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art by Jonathan Westbrook

I Heard You Got a Cat, I Heard You Named Him Charles

M. Bennardo's short stories appear in Asimov's Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, and others. This is his fifth story for Daily Science Fiction. He is also co-editor of This Is How You Die, a science-fiction anthology being published by Grand Central Press in July 2013. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, but people anywhere can find him online at mbennardo.com.

I heard you got a cat. I heard you named him Charles. I guess you didn't know that I do cats too?
I played all those games you wanted, all those black-blond-red-brown-bald-headed strangers. But you never said you wanted a cat. I could have done that too.
I told you that you'd never have to replace me, and I meant exactly what I said. I told you I could be anything you wanted--or even what you didn't know you wanted. In how many bars did I buy you drinks, wearing how many different skins? Through how many eyes and mouths did I pick you up? With how many hands did I touch you?
All those different men--all me. That hint of danger and thrill of confusion you always wanted, that only I could give you.
I heard you don't go to bars anymore. I heard you're afraid I still do. But that was never what I wanted. That was always just for you.
I was a fox once, before I met you. For three whole months, I was--except, now and then, when I was half of one instead. That wasn't what I wanted either, but I did it because I could. I was the only one who could.
And I can do cats too.
I wouldn't even need a litter box. I could feed and water myself. I'd never scratch your furniture either--at least not without a cause.
During the day, when you're out and gone, I could change back to a man. I could wash your breakfast dishes, make your morning bed, dust and tidy up your rooms. I could leave chocolate and flowers on your fluffed-up pillows, and I could still be a cat when you returned.
At night, I'd watch you drink your tea and read your books. I'd curl up on your lap. I'd never let you be alone.
I could change at night too, of course, if you ever wanted that.
Or I could stay a cat instead. If that's really all you want, I'd stay a cat for you. Or several cats, perhaps? A different cat every day--tabby, calico, Maltese, Kashmir, tortoiseshell. Whatever you want me to be, I'm not going to beg or threaten you, but I'll take what I can get.
I told you that you'd never have to replace me, but I heard you got a cat. And even though you named him Charles, it's not too late to give him back.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
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