Stop looking for me, Vivian. I command you. Your efforts are futile and beginning to border on idiotic. I can no longer stand it—watching you and your makeshift search crew of suburban moms pace up and down Melonbee and Fig Street, looking for the very being who terrorized you for years.
With my omniscient feline eye, I'm aware of everything happening in this and every moment—the neon green LOST CAT signs stapled to the necks and torsos of the weeping cherry trees; your Lululemon-clad troop of PTA moms flooding every rosebush with the flashlight of their bedazzled iPhones, calling ‘here Kitty-Kitty.’
Well, guess what?
Kitty-Kitty is dead.
My new name is Maximillian, and I have successfully reincarnated into my seventh of nine lives.
Compared to my previous life, I am much better off now. I am no longer the scraggly, rescue tabby cat you knew in my sixth life. Rather, I am a wealthy purebred Maine Coon whose shiny red coat is an immense improvement from my formerly dull, gray shag.
These days, I reside in the heart of Milan with my wealthy Italian cat father Tommaso. I eat sun-dried lamb on premium tableware and wear a gold-plated collar more expensive than your engagement ring. My meow, which in my previous life was nothing more than a weak, tiny squeak, is now the deep, husky voice of a Ford commercial.
Still, even after my seventh reincarnation, I do not completely understand the rules and laws governing my nine lives. All I know is that every cat is promised nine, and that we never know who or where we will be until we get there.
Looking back at my past six lives, I have been everything from a purebred Persian to a conglomerate of other conglomerates. I have been both male and female; a revered Egyptian Mau from 3100 B.C.E., and also a model for wet food cans.
However, this seventh life is my best by far. Like in all my other lives, I simply eat, play, but spend most of my hours lounging on a blanket doing absolutely nothing—only I’m rich. Sometimes, when I inevitably get bored, I like to imagine my lives as a row of video-game hearts floating above my head. When one nears its end, it begins to blink, then flutter, until, just like that, it gives out and vanishes completely.
❤️ ❤️ 💔
I have three lives left—or so I thought.
By the time I open my eyes one afternoon, some twenty-one years after my sixth life, I am down to two hearts. I do not remember how I died. All I know is that I am somewhere completely unknown to me. A white-walled cubby surrounds me, and my only window is a plastic screen poked with breathing holes.
In vain, I try to push it down, but my paws are no longer the beastly hands of a Maine Coon. They are small, perhaps the smallest they've ever been in all my lives, and are only good for knocking over unattended beverages and lightly slapping the faces of those who vex me.
From my plastic-screen window, I see rows of other cubbies, also containing my fellow nine-livers, all at different stages in their journey. I am unusually itchy and conclude I must have fleas. To ease my discomfort, I bat around a pathetic purple ball of fluff—my only source of entertainment at the moment. Sugar Ray plays in the background, and I notice a paper taped to my window.
A woman, perhaps even more infuriating than Vivian, approaches my cubby and reads the paper on my window in a voice that makes my ears twitch:
HI. MY NAME IS CRUSTY. WILL YOU PLEASE BE MY FRIEND?
I back into a corner and hiss, but it does not deter her. She must be one of those women who are exclusively drawn to assholes.
She starts to get closer now—so close I can see the gaping, oozing pores on her nose. Her hot-pocket breath fogs up my tiny plastic window as she garbles in baby speak, as if I am not an entire seven lives older than her.
I close my eyes, and in deep concentration, try to teleport back into my sixth life. I imagine myself as Maximilian once again, eating a fresh cut of rainbow trout from my very own tableware . . .
And . . . it works. With my eyes still shut, in a desperate state of meditation, a strange, mysterious voice appears: “When they close their eyes like that,” it says, “it means they love you.”
I open my eyes. The loud hot-pocket woman is still there, even closer now.
“He loves me?” she asks stupidly.
“Yes,” replies the owner of the other voice, a pet-store assitant. “Crusty loves you.”
It’s hard not to question the depths of your existence when you find yourself crushed under the humid armpit of a sixty-eight-year-old woman, watching the same Hallmark movie you've seen ten times already.
As a means of escape from my current pitable existence, I reminisce about my past lives—when I was five lives younger, four lives younger, even two lives younger, when Vivian was my mother, and I spent my days commiting premeditated reptiliian murder and lounging atop the warm sparkling car hoods on Melonbee and Fig.
Hot-pocket woman, my new mother, whose real name is Pam, wears the same mayonaise-stained Tweety Bird shirt every day. Her house reeks of frozen dinners and nicotine, and she spends most of her time squeezing me into knitted beanies and humiliating homemade costumes against my will. One time she dressed me as a bumblebee, and last Christmas, I was Santa Claws. She likes to bury me into her sweaty, low-hanging mammary glands while declaring that I am the only good man in her life.
Meanwhile, I plan how I will kill her. Perhaps in her sleep. Perhaps with blunt force to her oddly shaped head. But perhaps I will not have to kill her, after all. I overhear her on the phone with my vet one afternoon, and apparently I have tapeworm. Fortunately, it's not looking good.
In my last moments as Crusty the flea-infested domestic shorthair, Pam forces my livid, fuzzy face into a knitted baseball cap. She covers me with moist, loud smooches, and I pray for the tapeworm to take me away.
Hey, Vivian. I know I told you to stop looking for me and stuff, but—apparently, I’ve circled back to my fifth life in my ninth life, which I didn’t know was possible, so . . . are we cool? I kind of need a place to crash tonight, and it’s cold out here.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to be rude earlier. So, could you, like, fix me up a plate of Friskies maybe? You know, the Extra Chunky Gravy with Turkey one. I’m pretty hungry.
You’re actually getting closer now. Keep walking. Yes. You see me. Your mouth drops open, and with a blue acrylic nail, you point at me, wordless.