After her lover died of heart failure, my wife asked me to take care of his cat. She was “distraught beyond words,” which was supposed to explain why she would not talk about the fact that she had been having an affair. All she would say was she was leaving me because her lover had died. That, and the landlord at her new apartment didn’t allow pets.
I tried to make sense of her logic. She was leaving me and? or because? her dead lover’s cat needed a home. She understood if (if?) I was angry, but if I had any feelings at all, I could hardly refuse to take Bozo in. He had been abandoned so abruptly and traumatically.
We threw shade looks at each other, Bozo and I, as my wife packed her suitcases. Bozo was big and orange and endowed with the most malicious amber gaze. He hated me.
My wife said she would return soon for the rest of her stuff.
I told her I would keep the cat only until she found someone else.
The following Tuesday evening, my doorbell rang. A small, white truck driven by some guy, probably another boyfriend, had pulled up in front of my place. My wife had come to drop off a litter box, a half bag of kibble and a few cans of food. She didn’t come in.
Bozo wasn’t the cat’s real name—it was something like Pythagoras—but when the new boyfriend nearly backed his truck into my mailbox, I snarled Bozo and the cat appeared from under the couch and rubbed against my leg.
The name stuck.
I intended to lace his food with rat poison but I never got around to buying it. I also intended to park outside my wife’s new apartment, wait until she appeared, and run her over, but I didn’t know her address. Anyway, I spent a fair amount of time planning.
Perhaps I could have tried harder to find someone else to adopt Bozo. I thought I put an ad in the Pennysaver but apparently it never ran. I asked around a bit. No one wanted a cat who refused to show himself.
I pointedly ignored the beast, quietly filling his food bowl when he wasn’t in the room. But since he came charging in the moment he heard some clue, soon I was replenishing his bowl as he stood next to it. After a while, he just told me when he wanted more to eat. While I fed him, I complained out loud about my wife.
How could I have known she was capable of such treachery? I asked as I topped off his kibble (he preferred the freshly poured nuggets). Who else knew she was cheating on me? I wondered as I refilled his water. Were her friends laughing behind my back or, worse, pitying me? (Again.) And what about the dead guy, her lover? She’d probably driven him to his early grave. (Poor sucker.)
Bozo and I developed a routine. He woke me up a minute before my alarm was set to ring each morning so I could turn it off before it sounded. I found this satisfying. He sat on the bath mat while I took my morning piss and leapt to the edge of the sink when I washed my hands. Then he would lead the way into the kitchen, sit before his bowls, and meow once. While he ate, I made coffee. Then I let him out into the yard, took my shower, and let him back into the house before leaving for work.
Mornings with my wife had been unpredictable, even chaotic. Mornings since her departure were zen-like. This underscored my loneliness, I admitted to Bozo. His expression was surprisingly sympathetic.
One day about six months after she left, my wife came back for the last of her stuff. Also, she wanted Bozo. She had realized, or perhaps she had paid someone to tell her, that in order achieve closure regarding the dead guy, she required a (preferably living) connection to him, something he had touched (aside from herself, obviously).
I told her she could not have Bozo.
“You mean Pericles?” she said, looking over my shoulder for him.
She tried to push past me, but I blocked her.
“What are you doing? Are you nuts? Let me get my stuff.”
“No cat,” I said.
She gave me that snotty, how-dare-you look.
“I’ll get your things.”
She padded behind me as I retrieved the boxes from the garage and carried them to her car.
“You can leave now,” I told her (idiotically). She turned to me. Not with one of her looks, just meeting my eyes, sort of blank. Maybe sort of sorry and sort of pissed-off and sort of sad, too, but mostly just kind of end-of-the-line resigned.
“Where is he? Pericles. Is he at least OK? You didn’t…?”
I pulled her back into the house, toward the bedroom, to show her. Bozo lay on his back on the bed yawning widely, four feet splayed to the far corners. His belly was round and spotted and soft. He looked ridiculous (one of his areas of expertise).
“Pericles looks happy,” she said.
He didn’t. He looked both more and less than happy, like he knew exactly where he was at that moment in time. Like no matter what we called him, he knew his name.