Even louder silence. Nothing is as quiet as a disappeared cat.
Me: “We can do this the easy way…”
I raise this threat to an empty house. Really empty. Nothing left except cleaning rags, spider webs, and some furniture that my landlord stored in the basement two years ago, perhaps so he could move back here, which is exactly what was happening the day after tomorrow.
Me: “…or we can do this the hard way.”
Nothing left, that is, except for the Cage. The Cage is a Petco cardboard box with a folding handle that closes out the world, and closes in the rage. There is a blue towel swaddled at the bottom that has lain there for eight years. The Cage has been used six times. I have been injured seven. The towel is supposed to keep Tweak calm because it smells like her. What it actually does is turn her into a wolverine.
Me: “Fine.” I say to the air. “I’m sending The Boy to find you.”
I hand the Cage to The Boy.
Me: “Please wrangle the cat.”
Delegating shitty jobs to our children is why we had them.
The Boy brandishes the cage: “THIS IS SPARTA!”
That they make us laugh is why we keep them.
The Boy descends into Dante’s basement. I Swiffer out some cobwebs, listening.
The Boy returns empty-handed.
The Boy: “She is as far away as she could possibly be.”
Me: “Did she vote Republican?”
I follow him downstairs.
The Boy: “She’s under there.”
Me: “Under where?”
The Boy: “Worse. She’s naked.”
I peak beneath my landlord’s bed. Tweak is crouched in the far corner, legs folded, immovable. An angry meatloaf.
Me: “Come on, Tweak. This won’t be so bad. The ride is only two miles.”
Her eyes close even harder.
Me: “The new house has a basement, an upstairs, and two litter boxes.”
Me: “And a deck.”
The Boy: “Can’t you bribe her?”
Me: “She won’t eat people food and she’s immune to catnip. What do you suggest?”
The Boy: “Hookers and blow?”
Me: “Did she vote Democrat?”
I hand The Boy a broom and instruct him to move the bed.
The Boy: “Why am I always the bad guy?”
Me: “Believe me, I’m the worse guy.”
The Boy moves the bed and swooshes the cat. She dashes. I pin her to the floor, pick her up by the scruff of the neck, and wrestle her into the Cage. I am only bleeding in four places.
Tweak: “Suck. My. Cock.”
The Boy: “Obviously she voted Independent.”
The drive only takes five minutes. Tweak stops talking except for all the yelling.
I walk into the new house, put the Cage on the floor, and open the lid. Tweak escapes, tail twitching like a rattler’s warning.
Tweak: “You should probably never sleep again.”
Me: “Menopause is way ahead of you.”
She prowls the perimeter of the unfamiliar kitchen. She side-glides the leg of the familiar couch. She scowls at her food bowl.
Tweak: “Pour some nurdles in there and…. Hey, is that a deck? YOU NEVER TOLD ME THERE WAS A DECK!!”
Me: “Yes, I…! You’re right. I wanted it to be a surprise. Welcome home, Tweak.”
Bowie-dog is breathing like a freight train on the floor next to my bed.
Tweak: “It’s unfortunate your dog lacks thumbs. Amtrak could use a new engineer.”
Me: “Too soon, Tweak.”
Tweak climbs onto my chest. Not afraid, superior.
Tweak: “It’s 1:00 in the morning. Shouldn’t we be sleeping?”
Me: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Tweak: “I know a guy.”
Bowie-dog lies longways and upright, not on her side. Head up, face down, barreling into a panic tunnel. Except that she never moves forward. She has wedged herself into a slender strip of floor between my bed and the wall.
Me: “Can you make it look like an accident?”
Tweak: “I can make it look like a meteor hit your windshield.”
Bowie-dog’s breath engine pumps in and out like a fur bellows from Hell. She is panting so hard and fast that the rug underneath her is soaked from hot fear.
Tweak: “I bet she’s doing 106.”
I cover my eyes with one arm. The rain pours.
Tweak: “That curve is only built for 55.”
Lightning flashes, the thunder cracks, Bowie-dog lurches and crashes headfirst into the nightstand.
Tweak, leaps on the bed and pins me in: “Why aren’t you petting me?”
Me: “I’m tired.”
Tweak: “But I’m pretty.”
Me: “Tweak, it doesn’t work that way. Both people have to want to.”
Tweak: “But I always want to.”
Me: “You only have to lay there!”
Me: “I am lying.”
Tweak stomps over my chest, flips her tail in air. Her ass reminds me that it’s an ass.
Tweak: “You should pet me.”
Me: “Tweak, I’m trying to sleep.”
She flips her body into an S-shape like a magic trick. Her impossibly blue eyes stare at me upside down.
Tweak: “Pet me.”
Me: “You’re giving me the bends.”
She stretches long and stabs my arm with a talon, then bashes her forehead into my ribs. Again. And again.
Tweak: “I. Am. Very. Pretty.”
So I pet her.
Tweak: “Learn from me.”
Me: “Kiss my ass.”
I open the kitchen trash. It’s Waste Manage-y, but not critical.
I scan the litter box and the carpets to make sure no one exploded.
I check the fridger. The milk is old but not sour. There are eight kinds of cheese in the drawer, but even the pungent ones are on purpose. No rotting veggies, no meat papers. The oldest suspects are a handful of genetically-modified cherries from three months ago. I open the Tupperware and sniff. Probably still edible if you don’t mind Ebola.
Me: “Come on, Tweak. Life is just Ebola cherries. Where are you…?”
Me: “Something died in here.”
Me: “And why didn’t you take care of it before it went, you know, dead?”
Tweak squints, folds in half, tends to a personal hygiene emergency.
Tweak: “Mice are the devil’s hemorrhoid.”
Me: “AHA! I never said it was a mouse. How do you know it’s a mouse??”
Tweak uncoils from her work in the down-under.
Tweak: “What are the choices – badgers? Birds? You think this house is lucky enough to be infested by baby pandas?”
Me: “Eww. Especially if they crawl under something and die.”
Tweak: “What’s black and white and red all over?”
Me: “Tweak, no.”
Tweak: “A bamboo spork.”
Me: “You’ve crossed the line. Help me look for the smell.”
Tweak: “I’d rather eat Ebola cherries.”
Me: “That’s my joke! You can’t take my joke just because you deliver it better.”
Tweak jumps up onto the back of the couch.
Me: “Everybody in this house is useless.”
Bowie-dog slides into the dining room, nails scrabbling on the wood floor. She wags her tail and knocks over a bottle of Motrin.
I am standing at the kitchen sink slitting open a package of meat.
Tweak: “What’s an oxtail?”
Me: “A tail from an ox? Or maybe a Lady Gaga costume.”
Inside the package are six latitudinal one-inch slices of… something. Bone surrounded by meat, surrounded by entitlement.
Tweak: “Are you going to cook it?”
Me: “Are you going to try comedy?”
I remove one of the raw slices and throw it out the back door. Bowie-dog dashes out from her very important job of holding down the living room rug. She hunts the oxtail all the way to the patio.
Tweak: “There are kids in Ethiopia who just starved in front of their computers.”
Me: “I will be gone for a long time today. This gives the dog something to do.”
Tweak: “You never give me something to do.”
Me: “Why would I give you something to do? So you could sleep on it?”
Tweak: “You have no idea what I do while you’re gone.”
Me: “Tweak, I have left for work at 8:00 in the morning, come home at 8:00 at night, and you’ve been in the exact same position except for somehow having armed yourself with the breath of a thousand tunas.”
I drain the meat juice from the package into the sink.
Tweak: “You can tune a piano but you can’t tuna meat.”
Me: “’Tuna Meet’ sounds like a great name for an online service.”
Tweak: “You really need a date.”
Me: “You want an oxtail?”
Tweak: “That’s an even better name.”
Me: “’Tuna Meat or Oxtail.’ It’s all a matter of taste, isn’t it?”
Tweak: “Or desperation.”
I seal up the remaining oxtails in a Ziploc.
Me: “My meat is dolphin-safe.”
Tweak: “Lady Gaga called. She wants her innuendo back.”
Me: “Tweak, did you know that there are cats who live outside?”
Tweak: “Live? Out… there?”
Me: “Yes. Outdoors. On the other side of doors.”
Tweak cocks her head toward me from the windowsill where she’s been tracking the mating ritual of two robins.
Tweak: “Someone has to go outside to pour nurdles in their bowl? Why would you do that to yourselves?”
Me: “No, no. These cats don’t have a ‘someone.’ They have never eaten nurdles.”
Tweak: “This is bullshit.”
Tweak turns back to the robins in the bush. The male leaps up one branch higher, the female down.
Me: “I would not lie to you, Tweak. I tell the truth so I don’t have to keep track.”
The male has brought the female a gift in his beak – a leaf. Or a maggot.
Tweak: “So they’re homeless?”
Me: “They’re not homeless, they’re house-less. They live between things.”
Tweak: “Were they born in barns??”
Me: “Sometimes. Certainly they were not nuzzled into the world by the kiss of a midwife onto a bed of Valium-filled Krispy Kremes like you, princess. No, feral kittens are born mewling and twisted, wrenched from the uteri of cat rapes, dropped wet and kicking behind dumpsters and under front porches all across this great land, raised on a steady diet of Taco Bell, locusts, and intimidation.”
Tweak: “What happens when it rains?”
Me: “Then we forget about them.”
The male robin leans over to present his squirming gift. The female lets the maggot fall to the earth.
Tweak: “Are outdoor cats… special? Inbred? Got one eye in between the other three?”
Me: “They are typically very healthy, although they tend to cuss like sailors.”
Tweak: “Your mother was a bilge rat.”
Me: “Your father had the pox.”
Tweak tucks her feet under her and watches for the next bird show.