a serious joke: chapter 3

“bitches be bitches. Sometimes bitches be ho’s…”

– the Cat

Around this time a small cat had started to come around. Not a kitten. No, not young enough to be a kitten. Maybe 2 or 3. Or 4. Maybe 5. In cat years. In cat years, that’s almost midlife crisis territory. Younger than that, then. Say 10, then. In human years, that is.

This child cat, almost about to enter puberty cat, in human years anyway, had started to come around. Jon had started to hear scraping sounds at the back patio door. The glass door. Pawing sounds, then mewing. Very faint, slight, from a distance mewing. Only when he finally managed to summon the motivation, then the physical strength necessary to hoist himself off the sofa and limp to the back door, the mewing was still very faint. It hadn’t increased in volume any despite a closer proximity; in fact, even after opening the door and struggling to kneel down enough to pet the approaching adolescence cat (not his first instinct), it still mewed, and still the mew was quite faint. Not just a quiet mew, or just a quiet cat. A low talker cat. Not that at all…only as if, somehow, despite being quite up close to this small thing, right in its small, brown and beige mottled face, it still sounded upon speaking as if it were at least ten yards away…and drowned out some by the static of a modest rain. Why does this little boy cat (it could be a girl cat, but Jon was not about to go looking up a cat’s ass to find out…or wherever it is you go to look to find a cat’s dick or pussy)…why does this little boy cat sound like an old AM transistor radio…set on a ledge near a window in some empty cabin out back in the woods?

Anyway, around this time a small cat had started to come around. Not a kitten. Not young enough, in cat years, to be a kitten. Maybe a 12 year old boy cat just starting to learn that when it touches itself down there, it gets a funny feeling. This cat had started coming around. It had mostly white fur, medium length, medium build, not skinny but not overweight, blazes of tan brown and beige here and there and a somewhat puffy tail. Pink nose. Green eyes. In good shape…nice teeth. Charming smile. Jon had started to feed the cat for its charming cat smile and the way it sounded so far away even up close. He enjoyed that. Also for the fact that it spoke very sparingly, and only really when it had something worth saying. A cat of few words. When it wanted a saucer of milk, it would ask for a saucer of milk and say please and thank you, and Jon would pull up a seat in an old wicker chair and sit with it as it lapped up the milk, and they would speak to each other about various things like the news, attractive women they would both like to fuck, or when differences of opinion on the attractiveness of women would arise, why Jon or why the cat found the woman in question attractive or not attractive, and it was good sport to go round the horn about that on occasion. That sort of thing. The cat came by more and more often. In time Jon found it worth the excruciating pain of hoisting himself off of the sofa and ambling over to the back door, juggling crutches and hands and the doorknob in order to let the little guy in for a while. Most often it was a saucer of milk he came for, but sometimes he would paw at the door just to come in and roam around for a time, sniffing various objects and articles of clothing strewn about the floor, pieces of furniture; in general, cat stuff. Curiosity, Jon supposed. On those occasions sometimes he would come into the den and jump up onto the sofa. On the other end of the sofa. This was a straight male cat. No gay stuff. Jon understood just fine. The cat, this cat of about 12 or so in human years, not a small cat but not too large either, this was a peer cat. A guy. You wouldn’t ‘snuggle’ with your buddies. That’s gay. That said, Jon and this not small but not too large of a cat were both clearly comfortable in their sexualities. This was not an issue. If the cat started to act faggy, however, Jon would call the cat a fag and they’d enjoy a decent laugh together.

One day the cat and Jon were sitting, opposite ends of the sofa, and the cat happened to ask Jon why he lived in such a big house. And it seems like other people live here but I never see any other people. And typical cat questions like this.

“I…” Jon paused, and seeming quite intent on continuing that “I” under construction, then simply fell silent after a long while of anticipation. He said no more words. Just “I…” and as surely as it seemed a sentence was to follow, just as surely it went unfinished.

“What.” The cat said. Staring. Green cat eyes staring in the dark. They had been watching a kung-fu movie.

“The reason,” Jon gestured laconically, rubbing his cast and then beginning to scratch the back of his neck, “the reason you see,”

“Put it on pause.”

“What?” Jon asked, completely out of sorts.

The Cat nudged his snout towards the TV and said, “Pause the movie.” Jon paused the movie. “Just wondering, seems like other people live here but I never see other people. I see women clothes. Undies. You got bitches?”

“Watch your god damned mouth,” Jon snapped, waving the remote in his face.

“Sorry.” The Cat turned his cat snout back to the TV and indicated it was alright to un-pause. “Bitches be bitches. Sometimes bitches be ho’s. That’s something my dad always told me. If one did you dirty, I dig…it happens.”

“Get the fuck out.”

Jon saw less and less of the cat after the bitches incident. Mostly he would come pawing at the back door and mewing in his far-away, low-fi way that he’d at first found charming, and ask for a saucer of milk. Sometimes some sardines, or chicken. Jon obliged but the conversation was not what it used to be. Even the lack of conversation. Even then, in the absence of conversation, it wasn’t like old times. There was an edge. Like a ‘need’ to say things that neither party had any intent on saying; that neither party even had it in them to say. Not like old times, when a good long quiet was just a-okay—even welcome. An edge. Almost jagged. Still, Jon would offer the milk and the sardines or chicken and sometimes some leftover bacon without question or quarrel. Without much of anything, for that matter. Anyway, a cat had started to come around, and Jon was, he supposed, in some way grateful for that cat that had started to come around. It was……something. A missing piece in a massive jigsaw puzzle. Not necessarily even a puzzle piece belonging to his own puzzle. Just a stray piece from some stray, absent, most likely long gone jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle belonging to who knows who, and more importantly, who cares. A piece of a puzzle he at the time had been more than willing to try and mash down into fitting his own. Of course when you do that it never quite works. Never fits. You can make it fit, by force, by cramming it in there, but it’s cheating…and you never get over that…he supposed.

After a while, Jon hadn’t seen the cat at all. Not for a while. Still he missed cramming that stray puzzle piece into that massive, almost completely unfinished puzzle of his. Starting almost from scratch in one of those massive 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles, it kind of hardly mattered much he supposed if you took to trying to mash a piece you know doesn’t fit in there. So much unfinished. What is the picture of anyway? Jon didn’t even have the box the damn thing had come in. No reference point. Is it supposed to be a picture of the Grand Canyon? The Eiffel Tower? A Renoir painting? Maybe an orchid…or a cartoon of a naked big bosomed woman. Could be anything. Jon started to miss the far-away transistor radio cat.

He didn’t come back. For that, as days dragged on and the warning brisk of Fall turned to the unforgiving, cruel bite of Winter, Jon had regret. The pain in his legs, and ribs, became nearly intolerable, the colder it got. It might have occurred to him long before if not for his goldfish memory of things after the incident, that his wounds should be healing. Instead, it seemed, they were only getting worse. The adjective escaped him. ……………………………festering.

Jon’s wounds seemed to be festering. And the cat had yet to return. More and more, he was awakened not with a nightmare, but simply, a name. In the dreamless vacuum of his sleep, very often it was single word that, taking the form of a nightmare if you like, would wake him in a cold sweat. Well, two words. Two words, a name.

“Josef Michael”

Two words. A name. The more often this name, these two words awoke him, Jon increasingly became curious of things he had either managed to heretofore forget or had somehow been made to forget. By sheer subconscious will or by some unexplainable, certainly inexplicable external force, he had not managed to ask himself the simple question the Cat had asked him so many weeks or months (it was hard to remember how long it’d been) ago. The bitches. Did I have bitches, Jon wondered? Do I have bitches?

Asking those simple questions immediately jogged a mean streak in him that came flooding back with the involuntary hurling of his favorite coffee mug at the TV screen. The mug, the screen, shattered. Both things he loved, more or less more than anything. Both shattered. No favorite mug to drink from, no favorite thing to pass the long cruel Winter days. And the far-away AM transistor cat still gone. All of a sudden Jon felt an emptiness he’d apparently been successful for a very long time at keeping mute. Jon felt a rancor and a thing convincingly parading as hate rise in his blood. And all he knew at that moment, it wasn’t for the fact that he’d just smashed the two things he loved most of anything in his small life…a small thing that consisted of a small den and a small kitchen and a very small back patio, all within an otherwise very large house.

“Well, first things first, Jon: you didn’t get a set of cracked and/or bruised ribs, a broken leg and a mangled hip our of nowhere. And you haven’t even looked at your face in…how long? Is that messed up too?” Jon struggled to his crutches and fought his way to the small kitchen, juggling crutches hands and a toaster…held the toaster up to his face. “Your face is beaten to a pulp. How do you not even know a thing like that? Was I in the hospital? Of course. I remember that.” He did not remember that. But it was a logical conclusion, and so it must be true. “The obvious question here, Jon: how did this happen?” Who did this to you. “Fall down a flight of stairs?” No. “Accident on the job site?” Not even close. “How do you go for what, months…how long has it been…without even asking yourself what you’re doing here for one thing, why you’re just…’here’…not to mention all beaten to a bloody pulp…?” And finally getting closer to the substance of it all. “It’s as if you simply woke up one day and…decided to forget absolutely everything about everything.

“I don’t even know this house. I can see…for example…there’s a whole other room right out there…a living room, a study? A pretty big room. Never even wonder what goes on in that room? You’ve seen it, you see it every day, but it’s like…” you’re blind to it. Mind-blind. Finally asking the important questions, Jon realized he was finished with the toaster…a toaster he never even particularly remembered seeing before, yet somehow had known was there all along. “Don’t even remember buying that toaster.” Close enough. “…Where is my kitty friend?” In the jigsaw puzzle of your life, that stray piece might be the least important part to completing the picture. “Why did I throw him out….more or less?

“I’m exhausted. Find my way back to the sofa…can’t solve the world’s problems in one day.” Jon fell back into the sofa face-down, crutches clacking hollowly together and falling to the floor along with his last bit of strength. In no time gurgling and drooling in the echo-chamber of dreamless sleep with only two words/one name, the Cat happened to begin pawing and lo-fi mewing at the back door. A heavy downpour, its fur weighed down two or three times his body weight with the soaking rainwater, pawing, and mewing. Lo-fi. Faraway. In its very faraway, AM transistor radio set on a ledge near a cabin in the woods somewhere out back of the house voice, it seemed to echo only two words—or one name—and the echo somehow seemed to carry—to even penetrate the impregnable shell of Jon’s subconscious dream vacuum; and in the vacuum it carried from so faraway a single name/two word nightmare:

“Josef Michael”