by Natalie Harris-Spencer
Now that I’m working from home, he doesn’t leave me alone.
Most mornings, right before my alarm shrieks, he slips under with me. His cue is my unconscious shift to the fetal position, my crunch beneath the comforter. I pat the pillow and he comes, rests his denty little chin on my forearm.
To touch he’s soft and hard, a world of internal organs and skeleton beneath. I trail my fingers to feel his xylophone spine, counting bone by bone. He vibrates like the fur of a bee, animal heart kicking. He exhales, opens a rosebud mouth filled with milky teeth, makes a sound like ih. His fur smells of the comfort of clean linen, and faintly sweet, of sweat. We doze like that until the third snooze button.
He follows me into the bathroom, hovers by the cold tap. He’s somewhat of a sloppy drinker: pearls of water drip from his mouth, cling to his whiskers like condensation on grass. I kick him out while I shower. He wails for twenty human minutes, wanting in, craving nearness. Then, to spite me, he hides.
I make coffee, turn on my laptop, move my mouse a bit. He stalks downstairs – no rush – just to check I’ve topped his biscuits, sniffing, slow blinks into the cool morning.
He follows the sun around the house.
Internet superstar that he is, he brushes across my work video meetings, tail following in an open parenthesis. It sweeps my face, like you might swish a red feather across a lover’s cheek. I scoop him, two handed, and drape him over my shoulder as if to burp a baby.
“Excuse this little guy,” I say, apologetic. But I shouldn’t apologize, because look how cute?
Sometimes, I wave his paw at the screen. Say hi. Arrogance, or maybe irritation at being paraded, makes him scramble down my back like it’s a humpback bridge. He meanders off in disgust. It’s at times like these I think we’d both prefer me back at the office.
When he’s not sleeping like a cinderblock in one of his usual spots, I’ve trained him to nutmeg: that neat little soccer trick. He careens between my legs in exchange for Shrimpy Shrimp Temptations. Our record is 24 nutmegs in a row. Champion, he bathes in glory on the rug, making himself extra-long, his white tummy visible, rolling.
His ears are always cooler than the rest of him. They feel like petals between padded thumbs. Whenever my hands approach, he’ll take a cheeky lick, seeking remnants of his favorites: perfume, mayonnaise, hairspray.
At 3pm, he moved to the window by my desk. He bleats at birds while I’m emailing. He yowls as he bounds downstairs at the sound of a car alarm. I keep the camera on him if I’m forced to leave the house, required surveillance, and my app shows me that he cries. It’s nothing human, but there’s a sob in its timbre. The worst sound he’s ever made was two years ago, when he fell behind the bookcase and lodged his sparrow ribs against the bricks. The sound was ghastly, far too loud, like a siren passing too close.
“Are you OK? Are you going to be OK?” I demand that he tells me.
Sometimes, he gets really mad at me. He leaves a dirty protest to one side of his litter tray. I ask him what’s wrong, scratch his neck. He jerks away, suddenly shy, ashamed of the stains he’s left behind.
He’s an exhibitionist, legs erect like sticks, licks without giving two shits. He’s performing to me: his audience of one. A dead theater.
He’s constantly in search of my lap, and wonders where it goes when I get up. He sits and watches me from afar while I eat dinner, eager for scraps, but what he really wants is for me to move the bean tray from my knees so he can nuzzle in for Netflix.
“Time to go up,” I say, aloud, and he understands, not the words, or language, but the fact that I’m the person saying the words, and language, and I head up to bed, and he always, always, follows.
He might not be a person, but that doesn’t make him any less living.
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Natalie Harris-Spencer is an English writer, digital editor, and blogger living in America. Her work has appeared in the Archipelago Fiction Anthology, CultureCult, The Dark City, The Satirist, the Stonecoast Review, and more. She was selected by Oyster River Pages as one of their Emerging Fiction Voices, and she is the winner of the Hummingbird Flash Fiction Prize. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Stonecoast, University of Southern Maine, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Aspiring Author. She is currently working on her second novel. Natalie enjoys surprise in fiction. And tea.