Sleeping with Cats (Middle)


As far as Rick was concerned, they were then a couple. Linda didn’t see it that way. She liked the sex and the ice (she hadn’t met Re yet), but she wasn’t ready for a full relationship. She told Rick so, but she was too busy with her job to reiterate, and Rick was a good encroacher. Before she knew it he had a key to her place and was almost living there. He said he wanted to move in. She held the line.

She felt she didn’t have enough time for him; she needed to work long days and couldn’t afford more than two evenings a week. But he twisted his fingers in her hair and insinuated his knee between hers, and before she meant she was letting him pleasure her incredibly well.

Six months after they met he talked her into letting him and his cat move in. The sex was still good. Other things weren’t bad, either. They discovered they liked skiing together, playing with icicles, resting afterwards. Rick bought her garnet earrings, sapphires and topaz for her wrists. Linda settled into her job and rearranged office administration to suit her; she had more time. Then it started to go bad.

Part of the problem was Re. Linda likes cats as much as the next person who doesn’t live with one; she thinks kittens are adorable and mature cats are graceful and mysterious. She finds it hard to believe that cats can love people. Maybe Re sensed that in her; he was standoffish. Except he slept on the bed. Except he tended to creep up between Linda and Rick during the night, and settle for sleep on Linda’s chest with his tail curled ticklishly near her nose.

That’s when Linda started having the dreams. It’s true that bad things were happening at work; as Rick reminded her over and over, she had ample cause for nightmares. But every time Linda awoke, on her back and sweaty, it was to the oppressive feeling of that large cat on her chest. Dead warm weight. And if she jerked up shrieking, as she did the first two times, Re freaked out and clawed her. Linda agreed with Rick that she couldn’t fault the animal for its waking instincts, but she also told him she did not want the cat on her bed. Rick tut-tutted her, and lifted Re protectively into his arms. He set Re on the bedside rug, where Linda heard the rhythmic tear of claws on wool. Rick said, “Don’t take your bad day out on the cat,” as he turned out the light.

Linda lay there and stewed. About Rick, about Re, about work. Her first six months at MainePlanes had been delightful: the honeymoon phase when every change she made was for the better, when morale did nothing but climb. They quickly upgraded their berths, improved their fleet, and filed for additional flights. They were on their way to relative bigness and then, two months ago, the FAA came in and seized records because an ex-employee contended that not all the maintenance had been performed as was indicated in the files. The ex-employee was a troublemaker whom Linda inherited with the job, but it happens that his allegations were a little bit correct: with the fast expansion, in a very few cases unnecessary checks hadn’t been done, and the planes never would have been cleared to fly if the papers indicated that. Linda hadn’t known about the faked records; she instituted controls to avoid recurrence of the problem. She started waking at least once each night, and finding the cat on her chest.

A week later, Flight 612 crashed in the ocean en route to Boston. All eighty-eight on board were killed as the jet plunged into the cold nighttime sea. The plane’s records were accurate and immaculate but that didn’t change the fatalities. It was the worst event in many lives, Linda’s included. It’s not surprising that her bad dreams then became nightmares: flying/falling dreams in the darkness, with that dreadful catch in the heart as the dreamer understands the moment has come to die. Pressured oppressive dreams that Linda somehow hauled herself up out of, to find a cat dead-asleep on her upper chest and neck.

Then came two minor security incidents, but MainePlanes couldn’t take more bad press. A dummy bomb fell out of a thirteen-year-old’s backpack, after he’d cleared security. Two days later a man tried to assault the pilot and was subdued by five passengers. No one could figure out why the man went for the pilot or how he got that big knife through the metal detectors. It would be months before they learned that the perpetrator was another ex-employee.

That night Linda picked a big fight with Rick.

Ostensibly it was about what he made for dinner. He knew she was trying to lose weight; she sure didn’t need lobster thermidor. But really the fight was about Linda feeling suffocated. She had problems at work and no privacy at home. Rick’s attention was too persistent. Re was obnoxious.

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