reach down to give scritches behind the ear but my fingers touch nothing but air. I fix the baseboard while he watches, ears forward, unblinking. Tomorrow will be a long day at the office, waiting for the marketing team to get their shit together; stressful enough without worrying about mice.
9 a.m. First in the office except for the receptionist. Coffee in hand, I check my email: nothing useful. Remy wanders across Kevin’s cluttered desk, trying to roll pens off the edge. He notices me watching, his little pink mouth calling when the pens refuse to fall. Poor baby.
3 p.m. and the office is its usual hub of discordant activity. Kevin is responding to no one’s entreaties for copy but still my boss’s boss is adamant that the pitch must go ahead at 9 a.m. tomorrow and therefore the presentation packet must be done tonight. I wish this was out of the ordinary but each step is so rote, so rehearsed, that I cannot summon any anger. My scream would only be a silent triangle.
4:30 and Remy is back. He’s outside on the ledge, nineteen floors up, fur pressed against the glass as he preens. The glass can feel him; the roosting pigeons cannot. They fail to scatter and the look of disappointment on his little face as he stands among them, ignored, breaks my heart.
I’m tempted to once again have a cry in the quiet of the washroom but an email from Kevin might come in and I can’t afford to miss any time if I don’t want to be here all night. As if ten minutes to cry and five to wash my face is something that makes a difference.
Remy miaows again, paw beans flattened against the glass, and I rethink that last sentiment over. I turn it around in my hands, a foreign object I was given for safekeeping without consent or consultation.
Anger at last starts to percolate. I open my email and go through the meeting’s notes, the project brief. Three tries—it takes me that long to find it: a single line about the presentation’s purpose. Boss’s boss is sucking up to his boss about what a great job he’s doing, disguised in marketing-speak and branding-jargon.
I close the PDF, staring up at the ceiling. Across the long shared desk one of the other designers has old reruns of SNL playing on his second monitor and he brays with laughter to something we cannot hear. We are expected to be grateful he’s using his headphones. I push my chair back with an exhale, and a decision. I turn off the computer and sweep my detritus of personal belongings into my purse. Everyone is watching me from the corner of their eyes, the chattering dying away. Open office, open planning, open minds.
Remy’s window is across the floor but I know that he is purring.
I walk into my boss’s office and declare that I am leaving. Independent contractor, you know; the disloyalty works both ways. He’s not surprised. We shake hands. He asks what my plans are. I have none. I say: “I need to find somewhere I can hunt mice. Otherwise what’s the point?” He doesn’t know. And from the look of longing on his face I can tell he wishes he could leave, too.
5 p.m., and I am in the elevator.
Remy isn’t home when I arrive. The house is dark and quiet, and, for the first time, lonely.
Nearly bedtime when the scratch comes at the door. As I open it, there’s a flash of movement by the hydrangeas and the porch light blazes. Tortoiseshell; green eyes; thin and hungry. I smile and crouch with soothing noises, receiving a tiny mew in response.
I put a bit of tuna in a bowl, leave it on the step, and close the door. A purr inside the hallway and the ghostly feeling of fur winding around my leg. “Thank you, Remy.” It’s time for both of us to move on.
Victoria Feistner is a writer, graphic designer, and artisan in equal parts, although some of those parts are more equal than others. A speculative fiction writer for over twenty years, she finished her first novel at age 18, and has been published in Harbinger Press, The Future Fire, and GigaNotoSaurus, among other magazines and anthologies. Victoria lives in Toronto with her partner and two
jerks cats; examples of her work can be found at victoriafeistner.com.