“Cheddar” by Justin Eells

tucker-good-520740-unsplash.jpgAfter college, Yvonne and her best friend Dave had different ideas about their relationship, and it ended badly. Dave turned red, his eyes bugged out, all the fluid seemed to drain from his whole body, and he disintegrated into a fine sand, right before Yvonne’s eyes, in her living room. The least she could do was take in his cat.
Now Cheddar, the cat, buries his orange face in Yvonne’s lime-green slipper and slinks through the sand on the hardwood floor. A crime drama plays on TV. Yvonne sets her plate on the couch, and doughy steam rises from microwave raviolis as Cheddar rubs his plush neck against her calf.
“I know,” Yvonne says. “I haven’t forgotten you.” Even though she did, sort of.
She tip-toes through the sand to the kitchen and scoops Kitty Kibble into a porcelain bowl. Cheddar crouches before the bowl, glares at the kibbles and mews: “This isn’t what I’m hungry for. Please, something else?”
Yvonne sighs. She often wishes Cheddar could find a new home, but she tries not to dwell on it, or on anything. She goes to the cupboard and opens a can of albacore, puts a spoonful atop the kibbles.
“More please,” the cat mews.
She puts one more and goes back to the living room where the pant-suited detective on TV says she could understand choosing death over marriage to this scuzzy suspect, but she’s still not convinced it was suicide. Yvonne does a half-spin into her slippers and sits. Her dinner is basically cold. She could reheat the raviolis, but instead she puts one foot over the other and lets them hang off the ottoman to keep sand off them. A psychiatric consultant on TV tells the detective that the victim’s previous 911 calls point to a pattern of manipulation and psychological abuse in the suspect.
Cheddar walks in front of the TV and makes a screechy little sound, lifts a paw and bats one of the slippers off Yvonne’s foot.
“Hey,” she says, but doesn’t look away from the TV, where the suspect, a dull-eyed potato in a button-down, walks into an interrogation room. Lady Detective tells him to take his seat.
The slipper flies into the air. Cheddar leaps up, pounces on it, and runs back into the kitchen, where he emits a succession of crackly, high-pitched roars.
“I know,” Yvonne says, “It’s hard being a cat, isn’t it.”
“Don’t patronize me,” Cheddar says. “I need water. Even just a spoonful would be something, pretty please.”
The detective asks the suspect about his marriage and his wife’s friends. He says he loved her. Yvonne believes him, but she isn’t sure if he killed her. Cheddar mews.
“I’m sorry,” Yvonne says, and tiptoes across the gritty floor. “Sorry I forgot the water. You can have as much as you want.”
“And,” Cheddar says, lifting a paw, “a Seafloor Medley chew.”
“What? You just had–”
“A Seafloor Medley, please. I could have died.”
She sets a water-filled mug on the floor and reaches into the skinny cabinet by the stove where she stores some ancient gravy packets and two boxes of the fancy vacuum-packed Seafloor Medley cat chews, which are the only kind Cheddar will eat anymore. When Cheddar first moved in with Yvonne, he did nothing but wallow and cry on the floor, clearing little cat shapes in the sand, and one night he looked up at Yvonne and said, “I can’t see this as a permanent thing. I really don’t like living with you.” That’s when she went out and bought the boutique cat chews. She hands one to Cheddar, who takes it to his spot under the kitchen table.
On TV, tears are welling in the suspect’s eyes, and they seem sincere. Yvonne feels bad for him as a visible chill comes over the interrogation room. Yvonne tries to imagine what it must be like for him, and wonders if he really did it. She decides that even if he did, she’ll still root for him.
The raviolis have congealed into a single glutinous glob. It’s been mostly frozen meals since Cheddar moved in. Frozen ravioli, frozen lasagna, frozen pizza, ice cream sandwiches. She considers skipping to an ice cream sandwich now. She considers two. Instead, she keeps her feet on the ottoman.
Reporters and photographers surround the defendant’s grizzled attorney as he climbs the steps to the courthouse on trial day, but Yvonne’s eyelids sink and the drama becomes an indistinct cloud of cuffs and gavels and voices, then it all blows away like a dune, leaving Yvonne alone in a large room she identifies as Parke Town Lanes, where she and Dave worked in college. It’s after hours, and she’s closing, but she has lost her phone. Her ringtone seems to be coming from everywhere and nowhere, and she knows it’s Dave trying to reach her, because who else would it be, and she looks in the ball caddies and under inexplicable piles of team parkas and caps that cover the chairs. The floor ripples, Yvonne tumbles, the dream shifts and Dave is stroking her ankles with his fingers, with a feather duster, with a piece of fur. Her ankles, her calf–and Yvonne jerks her leg, Cheddar’s paws land on her belly, and the plate falls to the floor. She squints at Cheddar’s aerodynamic face, the wide eyes looking from Yvonne to the overturned plate and back. A sitcom couple on TV are arguing about hair in the sink. The raviolis will have to be picked up, the floor will have to be cleaned, but for now Yvonne reaches out hoping Cheddar will rub his face against her hand. Instead, he leaps off the couch and darts into the kitchen, leaving sand clouds in the air, stinging her eyes and nostrils.

 

 

 

 

Justin Eells lives in Minneapolis, where he works at a print shop making lit mags. Usually after a shower, he prefers to squeegee off with the back of a comb before even touching a towel. He is currently at work on a novel, and he tweets @jt_eells

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