Bleached Black Cats On Bitter Days

I stepped out for a cigarette this morning and an old Korean woman, clutching a gray and white Shih Tzu, stumbled into me, wild hair, mask askew, eyes in a panic, stomping the ground with one foot and hissing Korean toward a cat, a black cat, with only one ear that I recognized from before the pandemic began when I saw it under a car one day in the rain where I’d gotten close and opened a can of tuna for it, but it ran off rather than be near me, though it wasn’t afraid now, looking up at the woman, the Shih Tzu, and eventually: me, while the woman was saying something to me in Korean back at the cat who moved closer; eyes latched to the Shih Tzu as it walked between my legs, rubbing its body against my calf before it looked up at me and I felt I could read its mind: “I’ll let you have the old lady if you leave me the Shih Tzu,” is what it was about to say before our connection was broken by the arrival of a car, a silver Hyundai that pulled up with the door opened that the old Korean woman dove through, Shih Tzu first, and then the car took off so I said “oh well,” to the cat and reached down to scratch the back of its neck but it leaned away and looked up at me so that I could see myself through its eyes: masked, tired, lonely, disinfected, and it scoffed, turned its back, and strut slowly away even though I called, before it got out of earshot, “you’re not safe either, you know” but it didn’t turn, didn’t give me the satisfaction, only walked, as if with all the time in the world, in the direction the silver Hyundai had gone.

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*originally published in Maudlin House

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