Love # 1

The story below was first published at Insolent Rudder, Winter Issue 2008.  It is an excerpt from my novel, The Former Things Have Passed Away.

Love #1
The master had awakened just a half an hour before, ground the coffee beans, poured two cups in the coffee maker and boiled an egg.  Now as the egg cooled in the pot of cold tap water and the gurgling of the coffee machine dissipated, she lay on the sofa bed, which took up nearly the whole studio room.  She closed her eyes but did not sleep.  She thought of peeling the egg carefully after it cooled, shreds of white skin sticking to bits of shell, exposing the velvety yellow surface.

The cat sat between the vertical blinds, its raccoon-printed tail sweeping back and forth, clapping the blinds against one another.  She darted her head up and down, side to side, following the hopping of a bird outside the sliding glass door, while her body remained still.

The master stirred, cocked her head to view the small bulk of the cat, patches of shades of grey on white.  She wanted to call out her name but found she could not speak.  She laid her head back down on the pillow, shut her eyes and thought of the hardened yolk that would crumble like powder when cutting the mangled egg in half.  Of how she would rub her finger on the crumbs and place them back on the lopsided half with less yolk.  She sensed her hunger but did not get up.

The cat stirred, peeked her head through the blinds and stared at the master.  She stared without blinking, stretched, back curving into a soft v, and began creeping towards the bed.  As she drew closer, the slits of eyes ballooned into black circles encased in cloudy blue glass.  The master reached out her fingers to touch the little pink nose.  She felt only a dry roughness.  Are you under the weather too? she whispered.  She ruffled the fur with her fingers, back and forth, all the while admiring the wide stare of the marble eyes, wishing for them not to shrink into slits in retraction from the light of the sun.

She was free.  To get up whenever she wanted.    But she was not getting up.  She could not move.  The egg was cooled, but it could get cooler.  She curled up into a ball, her back to the cat, closing her eyes again to make the already darkened room darker.  It was not dark enough.  Un-balling herself, she crept to shut the blinds tighter.

She pulled on the chain as tightly as possible and the blinds now blocked out any light from midday.  Turning towards the bed, she saw the cat stretching her front paws forward, lean body rippling back.  The cat yawned and she yawned too, though she was not sleepy.  She had slept more than ten hours the night before.  As she crawled back into bed she smelled the coffee.  It was now ready, but it could get hotter.

The master pulled the covers over her body though it was not cold.  It was summer, but any slight draft made her shiver.  She kept the sliding door shut, the air conditioning off.  She pulled her side of the covers over herself, leaving the cat’s space unruffled.  The cat now lay stretched out on her back, front paws curled under her chin and back legs stretched out completely straight.  Such cat behavior meant a feeling of complete safety with the owner, that the master would never do any harm.  This was true, she thought.  She rubbed the cat’s belly.  She feels safe with me.  We are safe.

I will sleep some more she thought.  I am free and I choose to sleep.  Outside those blinds the sun was bright, but here she created her own darkness.  As she closed her eyes again, they ached not from tiredness but from being forced shut against the urge to open.  The numbness in her head, she knew from experience, would eventually turn into pain.  Still, doing nothing was better than doing things that led to nothing.  She slept.

After some time the cat pawed at the blanket covering the master’s body, then began kneading at the crease made by the weight of her body against the bed.  The master reached out one arm from under the blanket and stroked the cat’s head, then down the back.  She had read that doing so released some kind of oil in the cat’s fur, soothing and calming it.  That’s what is making her purr so softly she thought.  She watched fascinated by the vibrating she could feel in the cat’s throat, its full pleasure in the moment. No thought of past or present – just here and now.  She rocked her body back and stopped, pulled her hand back under the covers and embraced herself.

She felt the cat climb upon her belly, first standing on all fours and then circling around until it found the right position, settling into a ball.  She watched the cat stare at her with fully dilated pupils and then slowly drift into sleep.  Cats slept a lot, day or night.  They slept only when their bodies needed to.  She too could sleep any time she wanted.  Like now. Far more than her body needed.  It was her mind that longed for rest.

The warm weight on her belly rose and fell with her breathing.  She left the warm, soothing body there in her center, thinking of neither past nor future.

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