June 4, 2020
Humans: They Come and Go as They Please by Ela Kaimo
“Humans: they come and go as they please”Source: Humans: They Come and Go as They Please | Ela Kaimo
Trigger warning: The following short-story contains descriptions of mental health conditions, abuse, and suicide that may be upsetting for some individuals. If you or a loved one are currently struggling or having suicidal thoughts, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline (1-800-662-4357) or National Alliance on Mental Illness Hotline (1-800-950-6264).
Fictional disclosure: All events and characters within this short-story are entirely fictional and do not reflect events that have taken place in the real world.
We live in an apartment, just Gladys and I. Gladys is my human; I allow her to call me her pet cat. Gladys named me Snickerdoodle when I was young.
Sometimes I get bored of our daily routine of eat-play-sleep, so when Gladys opens the kitchen window, I slink outside. I have a friend in a stray cat who told me her former humans called her Millie.
When I asked what happened to her humans, she simply said, “They packed their things and left.” I put a paw on her head, trying to be comforting while not fully understanding. I could never imagine Gladys leaving me alone.
Millie pulled her head away haughtily. “I don’t need your pity. I manage just fine on scraps. Besides, I’m a better hunter than you.”
Defensively, I replied, “Well, I don’t get much practice. I have Gladys to feed me.”
Once, I tentatively asked Millie if she waited for her humans to return. In her typical snobbish fashion, she replied, “Why would I bother waiting for them when I can take care of myself? Cats are creatures of the hunt, Snick. It’s in our nature to fend for ourselves.”
“Not me,” I said, a bit shyly. “I never would survive on the streets. I’m not as good a hunter as you are.” We pass the time chasing after birds, me always a step behind her.
Gladys, meanwhile, almost never leaves the house. She is at her computer all day, wearing pajamas while working. The only other person at our place is the pizza delivery guy, whom she orders from on a regular basis.
I have also observed that Gladys is not a fan of bathing. As a creature of cleanliness, this disgusts me. She takes a shower once a week; the rest of the week, she just changes her clothes. On the occasions I get close, her brown hair is greasy on my paw.
Lately, I noticed that Gladys started having a man over. From what I gathered in their conversations, his name was Aaron. At first, I was suspicious of him: I attempted to bite him during his first time at our apartment, and he just laughed it off.
Gladys scolded me, “Snickerdoodle! Don’t be naughty!” She then picked me up and kissed my forehead before setting me down on the floor.
Aaron asked her, “Do I get a kiss, too?” Gladys laughed, which startled me. Her laughter was few and far in between, and so I began to slowly trust Aaron with her.
One night, Gladys was having one of her “episodes,” as she called them, and started crying in the middle of cooking. Startled, Aaron turned to her. “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
Gladys shook her head. Aaron wiped his hands on a dishrag and walked closer to her, holding her in his arms. To my surprise, he didn’t flinch when Gladys’s tears and snot marked his shirt wet.
Before he came into our lives, Gladys cried nearly every night curled up on the sofa. When I first saw it, I was alarmed – what causes humans to act this way? She talked to me, saying that she is very tired. I do not understand how she is so tired when she doesn’t do much all day. But I lick her cheek anyway and let her hug me until she falls asleep.
Now, she has Aaron to hold her while she weeps. I sit in the ottoman across from them, taking comfort in the fact that Gladys finally has someone to take care of her.
Aaron became a regular presence at our home. The pizza delivery guy became a thing of the past; Gladys learned to take up cooking, and she and Aaron spent many nights in the kitchen stirring sauces in pots. Several times I attempted to lick the contents of the saucepan, but one of them always caught me before I got to it.
During one of our hunts, I complained to Millie, “They’re always feeding me store-bought food. Just once I would like to have something fresh.”
Millie jumped on me, and I cried out. “Hey!”
“Stop whining, Snick! At least you have humans who feed you and you have a nice home. Did I tell you that just recently I nearly got run over?”
“What! You need to be more careful.”
“It was his fault, he was going too fast.” Then she leaped at a small bird that landed right in front of us, sinking her claws deep into it. “Got one! You’re right, kid – you’re too slow for the streets.” She started chowing down on what was probably her first meal of the day.
And so life went on, with me still trying to get to the hot, delicious-smelling sauces that Gladys and Aaron were cooking; hunting with Millie; and playing with my toys.
One thing changed: I was relegated from the bedroom to the living room at night. At first I resisted, meowing at the bedroom door; however, when it became clear that they were firm on their decision, I reluctantly slept on the brand new cat bed that Gladys brought home from the pet store.
It was late at night when I heard a raised voice coming from the bedroom. Wanting attention, I snuck inside the open bedroom door to see Gladys sitting on the edge of the bed, a box cutter in one hand. Her left wrist had thin, dripping lines of blood.
Walking softly behind him so as not to draw attention to myself, I watched Aaron rustle through the medicine box in the bathroom. He abruptly wiped the blood off of Gladys’s wrist, and she winced. Seemingly gentler this time, he applied wound medicine on the slashes. “Is this fair, Gladys?” he said roughly. “I just came home late once, and this is what you do?”
“You could have called!” she said desperately.
“I just had some beers with the boys. I didn’t think to call because it’s not that big of a deal!” He kept dabbing at her wounds, his narrowed eyes not meeting her tear-filled ones. “Jesus, no wonder not one of your boyfriends stuck around.”
Gladys pulled her arm back. She had gone pale.
Aaron froze. “Sorry, Gladys, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just –”
“Is that how you see me? A hopeless headcase?”
Aaron was quiet. He put down the medicine and said softly, “I should go.”
Gladys watched him step outside, gripping the box cutter tightly until her knuckles went white. I leapt up beside her and to my surprise, she didn’t pet me like she usually does.
A few days later, after a lengthy hunt with Millie, I was feeling exhausted, so I retired to bed a bit earlier than usual. After napping for a while, I was awakened by a loud crash. I leapt up angrily to see who had rudely interrupted my sleep.
I heard Aaron’s voice in a tone and volume I had never heard from him before. “So I’m just supposed to be at your beck and call every time you have a mental breakdown?”
Gladys was squatting on the floor, picking up the broken pieces of a yellow plate. She was shaking with sobs. “It’s not like that! I’m just having a hard time – ”
“You’re always having a hard time!” Aaron slammed his fist on the table, which made Gladys’s hands shake. A shard of glass slipped and a stream of bright red blood appeared on the broken yellow plate.
“Aaron, please, I’ll get better, I promise –” Gladys threw the plate into the garbage bin and reached out to Aaron. He backed away, looking at her bloody hand with disgust.
“No, Gladys, I can’t do this anymore. I won’t do this to myself.” He tossed a dish towel at her and she wrapped her wounded hand with it, still shaking. “For god’s sake, Gladys. You need professional help.” He took a hard look at her and walked outside, leaving Gladys heaving.
Slowly, I approached her, my tail up in the air. She was still crying, and I wove my body through her legs to try and comfort her. She ignored me and ran to her room, slamming the door behind her.
My stomach felt leaden, so I decided to go out again for some fresh air. Millie was surprised to see me. “Hey! What are you doing here?”
I recounted the story as best as I could. It was unlike Millie not to hunt while listening to my stories, but tonight, she didn’t even look away from me as I told her the tale.
That night, I entered through the kitchen window as usual. It was late, but Gladys still had the lights open. Very unusual for her, as she, like me, prefers the dark.
I meowed loudly a couple of times, just to let her know that I was here if she needed cuddles, even though they can be suffocating for me. Still no sound from Gladys.
Puzzled, I started stalking through the house, meowing as noisily as I can. She wasn’t in the bedroom or the living room. That left the bathroom.
The light was on and finally I found her. Odd – she was sleeping on the floor. A small, empty orange bottle was in her hand, the ones she used to give to me to play with. I was in no gaming mood, so I ignored it and started licking her face to wake her up.
Her skin was cold, and no matter how many times I wailed and licked her cheek, she didn’t stir. She is a light sleeper and so I knew then that there was something wrong. I tried stepping to her left side, but then I realized that the tiles were covered in sticky crimson blood.
Gladys’s left wrist was slashed in a deep, neat, lengthwise line.
I don’t remember much about that night. I remember the sirens blaring down the street, coming to a halt outside our apartment building. I remember people – more than Gladys ever had at our place – rushing inside and lifting her, taking her away. I hissed at the intruders, who have apparently come to take my human away from me. I even scratched the leg of one such intruder, and he yelled before trying to kick me away. Upset, I ran into the bedroom and waited until things settled down.
Finally, everyone left, and I was all alone.
I remembered Millie: her humans packed their things and left. How could Gladys leave, too?
Thinking of Millie and our hunts, I remember how violently she shredded her prey, and how Gladys, in her worst moment, slashed her wrist. I could almost smell the blood in the air from these memories.
I am not sure how much time passed, but the longer the days stretched, the more I realized that Gladys wasn’t coming back. My throat was dry from yowling, and from lack of water and food. Gladys kept the bag of dry cat food up in the cabinets where I couldn’t reach it, so that wasn’t an option. I tried turning the faucet handle but it was too heavy.
Finally, after trying to stave off hunger as much as I could, I accepted the fact that I was going to have to fend for myself. Gladys was gone, and didn’t Millie say that cats could live on their own?
The kitchen window was still open. I jumped out of the house for the last time and looked for Millie. As we hunted, I morosely told her about how I apparently have lost my human, too. “I just didn’t think Gladys was going to leave, like your humans did.”
Millie looked at the next street over, seemingly lost in thought. “I’m sorry, Snick. Humans… they come and go as they please. They’re like us in that way, except…” She raised a paw. “Except that we don’t leave them first. I guess it’s just you and me for now, buddy.”
Ever so quick, she snatched up a bird taking off. To my surprise, she offered it to me. “Here ya go. You must be hungry after all those days without food.”
I didn’t hesitate to jump in and eat. As I tore the bird’s feathery flesh apart with my teeth, Millie put her paw on my head, and I didn’t shake her off.
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