Cat had a tail.
You could see it plain
as day, even from where I was sitting. Even if you weren’t paying
attention, like I wasn’t. But I wasn’t paying attention less
than anyone around me, there at the table of Café 575. Me, Beth,
her two friends, Claire and Spence. Open mike night, and they
were transported via the haiku brought forth from Maxwell, the
skinny guy on the small stage with greasy hair and stubble-goatee.
Me, less so. Normally
the high point of the week, Saturday night, sitting with Beth
just about anywhere, reveling in the roasted smell and taste,
listening to the rhymes and meters and lyrics. Maybe not appreciating
it as much as her, maybe mostly not at all, but at least being
there, with her. Listening.
Tonight my thoughts
wandered. Blame it on the argument we’d had earlier, Beth and
I, about our relationship. No, not just our relationship, why
stop there? About every relationship under the sun; about what
love and romance really was and how I didn’t have the Poet’s
Heart. How I’d been distant the past weeks, the past month, how
she’d noticed a drifting. I hadn’t noticed. Of course not, she
said, because that type of deep soul touch was foreign to my
non-poetic, sump-pump of a heart.
Soul touch. That’s
what she said, my sweet Beth, and she turned on her heel leaving
me shaking my confused brain and wondering, just wondering, if
Lord Byron ever had his inspiration turn and bite him in the
So I sat with her
and her friends: Claire, pale, whiny-voiced, always seeming as
if sitting in a pose, and Spence, a modern beatnik with wire
glasses, at one in the company of the other “cool cats” as he
called his compatriots, awaiting his own turn at the mike. I
sat with her, with them, and distanced myself mentally from the
I watched the crowd;
the smiles, the laughter, the friendship, the cynics. Funny,
the diversity, but you can tell a lot from the outside surface.
I felt as if I knew exactly what was going on at every table.
Not every detail, of course, but my senses seemed heightened—on
a different, instinctive level—and the thoughts of each person
seemed to jump out at me. Maybe it was the Jamaican I sipped
or the influence of the haiku, but there just the same.
That’s when I noticed
him, this one Cat, be-bopping his head to the measured meter.
Then, a table back, a man peering with hard eyes directly and
unmistakably at the Cat’s back…the Tail. The Cat didn’t know
he had a Tail, that was plain, but that’s how it is with cats.
They go here, prowl there, taking it with them all the while,
not knowing. Then all of a sudden it senses something stalking
and turns to pounce, trying to catch it like it’s a prey. The
Tail in turn begins chasing the Cat, around and around until
you don’t know who’s chasing who.
That’s what interested
me. Who was the prey? And which one would turn first…and attack.
The Cat wore an orangish
shirt under a rust leather jacket, light blue jeans and bowling
shoes. No bag. Mid-twenties. Long side burns. Calico.
The Tail was dressed
in a grey shirt under black zip-up jacket, tweed pants, dark
shoes, white socks. Same age. Tabby.
Calico Cat with a
The Cat ordered another
Tail ordered another
Cat scratched his
Tail groomed his hair.
Cat got up to use
Tail got fidgety.
Got up, sat, got up again, walked over to the Cat’s table, saw
nothing, went back, sat down, checked his watch. Waited.
Cat came back.
Tail held the plastic
drink menu up to his face, studying.
Cat sat down.
Tail placed the menu
flatly onto the table and drummed his fingers on it.
Max was finished.
The words stopped, the no-rhymes stopped, scattered clapping
followed him to the table where Beth and Spence busied themselves
critiquing Max’s effort while Claire powdered her pale reflection
in her compact.
The Cat got up. Caught
the Tail by surprise as he headed for the mike and stepped up
I sat straight. Cat’s
going to speak, I thought, give a little bit of the Meow. But
as his hand reached to grab the mike it seemed to float through
it as he deftly grabbed the curtain instead and disappeared behind
I shot a glace at
the Tail. He looked worried, got up fast, didn’t know what to
do. Thought of following, thought better, turned and pushed his
way to the front door.
Spence began to make
his way to the mike with his own offering as Claire and Beth
smiled after him—too much smile, Beth—oblivious, somehow, not
only to me but of the pursuit in progress.
I rose silently and
drifted after the Tail.
It was a refreshing
slap, the cool night air. A bit of dampness as well, making steps
a little slower, heavier. I saw a figure turn a corner. The Tail.
I knew the Cat would head for its natural habitat, the alley.
So did the Tail. I hurried after both and made my way around
the building to see the Tail, hands on hips, looking lost, suddenly
jerk and trot off into the darkness.
I trotted after, doggedly.
The Cat had a Tail. Now I was dogging the Tail, doing what dogs
do, sticking their nose where it’s not wanted. I just hoped there
wasn’t a rolled up newspaper with my name on it waiting in the
I was soon engulfed
by the black and white world of shadows of varying light and
thickness. The patches played games with my vision, and it wasn’t
long before I lost sight of them a dozen times. One minute they’d
both be in plain sight, then just the Tail, then neither. The
fog settling, perhaps, or fatigue.
They headed for a
hazy light in the distance, the Cat illuminated as he entered,
disappearing as he kept on. The Tail the same, except when he
got to the light he stopped, breathing heavy. The light spelled
in blue neon: Ernie’s Liquor. The Tail started after the Cat,
then stopped abruptly and stepped into the store.
Why the chase, I wondered,
slowing to a quick-step, if only to end here? Maybe I’d been
wrong, maybe there was no Cat, no Tail, no chase, just my escapist
imagination. I shook my head free from such faithlessness. No,
I decided, ever since the cafe they’d been up to something. Then
why, coming so far, had the Tail broken off?
Complete story available in the
print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010