Cat and Man by Miriam Burke

She turns towards him in her sleep and he is buffeted by a squall of stale breath. ‘If I loved her, I would love her stale breeze‘, he says, sadly, to the self he has never stopped loving. He creeps out of bed, takes his rucksack from above the wardrobe, and fills it with clothes he cannot see. Before he leaves the bedroom, he looks at the undulations of her sleeping body and sees it submerged beneath the tide of tears she will shed.

He hurries down the wooden stairs to the kitchen. He shoves a Camembert, tomatoes she has grown, and a bottle of wine in the rucksack. The cold-eyed cat who has been impregnating his neighbours’ all night, observes him carefully – he is learning how to open the fridge. The cat would like the man’s big claws. The man would like the cat’s social life.

The man examines the rack of CDs in the living room. He takes only the ones he has given her. They had always given what they had wanted. He looks at the bookshelf for a while and turns away, without taking anything. He will be living, not reading. When he has finished living, he will write a book: a book that women will love as they have loved him. He doesn’t look at the shelf of DVDs – he will be living, not watching.

He closes the front door quietly behind him. The cat bounds up the stairs and leaps into his mistress’s bed. She sits up, takes the dead mouse from her mouth, returns it to the cat, and says: ‘Well, thank the Goddess for that.’

The cat chews happily on the dead mouse while his mistress phones her friends to tell them the good news. She hears the front door opening. He is back. She knows it must be raining – he hates getting wet.

Miriam Burke has a PhD in psychology and worked for many years as a consultant clinical psychologist in the NHS before becoming a full-time writer. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, broadcast on radio, and a number of her stories have been awarded prizes.

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