Bewildering Stories

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The Cat

by Fran Jacobs

Alexander was dreaming. It was the same dream that he had been having on and off for years now. He dreamed of a beautiful woman. Tall, slim and graceful, she had long dark hair, large yellow-green eyes, and was beautiful and sexy. They were lovers in his dream. They never spoke, never did anything, just made love. It was the same every night, he would be somewhere, his bedroom perhaps, or at a nightclub, sometimes, even in the midst of another dream, and then she would appear, and she would take his hand. His heart would pound, he would feel weak, and she would kiss him. Her lips were soft, her touch was gentle and firm, and as he drew her closer, the world around would fade out until it was only the two of them, falling down into the darkness, making love together. He never got tired of the dream, how could he? It made him feel so alive. Even when he woke in the morning, he felt so good about himself. His heart would be pounding, his mouth dry, as if he had been with the gorgeous woman in real life. It made him so dizzy.

The dream seemed different this night. The woman seemed different. It was more real, if that was possible, more passionate, and he didn’t want to let her go. He didn’t want to wake. He felt it coming on, like he always did, the heavy sensation of reality closing in around him. The pressure of the real world, of the quilt that covered him, or the soft pillow under his head, the presence of his cat, sleeping on his feet, they all closed in around him. Then he was awake. The sheets were soiled beneath him and the cat was looking at him with her large yellow eyes.

Alexander moaned, turning onto his side. He wanted to go back to sleep. It was 10 a.m.. He could sleep all day and all night, spend all his life with that dream woman. So much better than being awake. Being sixteen in the waking world wasn’t fun. He had exams to worry about, and his parents, and his friends, or lack of them. He could sleep his life away, he really could. His mother teased him, told him he was lazy, and yes, okay, he was, but she didn’t understand, he hated being awake, he’d much rather be asleep. Why drag through the real world when the one inside his own mind was so much more interesting? He leaned over, pulling the covers back over his head. More sleep. More time spent with that woman.

And then his mother was knocking on his door. He had classes at 12. He had to get up or he would be late. Stupid college. He preferred it to school, of course. No uniforms, he didn’t get bullied, no P.E either, which was a blessing; but it was still lessons, still things to learn and exams to take, and mornings to get up in. Of course, if he weren’t at college, his mum and dad would insist he get a job. Nine to five, that would be so much worse than college could be with its late lessons, no dress code and relative freedom in exchange for exams and essays. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after college. Uni probably; get away from home. Uni was what was expected of him, and it would be so easy to just let himself get pushed along. It wasn’t really what he wanted, more studying, but it was something to think about.

His mother knocked on the door again, she wasn’t going to let up, so Alexander got out of bed, reached for a towel and padded into the bathroom for a shower. He would have to change the sheets, too, so his mother wouldn’t realise what had happened. Puberty. It was more embarrassing than it was anything else. Still the shower helped, temporarily. Back in his room, looking at his comfortable bed, he found himself yawning, and the image of that dark haired, yellow-eyed dream woman filled his mind.

The cat got up and moved toward him. Her name was Megaera, after the furies of Greek mythology. He loved Greek mythology; just as well really, he was doing classics for A-level. Still, she was a beautiful cat. Black, soft and sleek, with huge eyes. She followed him everywhere, even down to the bus stop, and was waiting for him when he came home. She didn’t let anyone else feed her, or touch her. He had found her. He took care of her, paid for her vet’s bills and cat food, and cleaned out her litter tray. She was his. He loved her. And she loved him. He could see it in her eyes, in the way she followed him everywhere and slept by his feet. He wished he were a cat. What a great life it would be to sleep all day, get feed and stroked and look after, and not have to worry about anything.

Megaera leaned against him, purring happily as he stroked her head. Then she leaned up towards him, and licked his nose. Alexander smiled at her. “Better get dressed,” he told her. “Another stupid day of stupid college. Maybe I will ask Sarah out. What do you think?” The cat just looked at him. “Oh I know, she will probably say no. But I have to try, right? Can’t go on sleeping forever. Though I would love to.” He sighed and scratched Megaera a little harder. “And she is very pretty and I think she likes me, a little at least-” Then he yelped. Megaera had bit him. Hard enough to draw blood. He stared at his finger, tears of pain filling his eye. “Thanks, Meg,” he said, moving away. “Thanks for that. Its okay for you, you know. You’re a cat. You find it easy to find other cats to mate with.” Although she never had. “I am nearly seventeen. Never even kissed anyone. It’s getting a little sad, Meggy. And hurtful.” He sighed. “Better get dressed.” And he sat on the bed to dry himself down, the cat watching him the whole time with her large, yellow eyes.

Amanda was singing to herself as she ironed the clothes. Alexander had gone out, on a date apparently, Judith had gone to the cinema, and David had gone over to see some colleagues from work; some work outing or something. He had asked her to go with, of course; as his wife she was half expected to go, but nothing would have bored her more than some work do, surrounded by her husband’s friends, chatting to equally bored wives who wished that they had stayed home. It hardly ever happened that the family went out, and it gave her a chance to catch up with some chores.

Alex would joke about it, of course, that the only thing she did when she had the house to herself was clean up; and yes, when she had been a girl she had always visualised doing more with her life than fussing over her family. But her husband David, and son, Alex, and daughter Judith, needed her. David cooked; he was a good cook, and Alex was a quiet considerate sort of boy, washed the dishes without being asked, brought down his dirty clothes for the laundry, that sort of thing, and Judith was out and about more often than she was home, so she didn’t really make much of a mess in anyway or need much of anything done.

But they all needed clean, ironed clothes, and they seemed incapable of doing it, or hovering up after themselves, or doing any of the other small chores that Amanda did whenever she could find the time. It was as though they didn’t even notice that they had to be done. She imagined that they thought clothes came out of the washing machine dry and ready ironed: she never saw them hang them up; they never even offered. Perhaps they thought that the carpet just cleaned itself, or the windows, or the bath and the loo? Still, she couldn’t complain, they were considerate, they were good family, and she didn’t mind the chores that she did. Besides, when the ironing was done she could have a long hot bubbly bath, light some candles, and read a book, the sort of thing she found impossible with a husband and two teenage children around.

The front door swung open, and she heard the big clumping sound of Alexander’s big boots as he raced up the stairs. That wasn’t a good sign. He had only been out on his date for less than an hour, it was only just 9 pm. This was not a good sign at all. And he had been so excited about it, brought new clothes, spent hours in the shower, and filled the bathroom and hallway upstairs with the smell of his aftershave and deodorant. Why did boys overdo on that stuff?

Amanda moved out into the hallway, a hand on the banister as she prepared to go upstairs. Then she heard the loud sound of music blaring out. The same CD that Alexander always listened to when he was upset. She hadn’t told him that she knew he did that, of course. She was just his mother; he wouldn’t talk to her about anything like that, but she knew. She started to climb the stairs, and then there was an insistent meow, and a sleek black body pushed past her, nearly knocking her backwards. The cat. Megaera.

Amanda tried to like the cat, she really did. She brought it food, weird furry mouse toys, things on string for it to play with, but the cat just didn’t want to know. Turned up its nose, as it were. Only when Alex picked up the toy, then the cat would play. The cat followed the boy everywhere, to the bus stop, into the bathroom sometimes, would only eat if Alex fed it, would only let Alex touch it. The cat was weird. An anti-social weird cat and Amanda didn’t like it. It frightened her. It stared at her with those bright yellow eyes, and she could swear that the cat knew what she was saying, that the cat could understand her. In a strange way she thought that the cat knew her and thought nothing of her. The cat accepted her well enough, the way that it accepted David and Judith too, but it seemed to have nothing for her but acceptance, whereas it seemed totally besotted with Alexander. It was a strange cat.

So Amanda followed it up the stairs, watching as it nudged open Alexander’s door with its paw and headed in. She heard Alex talking softly to the cat, and then she heard the sound of tears. He was crying. It ached her heart to hear her beautiful son crying. The date had gone wrong, obviously. Badly wrong, if he was crying. He wouldn’t want to talk to Amanda about it, of course. She was nothing, just his mother. He didn’t confide in her. He confided in that damn cat.

Amanda sighed, unhappily as she leaned her head against the door, listening to her son’s muttered conversation with the cat, in between heavy gasping sobs. You wanted the best for your children, for them to be happy, but you could never take into consideration how unkind other people could be. With a heavy heart, she turned, and walked away back downstairs to her waiting pile of clothes.

Alexander was dreaming again. The dream was troubled, his sleep was restless, and he tossed and turned and rolled around on his bed. And then the woman appeared to him and everything became calm. Her large eyes were sad, brimming with tears, and she took his hands, and drew him down to her, letting him put his head in her lap.

“I am so sorry,” she said softly. “I hate to see you so unhappy. I hate to see you cry.”

Alexander gave an unhappy shrug, rubbed his eyes on his wrist. “She just wanted to make Peter jealous. She was just using me. They were all laughing at me. We went into the pub and there he was, and he came over and after two minutes, she left with him. Left me sitting there alone! There is something wrong with me, isn’t there? That is why no one likes me, that is why I have no friends.”

“I like you,” the woman told him in her gentle, liquid voice. “I love you.”

“But you aren’t real. This is just a dream. A stupid dream. It isn’t real.”

“It can be real. If you want it.”

Alexander just laughed, and shook his head. “If I end up in a coma, maybe,” he said. “There is no other way mum will let me stay asleep long enough to stay here with you.”

The woman laughed gently. “This isn’t a dream, Alex,” she said. “And you can stay with me, for as long as you want.”

“It is a dream,” he insisted. “And no, I can’t.” He closed his eyes. “Just want to stay here and be with you until mum comes to wake me. Don’t want to think about the real world. Don’t want to think about anything at all.”

“If it was real,” the woman said. “Would you want to be with me?”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course.”

“You would give up your future? The life that you could have, university, a wife, children, to be with me?”

“Yes.” He sniffed. “No woman is ever going to marry me anyway.”

“You would be surprised,” the woman said. “You would never see your family again, would you give that up?”

“Yes,” Alexander replied. “Easily.”

“All right,” she said softly. “If you are sure... “

Alexander laughed gently. “I would be with you, if I could. Give up everything to be with you, but I can’t. So I am just going to lie here and enjoy my dream, if that is okay with you.”

“Of course,” she said. She soothed his hair. “And it will be all right, Alex. You just need to be patient. I will make sure that you are all right. When you are with me, no one will ever hurt you again. I promise. When you are with me, everything will be all right. Forever.”

Alexander dragged his heels as he came home from college. Another bad day. In fact, it had been worse than usual. Worse than all his days at school put together. It had felt as if the whole place, teachers, students, even the walls, were laughing at him. Everywhere he had gone he had been so sure that people were whispering about him, staring at him, giggling. It had probably been just his imagination, maybe. It had just felt that the whole world thought he was one big joke. How could he, Alexander Jackson, have ever thought that Sarah would go out with him? Of course she had been using him. Of course it had been just a game to make her boyfriend jealous. He had seen them, Peter and Sarah, hugging and kissing and talking, and they had stared at him as he had walked past them in the corridor. Then he had heard Peter make some whispered comment, and Sarah had laughed, and Alexander had known it had been about him, and his face flushed. He had run to the bathroom, and cried alone in a stall, like a stupid child. Like a baby.

Later, Peter had cornered him, and for a while, Alexander had thought Peter would hit him for taking Sarah out, he hadn’t, he had only thanked him. Thanked him! For taking Sarah to the pub for him, and Peter had known that she would be safe with him, because, after all, he was no threat. God. It would have been better if Peter had hit him, at least then he would have viewed Alexander as some sort of rival. Instead he saw him as a joke. To Peter, Alexander was no threat. That was worse than being hit, to be told, not in so many words, that you were ugly, and a joke and you were nothing. And that was what Peter had done, politely, of course. Peter was always polite and friendly too. And sporty, and handsome, and clever and witty, and that was why Sarah liked him. Why everyone like him. It wasn’t fair. It really wasn’t

He reached the end of his road, his feet dragging; his bag slumped from his stooped shoulders. Not even Megaera had come to meet him. Why hadn’t she come? He saw her then, sitting in the middle of the road, just sitting there, her yellow eyes locked onto his. He smiled at her, and she gave a bright meow.

“Meg,” he said. Tears filled his eyes. “I hate my sodding life.” And he walked out, into the road, towards her.

He didn’t see the car racing down the road. Didn’t notice anything until it had hit him. It felt as if he had been hit by an elephant. His body was sent flying, and the hard concrete pavement, rushed up all too soon to break his all too fragile bones. He moaned and it came out a garbled sound, unfamiliar to his ears. He could taste blood, bitter-sweet and so thick in his throat. He could see blood, and it danced before his eyes, spilling out in front of him. Was that his blood? Coming from him? His body felt heavy, there was no pain, it was just heavy, as it was when he had been asleep and he came around and just didn’t want to wake. And he wanted to sleep, to just close his eyes and sleep, to slip into darkness. He liked the dark. He liked to sleep.

He heard voices, whispered, hushed voices, that seemed to get quieter the more he tried to listen to them. It was as though, listening to them, concentrating on them, made it harder to hear them. They just seemed to slip away, the more he strained to make them out. He could felt movement in his hair, and something wet landing on his face, but he couldn’t focus on it, could just see the shadow leaning over him.

And then he saw the eyes. Bright yellow-green eyes. Megaera’s eyes, watching him calmly. She just sat there by his head, staring down at him. Her eyes began to swim, and then, the pain started, thundering up his body in waves. Alexander closed his eyes, letting himself sink into the darkness, letting the pain flood over him, and those bright eyes were with him as he felt himself fall.

Amanda plucked at the dead flowers that were strapped to the lamppost, and cluttered around the ground where Alexander had died. So many flowers. So many nice cards. From the students at his college, from the teachers, from neighbours, and from strangers. So many pretty cards and flowers. It was strange how nice people could be, but only if they didn’t have to do much. Sending a card, some flowers, it didn’t cost much, it didn’t require any effort. Being nice to a person, that was harder. People were so happy to show their thoughts when someone was dead, but if only one person had valued Alex when he had been alive, perhaps his last few days would have been spent in happiness, instead of filled with tears. Alexander had hidden in his room, the last few days after the date. He had been crying all weekend, had bunked off college by pretending to be sick for two more days, and had tried again for a third. But Amanda had insisted he go to college, that he face it. She had shrugged it all off as just childish pains. It hurt, yes, but he would get over it. She had known that he would.

Now he never would. Now the last memories she had of her beautiful son, before that last one of him lying in his coffin, would be that of him crying, and yelling at her that he hated her, that he didn’t want to go to college, that she didn’t understand He would have forgiven her, in time, a rational part of Amanda knew that. Only, he hadn’t forgiven her before he had died, and that made it all so hard to bear. So very hard. And his death was hard enough already. Her beautiful son. The boy she had cradled in his arms as a baby, and taught to read, who she had entertained with funny stories and puppet shows, who she had comforted after a nightmare as a child, was gone. He would never go onto university, or get married or have children. He was never coming back, she would never hear his voice again, or see his face smiling at her. She would never nag him to bring his dirty plates down from his room or to get up in the morning before he was late for college. She would never see him again.

She felt the tears welling up in her eyes again, and wiped them on her sleeve. She was going to cry, she knew it, but she didn’t want to cry out here in the street, so she turned around to open the front door. The dead flowers could wait. She would get them another day.

And then she saw the cat. The black cat, just watching her with its bright yellow eyes. “Meg,” she called softly. The cat just looked at her. Megaera had gone missing after Alexander had died. Amanda hadn’t given it much thought, she had had too much on her mind. Now the cat was back, and looking at her, it would be the right thing to do to bring it inside, to feed it. It was Alex’s cat, Alex had loved that cat, and for Alex, she would look after it.

Another cat crossed the street, a brown cat, a tom, she guessed, from the way it walked. It joined Alex’s cat and sat there beside it, looking up at Amanda. The cat’s eyes were bright blue, like Alex’s eyes had been, and he was brown, like Alex’s hair, before he had dyed it black, that was. How odd.

At least it made sense now, she guessed. Alex’s cat had found itself a mate that was why it hadn’t been around. She could look after them both. One cat, two cats, that made no difference. She would have to get them neutered, of course. The last thing she wanted was kittens.

Amanda made a move toward the cats, her hand held out beckoning gently. The cats just looked at her. God, there was something so familiar about those blue eyes on the tom. Something so familiar. They seemed to recognise her, seemed to look deep inside her, and they seemed to be forgiving her. Forgiving her for what? And for a moment those eyes seemed to be her son’s eyes, Alex’s blue eyes, smiling at her, forgiving her.

“Alex,” she whispered softly.

Then the cats got up and began to walk away. Amanda shook her head. What was she thinking? She needed to lie down, that was all. She was tired, she hadn’t been sleeping well. That was a cat, not her son. Her son was dead, but strangely, she felt better inside. Yes, he was dead, yes he was gone from her life, but she would see him again. She would be with him again. She would always miss him, always think of him, but she would see him again. The ache inside her seemed not to hurt so much. She even felt a little bit hungry, and God knew, she hadn’t felt much like eating since the accident.

She turned and walked into her house, closing the door behind her without another thought.

The two cats watched her go. The blue-eyed male and the yellow-eyed female, and then they turned and disappeared. Walking off up the street together.

Copyright © 2004 by Fran Jacobs

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