He is leaving me.
I am not sure how I know, but I do. His hands linger on me a little more these days, stroking my hair into glossy sleekness. He rubs the spot behind my ears and murmurs words at me, soft soothing things that sound like sadness, and then he sets me in his lap and pets me some more. Usually he pats me absently while the box flickers with noiseless images. When he taps at the machine that warms his lap, I have to push my way onto the humming surface to make him notice me. Remind him we need to eat. To sleep. Lately, though, he sets the machine aside and rubs my fur, eyes focused and bright as my own. I purr loud enough for him to hear me, and when I lie down, I know he can feel the vibrations in his body. I rub my face against his hand until he strokes my head again. He smells warm and familiar. He smells like home.
I do not want him to go.
He gives me more of the wet food, the kind that tastes like real fish. I lick the juice and remember fat, fleshy salmon he shared with me once when I was small and the world was large and strange. We feasted like kings. The small bag rattles more frequently these days, soft chewy morsels spilling into his open palm. My tongue licks his skin to steal the last crumbs, and he talks at me as if I can understand the sounds he makes. His noises are mostly incomprehensible, but sometimes I believe I can almost interpret his meaning.
When he is happy, the room is full of the sound of him, hands flying through the air like birds, and I leap up and follow his movements, chase his fingers with my sheathed (never open) claws. Sometimes he drags a coloured string along the floor and I wait until it almost disappears over the edge of the couch before I strike. I have a theory that the string will vanish forever if I cannot catch its tail. It is only a theory, though. We have tried again and again, but I never miss. I do not like to lose.
When he is quiet, sometimes he is working and the work is good. He never minds when I tunnel under his papers or if I sit on his shoulder and watch his fingers dance. He sometimes sets me on the floor, straightens the new arrangement I’ve made of his things, and tosses a toy in my direction. I humour him. I play with the green felt ball that pretends to be a mouse. It looks nothing like one, but perhaps he does not know this. I toss it in the air a few times, bat it under the couch and hope he forgets about it. I stretch my paws as if reaching for it, but really all I want is sleep. I nap, but I open one eye occasionally to see what he is doing. When he is silent, head tipped against the edge of the table, or bent against the arm of the couch, I nudge him with my nose. He should not sleep curled up. He is not a cat.
He has always given me my proper due. I can sleep stretched against his side, or sitting on his stomach, paws kneading the soft flesh of his belly. He rumbles in the night with a purr of his own, and I crawl under the blankets, rub against the downy fur of his legs. If my claws catch the thin fabric of his clothing, he prods gently until I let go. Sometimes I do so without exercising my inalienable right to scratch where I want, but sometimes I leave my mark on his hand. It thrills me a little to let him know that he is mine. The scratch will only sting, but it reminds him of me whenever he sees it. It is a necessary hurt for someone who is not here nearly enough.
Once there was someone else here. She stayed through two full cycles of sleep, talking as much as he did as she made small adjustments to the space. She smelled like roses and curled herself around him until their smells were mingled, and though I pawed at the door during the night, I slept alone. I chose to express my dissatisfaction on the corner of the ragged couch.
I followed her around to see what she changed. She gave water to the drying dracaena I’d chewed to a nub. I tried to catch the drops as they fell, but she nudged me away. She poured water into a bowl, but I prefer the cup he leaves me in the tub. I saw no need to change for her. I knew she would not be there long, and I am always right.
Then it was just the two of us again. It has been that way ever since. Even when he tricked me into a wire-meshed cage and I woke up in a place that smelled like fish soup and kerosene, it was only us. When we moved to the place with snow and more snow, I never felt warm except wrapped against his skin, beneath his orange fleece, but it was still only us.
Things are changing.
This is different from when he leaves during the day and comes home smelling like other people and machines. It is even different from when he pulls the square box out of storage—the one I like to hide in—and he lets me jump on the piles of clothing with only mild noises of reproach. There are many cardboard boxes now, and I know they are not all for me to explore.
He is going away and I am not going with him. I do not know what I have done. I press against his legs, curling my tail tight around his ankle. I try to speak to him, but we have never understood each other well. He gives me extra treats and lets me sleep in his lap. It is not enough.
One day the boxes are gone. The noisy creature that lives in the hall closet has eaten all the scraps and crumbs that were scattered around the carpet. The kitchen smells clean, like soap and vinegar. It does not smell like him anymore. Or me. He gathers me against his chest and holds me for a long time. He murmurs soft things and strokes my hair. I try to convince him not to go, but the look in his eyes says his mind is made up. In some ways he is already gone. This is no easier for him than it is for me, and there is some comfort in that I suppose. Finally, he bundles me under his arm and presses his lips to the top of my head. I bury my claws in the front of his shirt and hang on. He does not even wince at the pain.
Then we are in the brightness of the hallway and his pace is determined. I hear the knocking, but all I can look at is him. We’ve been together through so much. I cannot remember a time when I did not know him, his scent. I did not expect to leave this life in the company of another, but somehow I know it is not his wish.
His hands are trembling against my fur as he hands me to her. She smells like oranges and for a moment I am stricken. Surely, he would not leave me with …
His hand cups my face again, rumples my fur in a way that only he is allowed, and I stretch my paws towards him one last time. He makes a kind of broken sound, rubs his face against mine, whispering what I know to be my name. I can feel the residue of salt water on my fur when he pulls away.
He disappears down the hallway, hands tight against his sides, and I make one last plea for him to consider what he is doing. His step falters, but he does not turn back. He cannot. I know this is not easy for him. He has told me in every way that matters.
The door closes and presents me with a new space to explore. There is the familiar scent of my things, toys and yarn, an old t-shirt I sometimes sleep on. The woman still smells like oranges, but there is also the smell of rain and in her hand are the same kind of treats he gives to me. She rubs my head gently and makes small noises low in her throat. She says my name, but it is not the same.
I curl up on one of his shirts and try to sleep. I do not purr. Not even a little.
I miss him.