Because y’know… I was just standing there when this cat
offered to sell itself to me. I felt a little weird about it. Yeah. But that
didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to consider it. It’s not like it was a stray or
anything like that. It certainly didn’t look like it was. It was in a carrier
and everything. It sat in there peering out casually, offering to sell itself
to me. Seemed like a perfectly rational decision. Seemed like a perfectly
rational thing to do if it were, in fact, rational. I knew full well that cats
didn’t talk or anything like that. But I was OK with it. And it offered itself
for $20. I figured it wasn’t really that big a deal; if anything, it would be
an interesting story. So I reached into my wallet and pulled out the $20. And I
handed it to the cat. The cat pawed the $20 and put it in the far corner of the
carrier. I figured, you know, if I came to a position where I really needed the
money, I could just reach in and take it. Empty out the cat and just take the
$20 back. Simple as that. So I was off. With this cat in the carrier. This cat
which was now mine.
It was a big surprise for the kids. Suddenly we’ve got a
cat. My wife seemed OK with it. She’d been meaning to get a new cat for a
while. I would’ve expected my story about how I picked it up to be a little bit
more interesting to them. I guess they probably just had a thought I was joking
about it. Which is totally understandable. I mean… I can completely identify
with the idea that they would think that I was just joking about that. Because
one simply isn’t serious about that sort of thing, are they?
When the kids were off doing their schoolwork and my wife
was reading in bed, the cat got my attention. I went in to meet with it. I
didn’t expect the scam I got; though honestly, it wasn’t a scam exactly. But
the cat wasn’t really playing fair. Not that I would ever expect a feline to
play fair. They are inherently selfish creatures. Not that that’s a judgment
call or anything like that. It’s just that cats don’t happen to be… traditionally
social. And so they can be very selfish. I kind of respect that about them.
Anyway, the cat had explained to me that he kind of liked
the placement and everything. He was perfectly willing to stay. I had bought
him, but I only had bought him “on spec.” I hadn’t contractually specified that
I would buy him forever anything like that. Or even until he died. All nine
times or whatever. The agreement was that I would buy him. And own him. Nothing
ever specified for how long. So it was at the cat’s discretion as to when it
was that I would no longer own him. I guess that made a lot of sense. There was
no agreement beyond the basic transaction.
And so there were negotiations. The cat had a contract drawn
up. I felt as though I was very shrewd in my dealings with the cat. The
negotiation went extremely well. I had gotten quite a bit out of it. However,
it seemed kind of strange to be paying it on a regular basis and agreeing to
all of those other things that I’d agreed to. Again, I sort of figured that
went with it being a cat and everything that none of the contract with the hold
up in a court of law. But I didn’t want to push it.
With the contract signed everything was quite cool. I felt
very good about the deal. The kids liked playing with the cat. The cat seemed
to like playing with the kids. However, it didn’t talk to them the way it
talked to me. It didn’t talk to my wife the way you talk to me. I had this fifty
page contract with this pet that only considered itself to be on speaking terms
with me. And it’s not like it’s and of the contract was completely unreasonable
or anything like that. The cat did what it needed to do and in exchange I gave
it what it wanted. Kind of weird watching a cat curl up into someone’s lap due
to a contractual obligation, but it seemed as sincere as any pet when it was
purring or whatever.
Honestly everything seemed very clear and rational.
Everything seemed very solid. Very down to earth. Every now and again the cat
and I would have a very businesslike exchange. Maybe we talked politics for a
little bit. And then it would go back to doing what cats do with my kids and my
wife and so on.
There was nothing in the contract that specifically said
that I had to live with my family. Or that they had to live with me. I suspect
that the cat felt as though it was unable to keep up with his usual business due
to the constant time constraints of playing with the kids and having the kids
play with him. So it set-up a few fake profiles and accounts on social media.
Before long it managed to convince my wife that I was cheating on her with
younger woman. It had paid close attention to the idiosyncrasies of my writing
style and was able to deftly fabricate fictional affairs that I was purportedly
having with a few other women. Actually, I kind of respect the way the cat
wrote very intricate details into things that felt totally believable. E-mails
and those instant messages and things like that; all very believable. A part of
me half-wished the women in question really existed. There were moments where I
kind of wondered if I might have been losing it on some level. Cats don’t
really talk, do they?
Honky Tonk Sue
Peter and Lydia were a happy couple. But now and then they felt that they’d been left behind by their circle, who’d moved from Long Island to nearby Brooklyn and hipster havens along the Hudson River. The feeling was especially palpable on Sunday mornings, the two laying in bed, scrolling through their social media feeds, and reviewing the Saturday nights their friends had spent at chic eateries and underground dance parties. Sometimes, they’d even joke about it – their “same old, same old” compared to the adventures they saw on Instagram; and that went double when it came to @HonkyTonkSue.
@HonkyTonkSue’s profile had been recommended to both Lydia and Peter, “based on likes.” It was due, no doubt, to all of the double-tapping they did on their friends’ photos. A salvaged oak credenza? Tap tap. Cool terrarium! Tap tap. Neither was in the habit of keeping up with strangers – even celebrities – but something about this Bushwick-living, urban cowgirl compelled Peter and Lydia to break their own rules. They had never spoken a word to her, and yet Lydia and Peter knew everything about @HonkyTonkSue’s life.
They knew about her obsession with cortados, Spanish coffees which were invariably adorned with heart-shaped foam art. They knew about her penchant for yoga, which she practiced in her bedroom, framed by a mosaic of Willy Nelson album covers. And they knew about her recent rager at a chalet-themed bar, where she’d struck a regal pose in a novelty-sized rocking chair.
“@HonkyTonkSue,” she’d written, “has found her throne.”
Later, Peter would say he’d discovered the place by chance. That he’d gone to Bed-Stuy to hang with an old high school pal, who’d cancelled at the last minute. He couldn’t have known that an aimless stroll would lead him to the same sceney watering hole @HonkyTonkSue had visited, only days earlier. However, standing below the thatched wood eaves of a bar that looked remarkably like a ski lodge, happenstance never crossed his mind. In truth, Peter sensed the universe had, in some inexplicable way, drawn him here – and that this was all part of a cosmic plan which was only slowly, mysteriously, revealing itself.
Stepping inside, Peter clocked the time-worn animal heads mounted on the wall, the mixologist sporting a lush sleeve of tattoos, the three Swedish women in matching, chambray onesies. It was, he couldn’t help but think, like the set design of a dream. Or someone else’s life. But remembering exactly which cocktail @HonkyTonkSue had ordered when she came last, Peter sidled up to the bar and put in for a Vermont Weekend. He drank it slowly, then very quickly, then ate the leafy sprig, placed as decoration, in his burnished copper mug.
Sometime after midnight, Peter arrived home and slipped into bed. Rolling over, Lydia asked him how his night had been. But Peter said nothing. He only slid his hands under Lydia’s heather gray thermal and gently cupped her breasts.
“Peter,” she giggled, a bit surprised.
“I love you. I love you, Lydia,” he whispered, and pressed his mouth to hers, Peter’s breath rich with bourbon and pine needles.
The following weekend, Peter drove back to Brooklyn, this time with his wife. They started their day at a sunlit cafe, where a crop-topped barista served them their first cortados. Peter watched Lydia, sipping her coffee as if it were a witch’s brew and she a storybook princess unsure if the intended spell would take. There was a pregnant pause – Lydia finally returning the ceramic mug to her saucer.
“So?” Peter inquired.
Lydia’s eyes tracked up to his.
“Wow. This is like… wow, “she said, her top lip dusted with flecks of cinnamon. Their next stop was a Michelin-starred tasting room famous for charcuterie boards. On the ride over, Peter showed Lydia where he’d found it – among the many tabletop pics in @HonkeyTonkSue’s Instagram gallery. An open tin of pork terrine, a mason jar of pickled veggies, a flour-splashed baguette were in sharp focus. Peeking into frame, a glass of lager caught @HonkyTonkSue’s reflection – her hair wrapped in a garland of reddish plaits. Peter noticed Lydia’s hand drift up to her own ponytail and examine it in the rearview. “Huh,” he could’ve sworn he heard her say, before they parked and ventured into the modern-industrial lunch spot.
Sticker shock set in at once. The prices on the menu promised to obliterate Peter and Lydia’s household budget. On any other day, it might’ve inspired a retreat. But after their first round of drinks, those thoughts grew dim. After their second, Peter and Lydia ordered freely. With every cheese plate, every artisanal beer pairing, the two became looser, relaxing into themselves. By round three, Peter felt Lydia’s foot slide up his leg. Affectionately, he rubbed her ankle, assuming it was accidental.
“Fuck me,” Lydia mouthed across the table.
“What?” Peter asked, leaning forward.
“Take me to the bathroom. And fuck me, Peter.”
Lydia leveled her gaze at him.
Peter cleared this throat.
Briefly, he thought of their bags, sitting unattended at the table. He wondered whether they might be stolen by a drifter whose unruly beard and threadbare clothes helped him camouflage amid the fashionably-unkempt clientele. There would be credit cards to cancel, insurance ID cards to replace. But, again, Peter pushed doubts and practicalities from his mind.
In minutes, he stood in a candle-lit stall, arched over Lydia as she guided him inside of her. He closed his eyes – enveloped by the scent of smoke and beach wood. With a sudden rush of adrenaline, Peter felt himself disappear.
In the months that passed, Lydia and Peter turned @HonkyTonkSue’s Instagram account into their personal To-Do List. They caught live shows at The Jalopy Theatre, where her favorite bluegrass bands were regulars. They bought sea monkeys, @HonkyTonkSue’s pets of choice, naming each microscopic brine shrimp. And they shopped religiously at @HonkyTonkSue’s go-to thrift shops.
Peter opted to shave less, cultivating a beard like the men @HonkyTonkSue leaned against in snapshots. Lydia dyed her auburn hair red, stacking her braids on top of her head. And they read each other’s tarot as @HonkyTonkSue and her on- again, off-again bestie, Zazoe, did when their relationship was copacetic.
Peter and Lydia decorated their text messages with her signature smileys and peach emojis. They followed her family recipes. And they went on road trips to @HonkyTonkSue’s most beloved bed and breakfast, where they explored each other’s bodies more openly than ever before.
In this 20-something’s social media profile, Lydia and Peter had stumbled on something extraordinary, a manual for living a different kind of life. So what happened next landed an especially staggering blow to them both.
It was a Sunday, and Peter and Lydia were at home, nursing hangovers behind their recently installed blackout curtains. While Lydia groped for the coconut water on her nightstand – a morning-after remedy courtesy of @HonkyTonkSue – Peter opened his Instagram app to find out what their country-loving muse had done, last night. Only instead of a photo, Peter noticed @HonkyTonkSue had shared an Instagram Story, a short video which would remain live for less than 24 hours.
This, @HonkyTonkSue explained, would be her last post for the foreseeable future. She’d been hurt by someone close to her – he knew who he was– and she was taking time off to heal. Lydia dropped her drink and flipped over to look at Peter’s screen. @HonkyTonkSue wrapped up her monologue with a soulful farewell, a thank you to all of her loyal followers for their patience during this upcoming hiatus.
Peter switched off his phone. The thought had never occurred to him, her leaving them. Had he known, had he and Lydia pondered the possibility, they would surely have rationed out her recommendations. But they had burned through @HonkeyTonkSue’s account, eaten all she’d eaten, partied everywhere she’d partied. Now, the pair was living post to post.
“Maybe she’ll be back tomorrow,” Peter said.
“For sure,” said Lydia.
“She’ll get over it.”
“Totally,” Peter agreed.
“Totally,” Lydia echoed.
For the rest of the day, they remained in bed, holding each other and re- watching @HonkyTonkSue’s video. They analyzed and discussed it. They consoled themselves, never bothering to part the curtains, until the Instagram Story was gone, vanished forever into the ether of the Internet.