top of page
  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Mahogany Shorthair

Juliana sat on her beige sofa, legs crossed, coffee in one hand and a note in the other with the disappointingly unromantic instructions:


PLEASE CARE FOR THE CAT

THE DOOR IS UNLOCKED

APT 63


The note had excited her, slipped carefully under the door in the night like poetry from a secret admirer. She had felt giddy and warm. Why not incorporate this mystery into her morning ceremony? She toasted French bread, lightly buttered (or rather, lightly margarined), and brewed a small cup of bitter coffee, the note folded neatly on the edge of her palm-sized plate like a napkin awaiting lips.

She sighed. The note was another broken daydream.

The wall phone rang. It was the doorman, Luis.

“Sorry to bother you, but did you get the note the night staff left you?”

“I did. What’s this about?”

“Your neighbor across the hall, Room 63. She went to the hospital last night. Her family called up and asked us to leave you that note. They can’t make it to town.”

“Thank you. I’ll... see what I can do.”

Juliana showered and dressed. White undershirt first, then cream-white button-up with small anise printed like falling black snow. Tight jeans. Her hips were big in the bad way, bumpy and violent against her belt. Her waist was small, at least. No pouch. But conventional clothing stretched and ached. And her face was ugly, she thought: a little wide in the nose and puggy. But her hair was nice. Long and dark and shiny, a waterfall, reaching her waist. Someone would love her some day, and it would be for her long hair.

She knocked first. The note said the apartment was unlocked, but even with permission Juliana couldn’t help being courteously shy. The knob turned. A familiar smell ballooned out: a stiff, lonely air. The air of the wasted. No flow, no movement. All the windows were closed and curtained, the sun’s morning oranges harshened into an evening-esque glow.

The wallpaper was baby blue along two walls, both laden with shelves and an ornate dresser. A TV opposite the door, nested beneath the thick curtains, faced a snowy two-seat sofa. Everything was motionless, soft. Echoes without sound. 

“Hello? Anyone here?” No response. “I’m a, uh, neighbor. I work at the university.” She swallowed. “I, uh, have a doctorate, so um...”

The shelves were an array of stuffed animals—mostly teddy bears, but also blue frogs, crushed velvet capybaras, tigers with rainbow stripes, plants and rocks and creatures of unknown inspiration. Some slumped. Some rested on all fours, grazing the oil-black shelving. Some sat upright, aloof, watching. To her left, a life-sized wooden whippet nipped at her elbow, its doggy eyes begging, its nose sniffing as if to greet her at the entrance. She instinctively patted it on the head. Carefully, she haunted the room. Matching lion cubs hugging a framed photo of young blonde twins. A purple-gray horse with a nametag: “Nilton’s Wife.” A grouchy oxen, the tag still in its ear, “Dr. Isabella Silva” in pen ink, a faded Polaroid beneath its hoof of a smiling woman in a lab coat. All of the stuffed animals had names or pictures or some identifying feature. Monikers embroidered on tummies. Sketches of smiling faces. 

Juliana got goosebumps. 

An antique chair was angled beside the TV, wooden and curving, faded but puffy with an embedded cushion. It bore the largest animal in the room, a floppy bear like the kind in carnivals in the movies. Its head deflated to one side, its black beads gazing at everything and nothing at all. As she walked to inspect the bear, a blossom of white caught the corner of her eye.

“Oh, there you are,” she said, turning away from the bear and reaching her hand out to a cat curled in the middle of the old sofa.

The cat made no movement. It was sleeping, a perfect ball of white with several light brown and dark brown stains on its back. Its eyes were pinched shut, its hind legs and tail tucked beneath in a crescent curve. There was a small metal dish in front of the cat, half full of dry cat food. Juliana lifted the dish and jingled it.

Pspspspsp. Are you hungry?”

The cat didn’t respond. Juliana sat down beside it, careful not to squash its spine with her thick thighs. A layer of dust rose into the light. This neighbor, whoever this old woman was, probably didn’t have many guests.

The cat did nothing. 

She grazed its soft fur. It was so beautiful, so peaceful. But it was hard. Were cats supposed to be hard? She petted and poked. Then lifted. It stayed the same in form, curled for sleep, hard as wood. She giggled. Like everything else in this apartment, the cat wasn’t real!

“This woman is crazy,” she muttered, inspecting the cat’s perfect snout.

Her phone alarm went off, a reminder. “Shit!” She hurried out. The eyes of each doll watched as she did.

She was running late. She worked at the university as a postdoc with a very slim scholarship in a desperate lab. She had been preparing a presentation for tomorrow which would require her to wake up early and fly to Recife. There was a lot left to do before then.

The doorman, Luis, called to her on her way out. “We just got another call from the family, asking about the cat.” Luis was dark, with a northern accent and partial smile stuck to the right corner of his lips like chocolate. He wore a simple t-shirt and jeans in case he had to do dirty labor like repacking the recycling dumpster or hosing the external stairway clean. “We don’t have the manpower to take care of pets. It’s not policy.”

“Don’t worry, Luis. I got it under control.”

She walked through the first security gate and closed it behind her. The second gate buzzed to let her through. She placed one foot on the sidewalk and hesitated.

“Have you... ever seen her cat?”

“Not in a long time,” he said. “I thought it died years ago.”


************


She came home late, tired. All of her experiments had been written out and printed onto a large poster roll, 90cm by 120cm, graphics with the help of coworkers who never invite her out for a drink. Finished, just in time. A year and a half of hard work and study.

She packed her bags, put on pajamas, brushed her teeth. The traffic outside was quieter than usual.

The hardest part about waking up early is sleeping the night before. She tossed and turned. Tried imagining a beach vacation, warm sun, cool shade, sand in her toes, a man holding her hand—tall, but not too tall—reading a book. He’d have a smooth chest, muscular, but wasn’t a show-off, didn’t spend all day at the gym. And he could lift her without effort.

This did the opposite of relaxing her.

She walked into her neighbor’s apartment. The golden light was now dark blue and sticking everywhere. A museum. The giant bear in the antique chair cast a shadow across the carpet. The display shelves were sunken into the blueness, invisible, radiating. The cat remained in place on the sofa where Juliana had left it, but the food was gone.

Juliana sucked her retainer. Maybe rats had eaten the food. Did the building have a rat problem? She turned on her phone’s flashlight and got on her hands and knees, peeking under the sofa and the dresser and the shelves. No rats. None she could see. But can you even see rats? They hide places. You have to find their turds. Little chocolates you don’t eat. She saw none of that. In fact, other than the heavy dust in a few unused spots, the living room was immaculate.

Still, she imagined the rats coming out at night, eating the cat food, fighting over it. The old woman waking up, thinking her doll had come to life. Petting it. Talking to it. Not realizing she was caring for rodents, blind to reality, warm in the delusional sensation of having some animal there to love her. 

This thought saddened Juliana. She imagined something bad happening to the cat while she’s traveling. Maybe someone breaks in and steals the couch, the cat along with it! Maybe the rats get hungry and chew on its fur! Maybe the cat, bloodless, bleeds all the same, and it’s all because of Juliana!


PLEASE CARE FOR THE CAT


She took the cat and shoved it in her backpack, between the shirts and jeans and underwear. The zipper got stuck on the cat’s ear.


************


It wasn’t until Juliana was sitting in her airplane seat, shoulder pressed hard against the window, nurturing her poster cylinder, that she realized she had left her laptop in the apartment. Fuck. How could she forget? Her backpack had felt full, reassuring. She had woken up late. One hour of sleep. No time for coffee. Did she even have her toothbrush? Oh but she had her crazy neighbor’s fake cat!

She imagined the cat in her backpack, locked in the storage above her, a little pearl in the clam of fabric and zippers and hard plastic and the aluminum casing of the plane itself, flirting with the jagged smoky skylines above São Paulo. Lightning striking. The plane falling. A crash, fire, death, hundreds buried in a crater. The rescue teams put out the fire, opening the blackened chrysalis and finding the cat, Juliana’s only legacy. Not the poster that held all of her hard work, but a trinket not her own. Her tombstone would recognize her not as a postdoc nor even as a woman, but as the owner of the perfectly preserved cat.

She laid her head crookedly against the window and floundered at the edge of sleep for three hours. Her plane landed.

Juliana’s hotel was nicer than she had hoped. She had saved up to afford a room in the seaside hotel hosting the convention. But she didn’t have time to explore. She emptied her bag onto her bed, showered (at least she had brought her own shampoo and coconut conditioner, to keep her hair from drying out), and rushed to the showfloor.

Her poster session was scheduled for noon and would last three or four hours. She was at the edge of the room, in a far corner, sandwiched between a man wearing a suit and a young couple.

Not many people stopped by. But why not? Her project was impressive, important even. When it got published, it might turn heads, might even change things. But here, no one seemed to notice.

Maybe Malia should have come instead. She didn’t know much about the project, but she was young and had blonde curls with a blue streak. And her glasses made her hazel eyes pop. And her chest! Men only stopped staring at her breasts when they noticed her skirt or her smile or her everything else, everything pretty. Maybe that’s what this project really needed: a beautiful woman. 

Juliana smiled and stood tall and tried not to think about it. She was thirty, experienced. Malia wasn’t professional enough anyhow. Didn’t know the ins and outs like Juliana. Didn’t even have a doctorate!

Juliana took the empty time to wander, to look at other posters and talk to others in the field. Overall there were some nice presentations. She took notes. 

One of the doctors from the Federal University of Pernambuco, older with wire-frame glasses and thinning hair, offered everyone soft peanut butter candies from a bowl. She took two, ate one, and listened. Then ate the other. Then grabbed a third. She hadn’t eaten lunch.

The man orated like a priest. A small group gathered, pinching Juliana in the middle, near the front. She couldn’t leave without breaking the spell that electrolysis and ions and covalent bonds had over the crowd. More notes, then. And another candy.

Juliana tucked the empty wrappers into her pockets, wincing with every little crinkle. They were so loud. Her pockets were too tight, hugging desperately to her buttocks, spitting out her index finger as she poked at the foil squares.

“I think you dropped this,” a man standing behind her whispered. He turned his palm up, a candy waiting near the eraser of his pencil.

“Oh, sorry.” She fished the wrapped tablet from under his pinky. “I was a little hungry so I—”

“I... meant the pencil.” Her green mechanical pencil rested between his two fingers, pointing at her, accusing her. She was cupping a lemon lozenge, not one of the peanut candies from the bowl. He pinched his lips. “I think it fell out of your notepad when you were putting that... trash in your pocket.”

She tried to give him back the lozenge but he declined. He said she clearly needed it more than he did, a stuttering laugh. Walked away.

The old man coughed in her direction. “As I was trying to say...”

She threw the lozenge in an ashtray.

Her feet were killing her by the end. She should have worn her normal tennis shoes. The gray ones. They weren’t professional, but they were comfortable.

A woman at the hotel counter flagged her down as she entered the lobby.

“You’re Room 102, correct?”

“Is there a problem?”

“The manager wants me to inform you that no pets are allowed.”

“I didn’t bring any pets.” She bit her lip.

The woman hardened. “Our housekeeper saw a cat laying in the clothes on your bed, miss.”

“That’s a doll. It looks real.”

“The housekeeper also heard meowing.”

“That’s... impossible. Maybe a stray outside the window?”

“If it’s your cat, we can charge you extra.”

Juliana’s room was almost exactly as she had left it. There hadn’t been much for the housekeeper to do. But Juliana could understand the confusion. In the center of her bed, nested in colorful shirts, was the cat, a croissant of white and browns. She sat next to it, stroked its head.

She showered and changed. Something nice for the evening. A wine-red blouse with subtle frills on the sleeves, a simple black cord necklace with a tiny silver cross (from her mother), the same black working shoes that had been murdering her all day. Her jeans were the same style as all the others, the only size she could squeeze into. She brushed and dried her hair until it glowed.

In the elevator, she held the cat like a tray of food, one hand on each side, flat, careful not to wobble. A man in a black blazer rode down too, avoiding saying hello.

At the front desk the woman ignored her. So did the manager. She coughed.

“No cats allowed,” the manager said, barely looking up.

“No, this is just a doll or... a model or something.”

“What do you want us to do with it?”

“Uh, nothing, it’s just that your housekeeper thought I had a cat in my room.”

“Then you should get rid of it immediately or you’ll be charged extra. We don’t allow cats.”

Juliana’s cheeks warmed. She set the cat on the floor and instead asked where she could get food.

The manager pointed to the dining area across the lobby without looking her in the eye. “Our Restaurante Top is among the finest restaurants in Recife. People come from all over the world, even Europe. I suggest the moqueca. Pirarucu straight from the Amazon.” He paused, looked her up and down, his knotted fingers shuffling slips of illegible paper. “If you’re here for the convention, eating at the restaurant is half off.”

She took a table outside with a view of the ocean. The sun was setting and every table had a lit candle. Every table also had a couple. She hid the cat in her lap as she was handed the menu, then decided hiding it wasn’t worth the trouble. She set it on the table opposite her, like a plate, its soft ears twitching in the warm wind. Each of its fine hairs looked real, as if pulled from a real animal and placed, one by one, in the exact position they had belonged. It had occurred to her that this might be taxidermy, but no... the bottom was wood. Mahogany. The pads of the paws were carved into the wood as if it were being viewed from beneath a glass plate. It was hollow and light. Some sort of fabric or mesh was glued to the wooden lump like a perfectly fitted sock. It breathed in the flickering candlelight as if with lungs of air and veins of blood. 

All the items on the menu were too expensive. Even half off. She was not prepared to be spending this money on a meal. Maybe she would get a salad or an entree. She needed to lose weight anyway. Grilled mushrooms? Mixed salad? Her stomach grumbled, nothing but soft candies inside.

The waiter was standing to the side of the table with a small dish. He had a peculiar mustache, grown to hide his bent upper lip. His eyes were a soft and amiable brown. His biceps had tone, his hips and legs like carrots in comparison. He was casually handsome, confidently handsome.

“I brought some fish,” he said.

“I’m sorry, I haven’t even ordered yet.”

“No no, not for you. For your cat.” He placed the dish beside the sleeping feline. “We usually don’t allow pets, but fuck this place, right? Every cat needs a little fishy fishy. Can I pet him? Or her?”

Juliana tried to cover her smile with one hand. “You can try, but she’s not really a cat.”

“Oh,” he laughed, pulling back. “A dog? Weird looking. I’m allergic. Maybe you should—”

“No, she’s not real!” She was laughing out loud. “It’s a fake cat. I’m... watching it for a neighbor or something. I dunno. It’s hard to explain, but... thank you for the fish?”

The waiter smiled and shrugged. “You have no idea how many fake cats we get in here. And I always fall for it!”

“I’m sorry!”

“Don’t worry, that leftover fish will find its way into my dinner instead. What can I get ya?”

Flustered, Juliana lost all track of her salad plan. She asked the waiter—Augusto, or “Guto” to his friends, he had said with a wink—what he liked, and somehow let him talk her into spending much more than she had anticipated. The funghi carpaccio, described in his pillowy voice as “a confit in thin slices, served with watercress leaves and white truffle olive oil.” Also, an order of Piemontese rice. She pressed that she only wanted water. He pressed that a cup of their special wine would make anything that touched her lips this evening taste much sweeter. She ordered the wine.

She counted pigeons while she waited. The shameless birds hopped around the tiled outdoor area looking for scraps. Five unique patrons, probably regulars. The cat acted as her personal scarecrow.

The carpaccio was amazing. She didn’t know what carpaccio was but she liked mushrooms, and it went well with the rice and the glass of wine. The two glasses of wine. And a slice of caramel cheesecake for dessert, the real treat, along with her third glass of wine. She gave a cheers to the cat.

Guto arrived with the bill. She almost dropped her debit card when she saw the number. The price was way too high. Offensively high.

“I was... told I’d get half off.”

“Oh. Are you with the convention?”

“I am.” She straightened her shoulders, the wine buzzing in her head. “I was in the showroom earlier, with my poster. I have a doctorate. We’re working on an impressive—”

“We don’t handle the discounts in the restaurant. Your convention status is connected to your room number. Just bring it up before you leave and they’ll add the discount to your final bill, no problem.” He winked and turned.

“Are you... doing anything later?”

Guto kept walking.

She waited a moment longer, hoping she would have another chance to ask, but he never came back from the kitchen. The small dish of old fish was still there, the smell rising, a fly crawling around on top with interrogative hands, the candle hissing in the wet of the wax. Her stomach was full of hollow daydreams. 

She carried the cat to her room like a person delivering an empty pizza box.


************


Her next morning was back-to-back seminars. Not all of them were useful, but she couldn’t waste the opportunity. More than that, they felt good. They had purpose, had weight. Seminars were moments in time with dedicated meaning and direction, a cluster of people who, like her, shared an interest in being there, no matter how abstractly, no matter who else arrived, no matter the subject. A congregation. A sermon.

Her mind kept slipping to Guto. She couldn’t help it. The more she thought about him, the more handsome he looked, the thicker his muscles, the deeper his voice. His lean was suave, his manner affectionate. How had she blown it? She never wore makeup, never fit in her shirt just right, all lumpy and awkward. She should have flipped her hair. Flip! Like a model, like in the movies.

During lunch she wandered the beach strip. All the people in bathing suits made her stomach knot. She turned towards the major buildings, into the streets and among the clothing stores. The city was hot and wet. Maybe she should buy something? But everything was overpriced, or too gaudy, or too sensual. She couldn’t wear the things in the windows. How could the other professionals take her seriously?

Eventually she found a thrift store, full of trendy people who wore their charm in their odd clothing. They were beautiful in a personal way—confidence as lipstick and aloofness as eyeliner. The clothing, used as it was, seemed new, and still very expensive. The outfits on display were out of her price range, especially after last night’s dinner. Also, she could not and would not wear plaid.

She left with an animal container. A small one, white on the lower half and pink on the upper half, perfectly sized for a cat. Cheap, almost free. It was useless for real animals: the plastic latch had been busted.


PLEASE CARE FOR THE CAT


The sun beat down between the tall buildings. The shadows were skinny and weak.

She didn’t realize how stupid her purchase was until she entered the hotel lobby. The eyes of the staff melted into her. The hard-faced women tapped rapidly on the computer. Juliana held the container with the front face down so that the metal door flapped. She hugged it tight in her armpit so it bobbed with her steps, up and down, as if to prove there was no cat inside.

She slammed her door and threw the container across the floor. She took a deep breath. She splashed cool water on her face, avoiding the silly girl in the mirror. She didn’t even know how she felt, what she was thinking. She was tired, somehow, in some way indefinable. There was a lump in her stomach that worked its way to her upper back and threatened to rope itself around her neck and inflate like an inner tube.

The bed welcomed her with a sigh.

She found the cat under her fingers. She stroked it with her eyes closed. It was so soft, so still. Hadn’t she put it under the bed? Maybe the housekeeper had found it and moved it. Pretending it was real helped her nerves—a tactile meditation.

An hour passed. Then two. A third.

Juliana had missed several seminars. They weren’t so important. Tomorrow had the most interesting talks.

The cat fit into her new container perfectly. She was cute. Juliana decided to call her Olga. It sounded like a name her elderly neighbor would have given a cat.

For dinner, Juliana went to the nearest supermarket. She bought some bread and bologna and cheese slices and kept them in the minifridge, having to squeeze them between tiny bottles of wine and rum and cachaca. She also bought her own bottle of wine, which she drank almost completely by herself in front of the TV with three pillows propped between her back and the headboard.

Her next two days were a mercury drip of lectures, bologna sandwiches, and running to the washroom to dry the sweat marks from her blouse and apply more deodorant. Her hair was a cactus in the heat, spiky and dry.

On Thursday she left.

“Hi, I’m supposed to get a discount?”

The woman behind the counter was different, older. She had the practiced movement of a lifelong server, an organ in the body of the hotel. “You ate at the hotel restaurant?”

“I did. A few nights ago.”

“And you’re here for the convention?”

“I am. It should be there on the—”

“I see it. You should have gotten the discount with the waiter.”

Juliana brushed back her hair with one finger. “But, the waiter said I had to clear it when I checked out.”

“No,” she closed her book and slid a slip of paper across the counter. “Sorry, that’s not how it works. You pay for food in the restaurant. Not during hotel check-out.”

Juliana rubbed her forehead. “Are you sure? Maybe I can find the waiter, he’ll—”

“We don’t have a discount option. You should’ve taken it up when you paid the other night.”

Juliana inspected the slip. The bill was almost double what she had expected.

The woman nodded toward the container. “The extra charge is for the cat.”

At the airport, two children poked their fingers into the holes of the container, trying to feel the cat’s fur. Juliana didn’t have the heart to tell them the truth. Or maybe she had already paid too much, she had earned the right to pretend. She said the cat was Olga and that she slept a lot. The boy asked her if she was a “crazy cat lady” and both kids laughed.

“Is that a shorthair?” the mother asked, holding tight to her son’s shoulder as he poked his nose through an opening. The daughter was more shy, hiding to the side, cautious glances.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s a shorthair,” the mother assured. “European shorthair. Common cat, nothing special.”

Her son screamed. He yanked his arm from the opening of the container and ran to his mother’s leg. “It scratched me,” he squealed, a little red line of blood dripping down his wrist. “It scratched me! It scratched me!”

The mother lifted her son and seethed. “Your cat better not have any diseases!”

“No, he must’ve scratched himself on the broken latch!” Juliana flipped the metal door open and closed. “See? The latch is jagged.”

The woman stepped back. “You have a wild cat in an open container!? What is wrong with you? There are kids here! This is a public place!”

“I don’t have a wild—”

“It scratched my son!” She waggled her son’s wet wrist. “It scratched him or bit him or—now I have to get tested!”

“It’s not a real cat!” Juliana’s voice trembled. “It can’t scratch!”

Juliana moved forward, holding the door open and thrusting it into view. Many of the people walking by slowed or stopped to see what was happening. 

“It’s a fake cat in here! I just came from a scientific convention, I know what I’m talking about. I have a doctorate! The cat isn’t real, it can’t scratch!”

The mother’s eyes burst out of her head, her teeth bared, her son shedding tears down her neck. She rushed off, both kids crying now at full volume.

A firm finger tapped her shoulder. “Ma’am, can I please talk to you a moment.”

It took her fifteen minutes to explain to the security guards what had happened. They let her go just in time. She was the last one on her flight.

Her seating situation was more comfortable than before. She had an aisle seat, which gave her the room she needed for her thighs (except when the flight attendant pushed by with her angled cart and cut hard against Juliana’s jean pocket).

Olga stayed up top, this time in the cat container instead of jammed into a backpack.

Halfway through the flight Juliana realized she had left her poster in the hotel room. It didn’t matter much, the convention was over. But it would have been a nice souvenir. Or maybe her colleagues would have wanted it.

She listened to podcasts the whole trip, unable to sleep. The nature of relationships. The chemistry behind junk food and how it affects the mind. A short segment about amphibians in relation to theology.

No one else seemed to hear the occasional meow from the overhead compartment.


************


Her Uber from the airport was easier to manage. When the driver gave her a worried look, she rattled the container around like a loaded washing machine. 

“See!? No cat.”

“I allow pets,” the driver said. 

She settled herself into the back seat and buckled in. She got her hair brush and straightened the cat’s short fur, the driver glancing silently in the rearview mirror. She had rattled Olga too hard, and some of the fluff was uneven, pulled up oddly and unnaturally. The pearly whites, the coffee browns. She brushed until it glowed.

It was just past sunrise. The red eye of the sun had lifted over the horizon, but not yet over the fingers of gray construction along the Sao Paulo skyline. She returned the cat to the container and rested her head on top.

It had been almost a week since she had stolen Olga.

Not stolen. Juliana was her designated guardian.

And not Olga. This was not her cat to name. This had gone too far. The name, the container, the incredible expenses... oh God had she flown this thing halfway across the country? 

And what if she had grabbed the wrong cat? What if the neighbor came home, weak, excited to see her cat—some other cat, not a cat doll—a shy cat, one that had hid when Juliana walked in. It was warm there, stale. Knowable. And then Juliana arrived. Messy. Fat. Ugly. She stumbled in and sat on the couch, scaring the cat into the kitchen or the bedroom or an open vent. Oh God, Juliana hadn’t even looked in the rest of the apartment! That would explain the cat food! Not rats! The cat was there, dying of hunger. Shrunken. Dehydrated, brittle. A crawling mummy, a shade of sand.

The Uber arrived, dropped her off. The driver didn’t return her goodbye.

Juliana rushed through the double-gated entry into the apartment complex. Whomever was working the gates stared from his security window at the swinging cat container with the broken door.

She arrived on her floor. The possibility of the mummy cat was etched in her mind.

The elevator closed and moved down, taking the hum with it. She was alone in the hall. She reached for the door to her neighbor’s apartment. Apartment 63.

Could she hear crying inside? People talking? Were footsteps coming?

She pulled back. Carefully she removed her keys from her backpack’s side pocket—holding tight to prevent any jingling—unlocked her door, and slid into her apartment.


PLEASE CARE FOR THE CAT


She double-bolted the door.

Just in time, there was a knock. Two. Three. Seven.

She held still, staring at the cat box. Pink top, white bottom, cat inside. So simple.

When she thought she heard the elevator leave she went to the bathroom. Showered. Brushed her hair, brushed her hair, brushed her hair. It wasn’t working. Her hair was dull. Warped. Something in the convention heat had stuck like glue. The tips of her hair were frayed, the top of her head had little phantom noodles, curling and whipping.

It was almost noon. She wore her pajamas. The air was cooler in the valley of Sao Paulo, and her apartment had locked in some of the cool from the night before. She relaxed.

And she was hungry.

She boiled some water, made some coffee. She had French bread. It was a little stale, so she doubled the margarine and heated it in a pan. She fried an egg. A little salt, a little spicy paprika. It stuck to the pan and became scrambled eggs.

Olga laid on the couch, free of the container. Easy to escape from.

Juliana and Olga watched three episodes of reality TV together. Olga never opened her eyes, but Juliana imagined they were gold and jade, and they sparkled in the sun. She could almost hear the purring.

The apartment phone rang. It was Luis, the doorman. The only person in the whole complex that ever had a reason to talk to her.

“Hi, Ju. We tried knocking earlier but you didn’t answer.”

“Sorry. I was tired from the trip. I went straight to bed.”

“Of course, no problem. I just wanted to make sure you got the package.”

“Package?”

“It arrived this morning, right after you did.”

They ended the call. Juliana took a deep breath.

She didn’t want to open her door. If her neighbor saw her, she would want answers. Juliana didn’t have answers.

Her hand on the handle, slight pressure, gentle push. The door creaked. Slowly, quietly. The censor light clicked on. She snatched the package, slammed the door. Waited. Locked the bolt.

Adrenaline washed through her, similar to the energy from a week ago, when she had found the note under her door. It percolated in her chest. Stealing her own packages, harboring a cat that wasn’t hers. The mystery. The potential. Who would send her something? Her mother, her uncle? An admirer? A coworker that had secretly had a crush, who had waited until Juliana left town to send a gift? What if it was from Luis? 

She peeled back the tape, cutting into the cardboard with her nails. Opened the flaps. Tossed the crumpled newspaper padding.

“What do you think it is, Olga?”

It was a plush toy, a cartoonish catfish. It wore a server apron, had beady round eyes with a little mustache made of nylon whiskers, large blue-gray arms and no legs—just the fin—and couldn’t sit upright. There was no letter. No sender. It was completely unmarked. Juliana smiled.

She placed the catfish doll on her bookshelf, propped between textbooks. She wrote a word on a sticky note and tagged the doll’s foot: Guto.

She cocked her head, sighed. If only Juliana had spoken up, or if Guto hadn’t turned his back so quickly. Maybe they could have shared a drink. A bed. A life? That’d be too much to ask, too much of a daydream. But it was nice, nonetheless, to pretend. To have a souvenir of the moment and of the man.

“What do you think, Olga? Should we start a little collection?”

Olga laid perfectly still, but Juliana saw the spark. Her cat eye, barely perceptible, shimmered below the waking lid.




------------

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page