She had waited so long to adopt him; visiting the pet store every week for three months, talking to him through the wire mesh, tickling his fur with her outstretched finger. Sometimes the man who worked there would let her take the orange tabby out and pet him, but she was careful not to ask too often. She didn't want to be known as a 'cat lady'.
'Cat lady' implies a certain strangeness, and she wasn't strange. At least she didn't think so.
She'd asked the owner of the store to hold him until she could save up the adoption fee. In return, she paid for his food and visited faithfully. She thought it would take her four or five months to save enough. She was a writer and a student, and neither of those things lent themselves to disposable income. Still, she had managed to gradually purchase all of the things she'd need for him - the litter box and scratching post and furry mice and a leopard print collar. She was still a month or so away from having enough to bring him home when she got the call.
She'd won a writing contest. The entry was an unlikely hit, the story of a traveling cat circus, led by a woman with three nipples and chronic flatulence. She felt sure the judges were cat lovers, and perhaps they were nipple lovers as well. Or fart lovers. Regardless, she was suddenly a thousand dollars richer, and her dream of bringing home the cat from the pet store happened sooner than she hoped.
She named him Mr. Bojangles.
Every morning, she woke to find his warm body curled up on the pillow beside her. She sang him awake with his special song - "Oh, Mr. Bojangles, with you soft widdle ears and your sweet widdle tummy, come over here and kiss your mummy!". Every night, she fed him tuna fish in a crystal bowl, and wiped his face with a linen napkin. She brushed his fur and took him for walks and treated him as if she had given birth to him herself.
Mostly, he liked her. He tolerated her silliness and accepted the pampering as his right. Only once, when she tried to carry him in a baby sling between her breasts, did he rebel. When she sang to him in the mornings, he looked at her in his bored way and thought, bitch, please. She mistook his indifference for adoration, and he indulged her affection as a means to an end. Some mornings he watched as she slept, her eyes rolling behind closed lids, a fine stream of spittle flowing from the corner of her mouth. One morning, he drank from that stream with his sandpaper tongue, and found she tasted of a dark loneliness and something vaguely metallic.
It was not a bad life, afterall.
And then she died. The penny mouth he'd tasted had been the sickness inside her, dripping out and pooling on her pillow. She'd told no one, not even him.
She had no family nearby. As he watched the sunlight move across the floor from morning to afternoon on the first day, he waited patiently for someone to come and fill his food bowl. The phone rang sporadically and he listened to disembodied voices calling out where are you? hope you're not sick! By evening, he found himself foraging in a near empty trashcan, fishing out the remants of a pimento cheese sandwich and a half rotted grape. A grape! he thought. The indignity of the situation did not escape him.
By the third day, he was restless. He paced the rooms of the apartment and chased long shadows across the floor. There was nothing to eat; no crumb or scrap or bug to be savored. His litter box was filled with filth and he was forced to do what little business he had to do on the floor beside it.
He awoke the morning of the fourth day to the sounds of his stomach. He lay on the pillow beside her swollen body. Her lips were parted just slightly and her tongue, purple and fat, pushed past her teeth. She looked as if she was about to give a whistle, or blow a raspberry on his tummy. 'Mithhhter Bojanglethhhhh,' he heard it say. He touched the tongue with his paw, and found it surprisingly soft. Supple. Meaty.
God, how much she had loved him. And now, how much he loved her.