Strange but it’s the deafening sound of silence in my bedroom that wakes me. The TV’s gone off hours ago due to the sleep timer I set. The heater seems to have gone off as well; the temperature in the room has reached its setting. I live on a fifth floor, so the rush of cars outside is too distant, and the windows are too thick to really let any sounds in. Even my upstairs neighbors are quiet tonight. The usual game of musical chairs closed for the night.
Everything is still. The silence almost an eerie vacuum to my ears. A thought creeps in that this is what it’ll sound like when I’m dead. I quickly push it away. Stupid thought to have as if one could still have the ability to hear after death. I try to push that thought away, too, that word. My morbid brain repeats it now, just for kicks, just to see what it can get out of me. Death. Death. Death. Ugh.
White light illuminates my sheer curtains from the outside. I turn from my side to my back, careful when I stretch my legs, carving a curve around the bottom half of my bed out of habit. I’m laying slanted on my mattress staring up, my legs near the edge of the bed. I look down at the space I’ve left empty, the reason I’ve been careful with my leg placement. It’s just empty blanket space.
I sigh loudly into the vacant silence. Static noise helps me sleep, but tonight it’s extra quiet in here. I reach for the remote and turn the TV back on, turn it on low, rest the remote on the pillow beside me, not bothering to set a sleep timer this time. I turn to my other side hoping to find sleep again. I reach for the extra pillow and place it on the empty space beside my legs.
In spite of my lapse of sleep in the early morning hours, I manage to sleep for at least two more hours than I usually do. I wake up at seven in a panic, uncertain of what planet I am even on. My room is bright with sunlight now, and I’m still crammed to one edge of the bed even though I sleep alone. I get up to pee and leave the bathroom door open out of habit. Again, not that it matters – who’s going to walk in on me? I hear the faint chirping of birds outside the windowsill where some birds have made their nest in my begonias last spring. The blinds are closed so I don’t see them, but I do see the crooked slat that I’ve been saying I’m going to fix for almost a year now. There are small, torn gaps in the screen behind the crooked slat and tiny teeth marks on the plastic tassel. Maybe I’ll finally get to fixing it now.
I make my way to the kitchen swiftly. The walk down the hall to the living room and kitchen, feeling almost as if I’d woken up in a new house. I see the pictures of me and Harley that I hung up after our vacation in Venice last summer, the Grand Canal wide, open and full of promise behind us. I notice the dust lining the top edge of the frame. I almost don’t even remember hanging those there. At least now I can remember to remove them.
As I walk, I step on a hard furry bulge. I look down at the floor, the familiar angle my head takes every morning, the reason I never really get a chance to appreciate the walls of my apartment. I lift my foot and find a toe-sized white and blue play mouse under the arch of my foot. I pick it up by its faux-furry tail and place it on the kitchen counter, next to my keys. I side-eye my keys, still unaccustomed to not finding them on the floor.
I start a pot of coffee, yawn, scratch my head and reach into the pantry for a small can of “real tuna and whole shrimp” cat food. I pull the lid open, turn to face the bowl on the floor and see that it’s not there.
“Oh,” I say to myself. “Right.”
I remember that I put it away a day ago. So I step over to the garbage bin and dump the can and all its contents in. I open the fridge and stare at it for a long time, for a while forgetting what I even opened it for. I close it again and sigh, crossing the kitchen swiftly back to the coffee maker which is now gurgling with ready-made coffee. I wonder if I will ever grow accustomed to crossing the floors of my apartment without the constant threat of tripping and falling.
When I return to my desk from my short bathroom break at work, my phone is buzzing. I pick it up to find a phone call from Scam Likely attempting to get through. I don’t usually answer these, but these last few days I can’t afford to reject these calls. I know what will happen next, and yet I can feel my stomach tighten as it holds on to a shadow of hope.
“Hi, I’ve been trying to reach you about your current car insurance—”
“I don’t have a car!” I practically scream into the phone before pressing the End button hard, watching my thumb flicker from pink to pale white. It’s days like these I miss the use of regular landline phones. There’s nothing quite like slamming an earpiece down on its base to receive some immediate catharsis.
This happens twice more. Then around 12 p.m., I get a text from Harley. I haven’t heard from her in three months, but there it is, blinking green on my phone’s home screen.
Hey. I rode past your road on my way to the park today.
Was that your Tormund on those flyers?
I’m tempted to not respond, to leave her hanging and unknowing. But then I remember how much Tormund enjoyed her presence and the way she always brought him a treat when she came over. The way she’d sometimes let him sleep on her lap for hours. She loved him like her own. That she’s messaging me, after all this time, in spite of everything that transpired between us, shows that her affection for Tormund was and continues to be genuine. I can be a dick and choose to leave her hanging while she sincerely worries about Tormund’s fate, or I can reply and be a decent human being like she’s trying to be. Besides, I have my karma to keep in mind. So I text back.
Yeah, it’s him.
Only two seconds later her replies are blinking on my phone.
I’m so sorry, Leah. How long has he been gone?
I sigh and send her my reply.
I can almost hear exactly the way her voice would sound in her texts.
That’s horrible. No leads?
I wish you’d messaged me when he went missing.
I would’ve helped you look. Are you still actively looking?
I really don’t mind helping you look around for him.
I stare at her messages for too long, not really sure what to reply. There’s a part of me that wishes to say, “Yes, come” just to have her around again. But where would that lead? Except to refresh old wounds that, by my long contemplative pauses between texts, are obviously still not fully healed. On top of everything, the last thing I need right now is more stressful material to fill up my already tired brain.
That’s nice of you, but that’s alright. I’ve got it covered.
I’ll let you know if I have any updates.
She thanks me but doesn’t pressure me to allow her to help. I know she knows why I reject her help. I also know she’s going to try to help on her own. Because that’s Harley. And she loved that cat almost as much as I do.
I’m walking down the aisle of the grocery store with a loaf of bread in my hand trying to remember what else it was that I had written on that list at home on the counter. I find myself heading for the pet food aisle when halfway I remember that I don’t have any need for any of that right now. Not to mention that my pantry is still full of cat food as I haven’t had a need to use up any of my stock in the last week.
Tormund is feisty, but he’s been a house cat for too long. I don’t believe that he would know how to fend for himself out in the world on his own. I imagine him sitting at the foot of a trash bin, expecting some passerby to reach into it and hand him some treat from inside, pat him on the head as a reward just for knowing how to eat. Then again, he had been resourceful in learning how to get into the cabinet at the apartment, climbing on top of them, opening up the door and then slipping inside. Then he’d knock down the box of treats because, in spite of his cleverness, he still had no opposable thumbs.
However, there are no cabinets in the outside world to sneak into and demand snacks. There are only angry people with little patience and hungry dogs who won’t tolerate lip from a presumptuous cat who’s never had to fight for a day’s meal. If he were more like the character he was named after, maybe I’d be less concerned. Even if I never saw him again, I’d be sure he’d survived alright.
I’m having salmon for dinner. I finish so quickly, I don’t even realize when I’m done. Amazing the amount of time the world gives you back when you don’t have to keep trying to push a furry face out of your plate.
The Daily Show is on, and Trevor Noah is interviewing Henry Cavill. The house is in total darkness except for the glow from the TV. I’m lying on my couch munching on chips. No one here to play whack-a-mole with, as my hand creates a suspicious creature inside the bag that must be annihilated. I roll the bag closed, put it away, turn the TV off, and head off to bed.
There’s that silence again. The one that reminds me of death. No soft rumbling beside me to remind me that the world is still whirring outside. I turn the TV back on, no sleep timer. I pull the pillow next to my legs. I consider getting one of those furry pillowcases from the home store tomorrow. Maybe I’ll pick up a static noise machine, something that purrs.
Coffee’s going. I make a grab for the cabinet with all the cat food. My shoulders drop as I remember. I close it again.
“Dear Citizen—” the automated voice begins.
“Bloody—,” I mutter as I jab the End button on my phone and put it down.
Two seconds later I pick it up again. I check the Facebook post I made about Tormund a week ago, even though I have no notifications.
I lock my phone and slam it down on my desk.
It was peanut butter. I forgot to get peanut butter yesterday.
I think about Tormund getting his snout stuck in an empty jar of peanut butter somewhere in someone’s trash bin.
You’re not supposed to eat peanut butter, you fat ass. One lick, no more.
I sigh. Please don’t eat something you’re not supposed to while you’re out there.
I’ve ordered Chinese take-out for dinner. I don’t have the energy to cook anything today.
I eat silently and in peace. No one around to play Chopstick Grabbing Ninja with every movement of my hands.
I don’t even know what Trevor Noah is talking about tonight. I’m on my phone trying to find any Tormund-relevant posts. My feet on the couch are cold. No one around to curl up at my feet and make them warm, with the intermittent threat of a random toe bite.
I’m going to die alone.
Tonight, I pull the extra pillow closer to me. I don’t know where it comes from but my sobs are softly filling up the dreary silence of the night.
I haven’t removed Harley’s pictures from the wall. That blue and white toy mouse is still sitting on the counter for the third day in a row. My coffee is extra black today.
I’ve got a bottle of six dollar wine and a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream
Celebrating you, tonight, Tormund. You’d be glad to not be there tonight. If you didn’t already think lowly of humans with all our feelings, tonight I would shame you.
There’s a knock at the door, right as I’m pouring one out for Tormund. I put my glass down and make my way to the door, looking through the peephole to find Harley standing outside, something looking like a large, heavy suitcase hanging from her arms.
I open the door and she looks up at me, but my eyes fall first at what I can now see with complete clarity is an animal carrier.
Before either of us can even arrange our thoughts fast enough to say something, a throaty meow resounds from inside the pet carrier.
“Tormund?” I ask, falling to my knees.
“Yeah,” Harley says, a light giggle follows her confirmation. “I had some spare time, so I knocked around a few doors. You wouldn’t think he’d get far considering his less-than-optimal physique, but I came onto a house ten miles from here. The old man who lives there said he found him perched in his tree three days ago. He’d alerted his local vet, which is about twenty miles the other way. He decided to foster him until someone showed up or keep him otherwise. But yeah, I found him.”
I’m on my hands and knees staring into the little barred door of the carrier. Tormund rubs the top of his head against it and lets out another meow.
“This is insane! I thought I checked everywhere!” I stand now, pushing the door open. “Please, come in.”
“Yeah, he made it pretty far,” she says.
I open the little metal gate and Tormund steps out. He looks up and emits a loud meow in Harley’s direction as if to reproach her last comment. I pick him up and hold him close. Heavy as he is, I feel a weight leave me now that he’s back. The room itself feels as if the light fixtures were suddenly shining brighter.
“He’s lucky to have found Mr. Winston,” says Harley stepping inside and closing the door behind her. “Took good care of him while he was there. I’d say he looks a little tubbier than the last time I saw him.”
I look at Harley as I’m holding Tormund and think about the last time she saw him. Announcing that she couldn’t do this anymore, before stepping out and slamming my door. A reel of everything else that transpired plays in my mind. The constant arguing, the accusations, the mistrust. In the end, she’d only proven me right, hadn’t she? Everyone leaves in the end.
“So, I’m glad he’s back with you,” she says. She shifts awkwardly as if maybe she, too, is having the same flashbacks as I am. “I should probably get going now.”
“Thank you so much, Har,” I say, letting Tormund wriggle himself free from my arms and leap unto the floor.
“It’s nothing,” she says. “Don’t mention it.”
She opens the door again, steps outside. “Take care,” she says and closes the door.
The moment the door is closed Tormund paws at the door as if trying to scratch it. He stretches his full length towards the knob as if he himself were going to open it, meowing at the same time.
“Stop, Tormund,” I say, clicking my fingers. “Come on over here.”
He persists, cocks his head back at me, and gives me that starving look before meowing long and desperately.
I pick him up and hold him. My eyes linger on the doorknob for a moment before my hand actually reaches for it and turns it. About ten feet away stands Harley, waiting for the elevator. Her head turns in our direction once she senses our presence.
“Hey, Harley?” I call out. “Would you like to have coffee sometime? Maybe we could…talk?”
She gives me a smile and the elevator doors open. “Sure. Send me a text. We’ll set it up.”
“Great,” I say, giving her a small smile more elated inside than I’m willing to show. “See you.”
“See you,” she says and steps into the elevator before disappearing from sight.
I step back inside, close the door behind me and put Tormund down. He leaps from my arms and runs to the place where his food bowl usually sits. He meows, looking at me. He leaps to the kitchen counter, meows again, is momentarily distracted by the reflection of light on my house keys. A complete thought barely forms before he swipes his paw and knocks them down to the floor.
I smile. Everything is suddenly falling back into place, right back to where it all belongs.