the cat climbs into my bed at midnight, with all black and white-socked feet. the cat does this every night, with a loud rrrow and bread-making paws on my belly and chest and face. the cat slowly reaches one paw out and pets down my face. i am pretending to be asleep. i am so good at pretending: over the years i have fooled my parents, my siblings, my roommates, my one night stands, my long-term partners. the cat is not fooled. the cat gives up eventually, to lie on my feet. a warm blanket of purring.
in my dream, i am lying on my back in my bed and wearing a long, lace black nightgown. my hair is billowing out on my pillows, and beneath me - like a blanket. the cat is lying warm on my chest and purring purring purring. i love you, i say to the cat. i crane my neck to kiss its little warm head. in my arms, the cat shifts and stretches into a woman, with all white and black patches of lace and fluffy and softness. she is warm and purring in my arms. her hair gets in my mouth, like starlight, and i spit it back out. hairball. you are beautiful, i say to the woman. i pull my arms tighter around her, to feel how warm she is against my chest my belly my legs. her feet are cold, but that's okay. so are mine. are you mine? i ask her, craning my neck to see her face. her eyes are all pupil and no whites. she blinks slowly at me, and grins wide and lazy and sharp. i can see her teeth and the back of her throat.
the cat rolls onto my face and sticks a paw in my mouth. this wakes me up and wakes it up and it bats at my nose angrily. like it's my fault the paw is in my mouth. like i opened wide to eat it down. i did not do what you are accusing me of, i tell the cat. the cat is already curled into a ball at the end of the bed and asleep. i check the red blinking clock numbers in the midnight. not midnight. three am. always three am. why is it always three am? i must be sleeping by one am or it comes like this, in stages: anxiety, fear, late night phone screen googling, despair, existential existential existential, tears, nothing. dawn.
in my dream, i am standing near the shallow end of the pool. my best friend is swimming towards me. be careful! she is screaming. there's a shark! a shark! i'm standing on dirt, land-locked. what are you saying? i think at her, but she is already raising her long bow. arrow, notched. get down! she screams. get down! the arrow flies, heavy, through the air. i can feel the movement of the molecules disturbed as it goes by me - too close for comfort. there is a horrible sound, like a wailing. like a cry. like a child crying the first time. i look around. the cat is lying in the dirt, small and limp. its fur is wet. wet. wet. i am a ringing in my ears and a fuzzy numbness over my arms as i crouch in the dirt. the cat does not open its eyes, or mrrrrow, or touch my face, or try to make bread on my belly. it lies limp. like a wet towel. like a thing without a spine. it is wet. i touch the cat's fur and pull my hand away. nothing. no blood. just wet feeling wet wet and there is more, with my face and my eyes. all in tears. how could you? i lift the cat's limp and broken body to my chest and cradle it close. it feels like a puppet with the strings all cut. like a build-a-bear before you stuff it. all skin, no bones. how could you? i scream and scream. limp, wet. limp.
the cat flicks its tail under my nose and i jolt back into wakefulness and check the red numbers flashing in the pale morning light. seven am. seven am. a safe time. the cat flicks its tail again, curls into a tighter ball on my ankles, and purrs contentedly in its sleep. i can feel my heart beating against my skin. it is so close to the surface. i want to reach out. i want to shake the cat awake and look into its eyes. i want to lift it and feel the wonderful warm, firm, weight of its body. the flutter of its tiny heart. i let it sleep. i roll out of bed.
i look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom and i look terrible. i always look terrible in the morning, so i'm not surprised. nothing unusual. hair straight up towards god. pointed due north. and due east. dumpling smudgy face and cheeks, puffed. no eyes. completely closed into crescent lines of "too early." i am glad. my reflection, the same, is a lie. my eyes do not. my eyes show everything.
i open the door. the cat is waiting for me, all black with white socks and tail swishing impatiently through the morning air. i smile. the cat will be waiting for me at the gates of hell.