by Courtney McDermott
“Fancy, darling, please move.”
Agatha leans over me, her words little puffs of air that tickle my ears. Her eyes, like dull green marbles sunk into her dough-colored face, stare at me.
“Pleee-ase,” she says, “I really need this chair.”
I blink at her and turn my head away.
There is only one chair. One stiff, upright, wooden chair that Agatha pulled off of a trash heap down the street. Our studio is a collage of trash bin remnants, street leftovers filling up the only space she can afford on her art teacher salary.
Agatha picks me up and dumps me on the bed next to the chair. I yawn and curl up near her pillow.
She swishes throughout the room, straightening the tablecloth, rubbing a spot on the doorknob with her curled fist, waiting for the iron to heat up. She walks in her slip and I eye the thin, silk thread that hangs from the hem. If I weren’t on the brink of a nap, I would be tempted to leap over to her and pull that thread.
Agatha picks up the iron and spits on its surface to see if it’s ready. Her spit creates crackling heat bubbles that remind me of the crackling of insect vertebrae when I stomp upon them. Agatha hasn’t fixed our bug problem, so when she is out I chase them along the floorboards, giving them a head start before pouncing upon them. Otherwise, it is very dull inside the apartment.
“It’s almost seven. Come on,” she mumbles to the iron, quickly swooping it across her dress. She stands with one foot resting on the other, leaning into the ironing board that takes up half the room. She sucks on her bottom lip, a habit I absolutely detest.
I wrinkle my whiskers at her and whine.
“Oh, Fancy, not now. I need to get ready.”
I flick my tail, peering through slanted eyes ready to close at any minute as I drift towards sleep. Agatha shimmies into her dress, the black fabric tucking into the folds of her skin.
“Where did I put my bracelet?” She searches through items on her dresser top, knocking over a jar of hairpins. “Darn!” She finds the bracelet and struggles to buckle the clasp one-handed while she tries to slip into her high heels. She peers over at the clock on the kitchen counter. “Forget it!” She throws the bracelet down and leans towards the dresser mirror, fluffing up her plain, brown hair, which she meticulously washed and curled only an hour before. Already, the life has gone out of it, and it flops across her head like a soiled dishrag.
Agatha is 34. We celebrated her birthday two weeks ago, before she had met Amando. We spent her birthday on her bed, her right hand patting my back, smoothing the white fur at the nape of my neck, scratching beneath my chin the way I like. Her left hand entertained a box of truffles, the milky chocolate seducing me, but I had been too lazy to move.
Agatha’s teacher friend, Nell, had called the next night and invited Agatha to a last minute party—the opening of an art gallery—and it was there she met Amando.
“Oh, Fancy!” she had declared, bursting into our apartment late that Saturday night. “I’ve met him! The most wonderful man. An artist! He owns this fabulous gallery downtown and one in Rome! And he wants to see my art. He was quite taken with me, he said.”
She had lifted me from my position on the chair and rubbed her chin against the top of my head, making kissing noises at me. I meowed, upset she had awoken me.
“Oh darling, isn’t this wonderful? I’ve invited him to come see my work and perhaps have some wine.” Like a stupid, pig-tailed schoolgirl she had giggled shrilly in my ears, making them twitch.
My ears twitch at the sound of footsteps on the stairs outside. It could be The Giant who lives in 13B, but Agatha notices the sound too. She is applying a peachy lipstick to her lips (which only warrants an orangeish tinge to the rest of her face) and stops, her hand hovering over her mouth, her head turned towards the door. I creep forward on the bed, getting a good view of the doorway.
There is a firm tap.
“Oh!” gasps Agatha, tossing the lipstick onto the dresser, smoothing down the front of her dress. She takes a couple of solid breaths and opens the door.
“Amando!” Agatha cries, as though she is surprised to see him, stepping back to let him in the room.
Amando is Italian. Agatha assumes that is enough to go by. He has black hair and golden skin, like a poster child for an Italy cruise. He is a dribble of chocolate trickling into the room. Agatha licks her lips at the sight of him.
Amando is much younger. He commands the room with that careless, bold attitude that only the young (or the very wealthy—or both) can project.
“Buona sera, bella,” he coos, rubbing his cheek next to hers.
“Buona sera,” she replies, though it comes out as “bona sara.” For all of Agatha’s art history tutelage, she is abhorrent at pronouncing anything outside of the Anglo-Saxon domain.
Amando eyes me on the bed. “Ah, you have a kitty. How nice.” I hiss at him. He narrows his wide, black eyes. “Yes, nice.”
“Amando, please have a seat.” Agatha gestures to the chair, and I think how glad Amando will be that I’ve warmed it for him.
He swaggers over, drifting into the chair. Agatha bustles around the kitchen, pouring thick, warm wine into mismatched wine goblets. Amando stares out the window, resting an arm on the back of the chair, crossing his legs.
“The view is bellisimo.”
“Oh,” blushes Agatha. “It makes up for the cramped space, I suppose.”
“Small space. It makes it, what’s the word… intimate, no?” Amando grins, touching Agatha’s fingers as she hands him a glass.
I flick my tail. Amando is an idiot. The view from the window is the fire escape from the building next door. And unless he specializes in iron artwork (which I highly doubt—I think Agatha mentioned he was a photographer) I don’t see how he can view the view as “bellisimo.”
Agatha pulls her kitchen stool—the one she uses at her drawing easel—to the table and when she sits upon it she is a good six inches higher than Amando.
He continues to smile, his lips peeled back from his teeth like the lid of a sardine can (Agatha hasn’t bought me sardines in a long while. I crave something salty) .
Amando smiles because his eyes have a front row view of Agatha’s breasts— poor, droopy things that they are—cowering beneath the folds of her dress.
Sometimes when Agatha holds me, she presses me hard against her chest, nuzzling my head between her breasts. I think I’m the only living thing that’s come near them in the past five years.
“What do you think?” Agatha points to the wall behind her, where dozens of canvases smile down at us. Chalky, smudged works of homeless women in the park and children on the subway pose for Amando.
I slink off the bed, leaping lightly to the floor. I weave between the table legs, settling near Amando’s feet.
He wears shoes of worn-in leather, dusty black leather that smells of sweat and sidewalk litter.
“I think you are beautiful.”
Agatha’s feet shuffle. There is a run in her nylons. Her hands tug on the bottom of her dress.
“Why stop? It is the truth.” I hear the gurgle of wine running down his throat.
“Um, well, maybe we should start with my tree collection.”
He gets up out of the chair and stands beside her as she fumbles with one of her portfolios. I hear the rustle of papers and smell the thick, choking scent of chalk dust.
“You see, every one of these has a tree in it. I’m hoping to illuminate the theme of growth through the motif of trees—Amando, what are you doing?”
“Just admiring your hair.”
“Ok. Thank you. Well, if you look at these portraits here, they are of the backs of women’s heads. It’s amazing what you can tell of a person from—”
“Uh-huh.” Amando slides closer to Agatha. From under the table, I see nothing but four legs intertwined.
“And… and… my favorite is this one. I call it Sunbeams. Chalk is an amazing medium, especial—”
“We are professionals, Amando. Please, I would love to hear what you have to say about my art.”
“Let’s not talk about work,” he says.
“Oh, ok.” Agatha pauses. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Who says we need to talk?”
I creep from beneath the table and jump onto the chair.
“Amando, if you will just give me a minute, I think you will like this particular one. It’s a negative drawing
Amando grasps Agatha’s wrist with one hand, his other hand encircling her waist.
“I thought you were interested in my work.”
“I’m interested in you,” he speaks into her ear.
“But you said that your gallery could use chalk drawings—that it is an unexplored medium?”
“You…?” Agatha sputters.
“But it was worth the lie, no?” He leans his head in to her neck, much like a vampire.
“Stop.” She pushes him away. “If you’d like to come back some other time to see my work, when you haven’t had anything to drink—”
“I don’t care about your work.”
“But I thought…”
Amando surveys the walls for the first time. “You know what I think? That your scribbles are brutti—ugly—you could not sell them on the streets for more than five dollars a piece. I’ve seen children with better finger paintings.”
Agatha staggers back like she has taken a blow to the gut. Balling her hands into fists, she rubs at her eyes. “Oh, God…”
“If I wanted real art, I would’ve gone to a real artist over drinks in a fancy hotel, and not visited her one-room, shabby house.”
I want to tell him that this isn’t a house, but an apartment. Poor Agatha stands awkwardly up against the wall, cornered in her own home.
I am tired of Amando. I am hungry. I am bored. My claws need to be filed.
I slink up to Amando’s leg and dig my claws into his wool pants like they’re a scratching post.
“Shit!” he cries, backing up and tripping over me. “Your stupid cat!”
“Get out!” shrieks Agatha, finding her voice.
Amando pulls himself up. “You are too fat for me anyway.”
I sprawl out on the floor, licking my paws. I watch Amando exit the apartment. We hear his footsteps clomping down the stairs.
Agatha stands still for some time, her portfolio fallen to the floor, pages flung out around her. She doesn’t pick them up, but rather strips off her dress and puts on a pale, beige, dirty smock hanging from the bathroom door. She takes out her easel from under the bed and puts me on the chair. She begins to draw with her chalks—whites and creams and light browns.
“I think I’ll call this piece My Only Love.”
I wrinkle my whiskers at her.