Cat Shadow

I’ve been staying late at work every night. I can do that, you know? Whether I get home on time, or late, or not at all, my cat will be asleep. I will enter, and she will not note the time. She will not likely do more than crack her eyes, yawn, stretch, then fall back into careless sleep. Unless her bowl is empty.

Tonight is the cooking night. Tonight I get wine, and I open it, and I cook enough food for a family. For a couple. For any quantity of people beyond just one. I am unreasonable, stubborn about my recipes. So I will cook the full recipe, and I will drink too much wine, and I will dish the dinner once onto a plate, and the rest into containers for the fridge, for transportation to work as lunch, to single-serving microwave-safe dishes for dinners. A meal for a family is a meal for one for a week.

I’m at the stove, sauteing shallots and draining a glass of chardonnay. My cat enters, stops, looks at me, meows. “Did you know this is my favorite Chardonnay?” I ask. She slowly brushes past me, paws at the cabinet door beneath the sink, on her third attempts opens the door just wide enough, slinks away into the sink darkness, the cabinet door closing behind, her tail escaping into the dark just in time. I add a tablespoon of vermouth, and the pan steams. Half a cup of beef stock. Simmer. Reduce. Imbibe.

I have been staying late at work every night. It is such a convenience, I tell myself, that I am able to do so. There are  not enough hours in the day! And there is work to be done (to be done)! I am lucky that I can stay late and keep trudging along. As I tell my coworkers daily, the only one waiting for me is my cat, and as long as her bowl is filled, she won’t even be bothered to wake up when I get home! And they laugh.

Wait. I already said that, didn’t I?

Cook the dinner. Drain the wine. Sleep. Need to be up bright and early for work. Long day ahead. Long days in the foreseeable future. I can’t remember the last time I was home during daylight hours. It is incredibly dark outside of the kitchen.

The phone buzzes. A text message. It is Mindy, asking if we can talk. It is Jolene, asking why I haven’t called her back. It is my niece, asking when I am visiting again. It is Theodore, asking whether or not I will be joining everyone tonight. It is Christopher, asking if we can talk about his girlfriend and what happened. I leave the phone in my pocket. I cannot respond right now, whoever it is. I am cooking dinner.

This doesn’t go anywhere. Music is on, and wine is had. Meat browns, sauce thickens, vegetables roast. When the meal is finished, it is divvied up and in part ingested. The wine is drained, again. The cat remains under the sink. The phone remains in my pocket.

After the meal, I put on a record and do the dishes. This side of the record ends just as the dishes are finished. I step out of the kitchen, turning out the overhead light but leaving on the light above the stove. I am standing in the doorway. This faint kitchen light is the only source of light in my apartment. It reaches long across my living room, across my coffee table, across my recliner. There, huddled up in a ball, sleeps the cat. Standing where I am, the light behind me, my entire shadow projects across her sleeping form. It is so dark outside the light, and she disappears within my cast form.

Even now, when she is here, she is not here. Only the shadow I project upon her.

As I approach, she opens her eyes at me, blinks twice, stretches, begins her wake up approach. I click on the living room light and she begins her ablutions. She scratches the couch. She bats a toy mouse around. She jumps into a box and follows me as I walk around the room, her tail twitching. She acts like a cat. She is a cat. She is only a cat. She is a cat.

I drain my wine again, fill up once more. I sit down at the computer. From this angle, my face is reflected in the still-dim screen of the monitor.

I open a chat window. YOU THERE?

HEY SWEETIE! WHAT ARE DOING?

JUST FINISHED DINNER. HAVING SOME WINE. LISTENING TO SOME MUSIC.

OOOH! WHAT DID YOU MAKE?!

I sip my wine and describe the meal. I am deliberate in my details. I want to make her envious. I want to make her wish she was here with me. I wish she was here with me. She responds:

THAT SOUNDS DELICIOUS. I WISH I WAS THERE WITH YOU RIGHT NOW.

I finish my wine, stand up and walk to the kitchen. I fill the glass to the top, bring the rest of the bottle along. As I walk back to the computer, the cat watches me from her box. She is hunting my legs. She will pounce, swipe, maybe bite my ankles, then run. This is what cats do. This is what I love about cats.

I sit back down, noticing my reflection again in the screen. I pause and take a breath. Why are words so hard to write sometimes?

I WISH YOU WERE HERE TOO.

There. That’s done. As a reward, I drain the wine glass once more. She reponds:

SO TELL ME ABOUT EVERY LITTLE THING …

And I do. While my cell phone buzzes, ignored in my pocket, while the cat sleeps and twitches and wakes to snack and sleep again, while the long days pass and the dark nights approach, while I sit here, alone in my apartment, projecting long shadows across everything, I tell her everything.

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