Everything had gone to shit since the cat had arrived. Eloise didn’t even agree to take on the responsibility. It just sort of happened. As things do when people view you as merely “single.” In other words, someone who needs “something to do” just because they can’t imagine how anybody might pass “the hours” without the burden of husband or child(ren). Or, apparently, a motherfucking cat. What was it with the assumption that every woman “without” ought to get a “feline friend” as some kind of all-encompassing substitute? A substitute for what, exactly? The entirely mundane and predictable type of misery that comes with bearing yet another “nuclear family” and perpetuating the cycle of settling for mediocrity? Eloise didn’t bother to “see for herself” if she was correct in that postulation. She simply made the decision to go forth in life without ever taking steps that would lead to being “part of something bigger.”
That was the phrase her mother, Virginia, once wielded against her to try to get Eloise to “make something out of her life” by at least attempting to “land a man.” And how does one do that? Going by Virginia’s example, it should be achieved via painting your face, puckering your lips and standing on the corner. Yes, it sounded little better than any prostitute’s method. But that’s what it was to “be a woman,” per the dictates exemplified by Virginia… and all women Eloise had ever encountered, really. Bearing witness to their behavior in real life and through every possible medium of message dissemination: print magazines, TV, film, radio, theater, literature. It was all propaganda that women themselves gladly participated in as a means to tell other women that they should not only be part of this cycle, but help to extend and quite literally propagate it. Eloise refused. She also refused to absorb mass media after a certain period in her life. Maybe that was how she had evaded inherent knowledge of so many cat lady tropes. Maybe that was how she survived in general. Yet those few “friends” she allowed to be close to her could never seem to let her forget who she “really” was: alone.
And when you are “alone” (as we all technically are in this unclassifiable abyss labeled “life”), it’s as though such a trivial detail of your existence is made to be the sum total of your entire personality. Eloise had seen this happen to her own personage early on. Starting from the time she went to prom alone because no one bothered to ask her. She didn’t figure it really mattered. She would just show up for a few dances and leave. But no, it was not that cut-and-dried for everyone else there who “would never.” The scandal of it all! The sheer shock to the senses!
One of the few friends Eloise had maintained from that era in her life was Alex, a blonde wisp that Eloise was convinced only “kept her around” to make Alex feel better about herself. Recently divorced and having difficulty reentering the dating pool, Alex only seemed to want to get together to complain to Eloise about her “situation.” That’s what she always referred to it as. Even being stuck with custody over their cat, Herman, an orange tabby who, like most cats, appeared to be permanently pissed off. Alex was all but forced to keep Herman in the division of “assets” because her son, Damien, lived with her for most of the week, and he loved the fucking bastard too much for Alex to give Aaron the satisfaction of having one more thing to tantalize Damien with. Because every Sunday when Damien returned from Aaron’s house, it was “Dad’s sauna this” and “Dad’s home movie theater that.” If Aaron gained control of Herman, it would be the end of Alex having any clout with Damien.
Alex explained all of this and more to Eloise over obscenely-priced coffee and croissants one day at some Brooklyn coffee shop so banal, one can immediately imagine what it might look like based on the phrase “Brooklyn coffee shop” alone. Alex also went on to include in her spiel about the cat that she would “need” to drop it off at Eloise’s for “no more than two weeks” while she went to her and her ex-husband’s formerly shared Upstate property to go through all the personal items and other assorted bric-a-brac she wanted to get a hold of before it was too late. Thus, without even actually being asked, Eloise found herself “caring for” this beastly being, with Alex sure to add as some kind “seal the deal” clincher: “It might give your life a bit more meaning. You know, more than you were ever aware could be possible.” Before Eloise was able to say something like “fuck off,” it was as though she had been put into a trance by Alex’s unremitting stare. Just a few days later, Herman was to make his entrance at Eloise’s no longer “safe space.” No sooner had he been plopped down on the ground in his pet porter than he was unleashed in every way. Making himself at home like the entitled twat he didn’t even try to deny being.
Rubbing against every piece of furniture—when he wasn’t scratching at the sides or legs of it—Herman found so many ways to make so many annoying sounds. Not just with his claws, either. There was an array of varying meows to be uttered, each signifying their own unique form of dissatisfaction. Even so, such “vocabulary” was no match for the vexation Eloise experienced whenever Herman scratched endlessly at his litter box. One would think after all that “digging to China,” his shit would be buried, but no; just as Herman had a perennial pout, so, too, did his litter box have a perennial shit (or five) always sticking out.
And then there was the tampering with her once-sacred routine, an umbrella under which fell the ability to make erstwhile “executive decisions” regarding what she could do in her own abode. For instance, in the past, Eloise had closed the door to her bedroom without any issue—any concern whatsoever—at night. But, as mentioned, ever since the cat had arrived, everything had gone to shit. Including her sense of agency and personal freedom. At the mercy of the cat’s irascible and impetuous scratching on any door if it remained closed, Eloise was forced to leave hers open just a crack so that the accursed pussy could feel like it had an escape hatch. Would that every human was able to feel that at any given moment in this imprisoning existence. So it was that in her now-defunct habitude of keeping the portal to the rest of her apartment closed, she somehow thought that she had presently left it open wide enough to pass through without incident in the middle of the night. That is to say, the usual time when her bladder woke her up to force her into the bathroom. On autopilot, as most are at that stage of half-awakeness, she was forced to open her eyes fully only when she smacked one of them right into an uppermost, unnamed part of it (best identified by being where the lockset makes its protrusion).
After the stars she was seeing began to disappear, she could feel the inevitable bruise forming around her eyebrow area and on the top of the right side of her lip. She had delicate skin, and it was likely there would be some swelling in the morning, to boot. Taking as many deep breaths as she could to keep herself from kicking the cat in its rib cage as recompense, she continued her journey to the bathroom and pissed in the dark. Eloise did not yet want to see the damage this feline “friend” had done to her face. Her theoretically most valuable asset, if she were to go by the societal pressure put on women to “look pretty” so they wouldn’t “end up alone.”
In the morning, when she finally found the courage to stare back at herself in the mirror, it was precisely as she had suspected: full-on domestic abuse victim aesthetic. If having a cat was meant to make her life feel like it had “meaning,” this surely wasn’t the definition she was searching for. Later that day, she called upon Alex to inform her that she could no longer take care of her “precious baby,” and that she would need to cut her Upstate excursion short. Almost as short as the ceaseless remnants of cat hair Eloise kept finding on her clothes and furniture for the next year or so, with everyone automatically assuming she must be a “cat lady,” despite being in possession of no such creature.