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 ass.

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 table.

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 Tabby Tail.

The Cat ordered another drink.

Tail ordered another drink.

Cat scratched his leg.

Tail groomed his hair.

Cat got up to use the restroom.

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 on stage.

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 it.

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 near dark.

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




Steve Bennett has had many short stories and light verse published, and if bowling counts is an award-winning author. He was born in Boston and has remained literary ever since, even after moving to Southern California. He currently lives in Julian with an increasing amount of family members.

For more of Steve's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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Ted Bundy's Beetle

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