The Cat
By Mitchell Levenberg

A question to the answer: the pen is mightier than the sword.

"Sincerely, Weinstein, 4A."

I live in the big city. One night, right outside my building two men began to argue so loudly I could barely hear my TV set. When they finally stopped, the street grew quiet again, but a few seconds later my downstairs buzzer rang. "It must be those men," I thought, so I let them in. They came right up to my door, knocked on it, and when I asked who it was, they said, "Us." That was good enough for me.

When they walked in, I thought I recognized one of them, the one with the tangled hair and thick red eyes like tomato juice. Maybe it was from college that I knew him, I thought. "Can I get you fellows anything?" I asked them as if we had been friends for years and in a way I wanted that, I wanted them to think I cared, that I had no evil intentions towards them.

"We don't want nothin'," Tangled Hair said, eyeing the TV set, the stereo, the VCR, and the CD player. Then the other one, the one whose face looked like a torn envelope stuck his nose into my refrigerator and said, "Jesus Christ, he ain't got no Meisterbrau!" This made me think of my college English teacher, Mr. Bloom. "Beware of men using the double negative," Mr. Bloom used to say. "They're not only out for no good, they're out for double no good."

Then Tangled Hair said, "Got anything else to drink?" so I handed him my last bottle of scotch. I figured it would make them feel at home since I had always noticed men just like these drinking scotch in my doorway. Then Envelope Face looked at me and said, "Are those your real teeth?" I laughed, but he was serious and when he reached out to touch them with his fingers I shut down my mouth real hard like the lid of a piano.

The two men really smelled bad, and this more than anything reminded me of college and the old days of not showering and wearing torn, dirty clothes. Tangled Hair drank down his scotch from the bottle like it was lemonade on a hot day and even Envelope Face shook his head in amazement and when he did things flew out of his hair, some dead some alive. Then Envelope Face went to work. He grabbed the scotch from Tangled Hair, swigged down the rest of it, and wiped his mouth with his sleeve like in the old Westerns. Then he took out his knife, brandished it around the apartment for a while and said, "Now what do you got around here that I can cut up?" I thought about the cat my neighbor left here for the weekend so he could go upstate and visit his girlfriend. I thought about all those girlfriends who for some reason or other live upstate and how now a cat was going to die for it.

"Put that damn knife away," Tangled Hair told Envelope Face. At last, I thought: A voice of reason. "There's plenty of time for that later," he went on. "We've got to get some pussy first." He really seemed determined to stick to a schedule. This gave me some time so I excused myself to go to the bathroom. They might have stopped me but they seemed to like the idea there was a bathroom. "Bathroom!" Tangled Hair shouted. "Well, don't we live in the lap of luxury." Then I exhorted them to make themselves at home and went looking for the cat.

In the bathroom I noticed the cat was right where I expected it to be, right in the litter box. The cat tried to get away, so I grabbed it and tied a note around its neck. I had a note for every occasion for life in the big city. This one said, "Help! I am being tortured in my own apartment. Please send help. Sincerely, Weinstein, 4A." Perhaps I was getting a bit ahead of myself but I couldn't find my "Help, I'm being threatened" note, or even my "Help, I'm being held hostage note," and there was no time to look for either one of them. But then, suddenly, all the cat wanted to do was play. It licked my face and then rubbed its cheek against it. It looked into my eyes and I became totally consumed by it. Perhaps I would speak to my neighbor about this when he came back.

My neighbor was grossly misinformed about cats. Cats did not sit on window sills all day looking out at cars blurring by but studied human beings in action in order to determine whether or not they were worth being saved. I thought about how they already must be getting tired of us, of that superior "you'll eat when I'm ready to feed you," attitude and how it was just a matter of time before they abandoned us completely. I remembered how I had often trembled when coming upon a cat in some deserted alley when it simply walked past me, not once stopping to stare into the deepest core of my soul. "What have I done?" I had thought to myself." Whom have I offended? And how do I get back into the good graces of the world?" Questions like these had gone through my mind, which I like to think of as a big sponge soaking up all the doubt and uncertainty in the universe.

But now, fighting off that special attraction between me and the cat, I tossed it out the bathroom window and watched it spread its legs and then land right on top of one of the great garbage heaps of the city.


From the bathroom, I could hear chirping noises, as if small birds had alighted upon the window sills. When I came out I saw it was Tangled Hair and Envelope Face smacking their lips at the whores in the street. When I joined them at the window, I noticed one looking up and around, confused, not knowing where the sounds were coming from. Her arms went out, her palms upward as if pleading for more clues as to our whereabouts. Taxis stopped for her but she kicked their doors in and spat at their tail pipes as they sped down the street. "Fourth floor!" Tangled Hair yelled out. I was worried. What if the neighbors heard?

I buzzed in the woman without asking. When she came up the boys looked at her like they were starving and she was the Chinese food. As for me she looked very familiar and the first thing I thought of was college; in fact, I wracked my brain going over every class I ever took, but still I couldn't place her. Then again, maybe I didn't know her after all.

"Would you like to wash up?" I asked the woman.

"Why?" she asked. "Do I look dirty? Do I smell? You should have thought of that before you buzzed me in and made me burst my lungs walking up here. My job is a lateral one," she continued. "It is not straight on, it is not up and down, it is lateral."

She seemed to enjoy using that word, and it seemed to turn on the boys too. "That's just what we're looking for," said Tangled Hair. "Some lateral action." But Envelope Face disagreed.

"Up and down!" he shouted. "Up and down!"

"Two hundred bucks up front," she said, "and you boys can go in any direction you want." The boys laughed very hard.

"Since when you been workin' on Park Avenue?" Tangled Hair asked.

"Since I took a look at you two," she said. "And who are you?" she asked looking at me. "Our host?"

"With the most," Tangled Hair said sweeping his arm across the room of TVs, VCRs, CDs, and other stereo equipment like he was showing off prizes on a game show.

"I think I'm the victim," I told her, looking at the boys, hoping they'd laugh, but they just kind of stared right through me and I knew that either there would have to be a sudden and decisive rearrangement of the molecular structure of their brains, that is their total transformation into kind and loving boys, boys just out for a harmless good time, or else I would have to get out of there as fast as possible. But I really couldn't hope for either, so I thought that if this were a movie we'd be just about up to the part where the squeamish start to cover their eyes and everyone else gets ready for the blood and gore.

Then, just like that, Tangled Hair wanted to get started. "The money first," said the woman, closing up her jacket to hide her breasts more. "We don't have no money," Tangled Hair said, grabbing the woman's left arm. "Yeah! We ain't got nothin' but needs," Envelope Face said, grabbing the woman's right arm. And before I could even suggest we all sit down over a strong cup of coffee and talk things over in a civilized and grammatical way, the boys had already dragged her over to the couch and at that moment I wondered what Mr. Bloom would have thought about all this, good old Mr. Bloom who kept telling us how much potential we had to be great in the world and how it was our responsibility to make the world a better place to live in and how you had to start with an appreciation of good literature and a solid foundation of grammar because the power of the English language was the greatest power on Earth and so forth and so on and I looked at Tangled Hair and Envelope Face just giving it to her like that while I stood there helpless, although with a solid foundation of grammar behind me, so first I tried the imperative and said, "Stop it or I'll. . .!" and then the conditional and said, "If you don't stop, I'll . . .!" and finally the subjunctive saying, "If I were you I wouldn't . . .!" but nothing helped and then I looked towards the open window and there stood my neighbor's cat, the note gone from around its neck, just staring at the woman with the boys on her. Funny how at that moment the cat looked so much like Mr. Bloom did back in college, the yellow and bloodshot eyes like an exotic cocktail mix, penetrating our poor souls soaked with alcohol and linguistic indifference. How too, just like the cat now, Mr. Bloom's back would arch, the fur on the back of his neck stand up, his neck thrust outwards, his legs spread wide as if he were about to spring on us for all our grammatical transgressions.

And now the cat stares and the woman screams and Tangled Hair says, "It won't do no good screamin'" and Envelope face says, "No way you ain't gettin' yours today," and I say to the cat, "Attack, Mr. Bloom, attack!" thinking of Mr. Bloom even though I'm looking at the cat. "You heard what he said!" I scream. 'It won't do you no good,' No way you ain't,'? Did you hear that? Did you? Are you deaf or something? Attack for God's sake!" But the cat won't move. He just stands there staring at me and then at the boys who are on the woman, and so we wait, standing there in the middle of my living room, in the middle of a world of doubt and uncertainty, for the cat to make up its mind.



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