She was, among all the other complicated aspects of her life, afraid of cats, which you might think is ridiculous but there it was. Terrified of cats. Not one step inside an apartment, no matter how appealing the offer or the apartment. Not one step down a street or alley, not that she had much use for alleys. And pet stores were completely out of the question.
She lived alone with one room of her brownstone walkup for clothes. She ate little, cooked rarely, worked out often, and loved black and white movies with subtitles. Some people said she was a snob. They were probably right, but she didn’t have much use for those people.
Nigel loved her with all his heart. Devoted. Doting. Infatuated. She’d found Nigel last year at a friend’s party at a loft in Queens. Nigel was young and pretty, thoughtful in a dumb kind of a way. He went well with so many things but there wasn’t much challenge. They just sort of got along. Daily phone calls. Weekends away. They were even talking about a real vacation somewhere hot. But her fear of cats made that a delicate decision. Feral cats were very common in most places that invited tourists to sit on a beach and drink sweet booze for a week, and that was unacceptable. Just the thought of the sight of a cat dodging round a corner to lurk unseen in the bushes made her shiver.
But she wasn’t thinking about cats today. Today, they were going to the movies. Fellini’s 8 ½ was playing at the Cathedral and she was trying not to be late. She would have to answer those emails tonight if Nigel didn’t stay over. He was waiting on the steps as she knew he would be, his red umbrella a landmark in the grey city rain. They would walk to the theatre and share the umbrella. A simple togetherness that she enjoyed. An unexpected pleasure in old-time chivalry. Just like the way she enjoyed his holding doors open and picking up the check, although that was more okay because she knew he had money.
“Maybe we could go to Iceland. Do they have cats in Iceland?”
“I think there are cats everywhere, Nigel.”
“I know. I was just…”
“I know. But I don’t want to talk about that tonight.”
“Freddy wasn’t allowed pets as a kid so now he doesn’t like any…”
The rain drummed on Nigel’s red umbrella. Traffic crept up the street. A wet cyclist dodged a puddle.
At La Sabella after the movie she ordered a sidecar and posted photos of her bouillabaisse. Nigel had linguini that slapped him on the chin, leaving a creamy line. She was about to tell him that he couldn’t come over tonight when he stopped and said: I think we need to talk.
She was not surprised. More annoyed. If anyone was going to end this relationship, she felt it definitely should have been her. She was the one who wasn’t sure about him.
“Why did you mention Iceland?”
“I don’t know. It just…”
“It doesn’t matter. You can come and get your things on Sunday.”
“I’ll get the check.”
Her apartment felt cold and she wished not for the last time that she had someone to share it with. The emails went unanswered and she sat quietly on her couch. She was confused. She was sad. She didn’t know how to feel. She took a shower and wondered what tomorrow would be like. Would it be warm? Would it be sunny? It wouldn’t do any good to call him. She knew that. It wouldn’t do any good because she wouldn’t let herself beg.
There were 37 belts in her walk-in closet and by midnight they were organized by colour and width on hooks on the back wall. She found an old sweater with a picture of a wolf on it. A funny gift from an old friend that she didn’t talk to anymore. At 12:30 she found a picture of another friend, a lover that had moved away. She didn’t have any use for this photo but she put it with the sweater in the box of things to keep.
By 1, she was tired but still didn’t want to go to bed, to lie awake in the dark.
She picked up the box of things to keep. It was an old box that she’d been adding to for a long time. At the bottom of the box was a photo she never looked at. She was not afraid of the photo although you would think she should be. Sometimes she thought about digging it out but somehow she never did. It was the only photo she had allowed herself to keep of her sister – a child – and their first pet, the little ball of fluff.
She turned out the light and laid there in the quiet, trying to feel comfortable with the sound of her sister’s voice, the smell of summer vacation, the taste of Christmas, and the end. So quick. So confusing. She hugged a pillow to her chest, pressing it to her heartbeat, and felt protected.