You hide your drugs in the cremation box of your beloved, dead cat. To process your grief, you make a powerpoint of pictures of your beloved, dead cat. It’s 13,000 slides long with no repeated images. Her name was Sorcerer. You remember her when you hear a train purr in the distance, so you decide that you want a tattoo of a train in honor of your beloved, dead cat. You join a support group, where you learn that one woman has a friend named Catherine who goes by Cat, which you think might be an expansion of the truth. Cat told the woman that her father’s coworker, who was an FBI agent (another possible expansion of the truth), kept a large picture frame at work with pictures of cats. Some of them had black rose stickers on them. So Cat’s dad asked the coworker what the black rose stickers meant, to which the coworker replied, Those are the ones who have died. So you decide that you want a black rose tattoo in honor of your beloved, dead cat. A man from the support group tells you that he has a coworker who suffers from a concern for her own hoarding habit. She told him that she has so many dead, cremated cats that she puts the cremation boxes between the books in her personal library and asks for her closest friend, her daughter, to label the boxes as books that she might have read in the past. The daughter, being clever, googled her mother’s cat’s names in order to find authors with the same, or similar, name as the cats, which she felt were most appropriate for the labels. You decide that you’ll hide your drugs in the cremation box of your beloved, dead cat because she always felt like she’d be a protective spirit. She always followed you everywhere. You think of her as a territorial spirit. You also think this because after she died, you found her stash of mouse toys underneath the couch when you were vigorously vacuuming all of her fur, which had been causing you even more grief. There were 53 mouse toys underneath the couch, most of which you have no memory of purchasing, some of which were actually dusty tampons, the lite ones, and you wonder how your beloved cat opened the purple wrappers. Now you cry whenever you see a mouse, either alive or in the form of a toy; and, you cry when you see tampons. The day before you’re supposed to go to get your tattoo of a train with smoke billowing out in the shape of a black rose, you tell the tattoo artist that you have post-coital depression. You didn’t mean to, but you sent the message as a response to his, What’s the name of the train system that you like, when you meant to send the message to your close friend A. The symptoms invisibly haunt you like cat fur from your dead, beloved cat in a way that amounts to a feeling of complete craze. Are you sure that’s what you want, your tattoo artist responds. Yeah, maybe it’s pain, and now embarrassment, that I need now, you quickly write back because you refuse to apologize to him for sending the wrong message. Want to come over tonight to watch the Republican National Convention, he writes. Yeah, you reply. Cool, and he sends you his address. You sit on your tattoo artist’s couch with his ex-wife’s dog on your lap. He explains that he dogsits for his ex-wife when she goes on adventures. His own dog sits on his lap. The dogs look at each other as if they’re about to leap at each other’s necks. You and the tattoo artist look at the Republican National Convention on CNN. You brought a bottle of wine, which was given to you by a friend for your service as a catsitter, which you don’t really want to think about because it makes you grieve. In a few days, I’ll be dogsitting at a house around the block from you, you tell your tattoo artist. Cool, he says, we can go on walks with the dogs. You tell him that the dog you will be dogsitting in the near future is too fluffy to go on walks this time of year. Still, you wait a moment, and then suggest to the tattoo artist, Maybe we could go to the dogpark together. He says, My birthday is next week, and you wonder if he’s trying to lighten or darken the mood, so you pour more wine. The dogs trade places and now the tattoo artist’s ex-wife’s dog sits on his lap and glares at you. He moves the dog and announces that he is going to make manhattans. Do you want a maraschino cherry, he asks. Yes, you say, even though you don’t really like maraschino cherries. You think of telling the tattoo artist that you think he is handsome. He brings you a manhattan, which you sip quickly. Ever since my beloved cat died, I’ve been allergic to prolonged sexual encounters, so we should make this quick, you blurt out between sips. Then, The internet tells me that this type of grief isn’t so unusual, so maybe we’ll be better off if we don’t touch each other. He says, Okay, does this mean you don’t want the tattoo anymore? You’re hesitant to respond. Maybe not, you say as you realize you’ve been crying this whole time because the shape of the maraschino cherry reminds you of a mouse. Well, fuck, he says, I was going to use the commission for top quality dog food. You think, and then you say, Okay, I’ll still let you do the tattoo. He offers you another manhattan, and you tell him to hold off on another cherry, so he adds an extra cherry to his own manhattan. Both of the dogs get tired of staring at each other, so they cuddle up on his lap and twitch as they sleep, just like your beloved cat used to.
MEN WHO THINK EVERYONE IS THEIR SON
You’ll someday notice that the only problem with an abortion happens when you glance at today’s date and drift off to calculate the age of your would-be-child. Now you’ll feel guilty for feeling good that your would-be-child isn’t suffering through a life. You think, Thank God, and you consider how your would-be-child would-be-if it were either a boy or a girl. You don’t pray to God, you pray to Annie Lennox. You walk around your apartment and thank Annie Lennox for everything you own. On the internet, infants keep your time with their updates on how many months they’ve existed through. You think about the odds of existence, or life. One mother posts her son’s monthly update two days late and apologizes to the public for the wait. You think, Thank God, but really you think about how Annie Lennox will curse this mother because your entire internal time clock is now fucked up by two days. You drift back to today and you go inside a gas station because you need a caffeine boost for energy. Inside, there’s a man referring to everyone as his son, My son, you have to prepare yourself for this chicken biscuit before you consume it. Your cell phone reminds you that it’s time to take your birth control. And you’ll buy two biscuits along with your coffee, one for you now and one for you two days ago.
LOLA ON CRAIGSLIST
It’s been a long, long Tuesday and I message A to see what she’s up to. I dove off the deep end, she says. And now I’m texting many men, she adds. Why am I texting many men, she asks without a question mark. I’m fine by the way, and she stops there. A pause. Then she adds, What are you doing?
Show me these conversations. Like a woman, I demand. I begin to prepare my nightly bath along with my dinner of a fried egg and avocado on toast; deconstructed, I eat them all separately.
Before I asked what A was up to, she messaged me in the middle of the day that her sister had made grief scones this morning. I said, No. And she responded, I knew you would say that.
In the tub, I read her messages about all of her conversations with men. Like a woman, she shows me the screenshots of the conversations. Eric introduces himself as a nerdy type of guy who always wants to be the hero, so A asks him to describe himself in terms of a fictional character. That’s hard to answer, he replies. Top 3, she demands with a period. Animal Man and Kyle Rayner, he can’t think of a third. You can do it! And then I want you to tell me what you most admire about these fictional characters. He confesses that he’s drawing a blank. A tells me that he suffers from depression, but he’s nice. Then she shares her conversation with Jim. The screenshot begins with A’s question, Why miniatures in particular? He responds with a picture of baby mini potbelly pigs. I zoom in on the picture of pigs, count them, and observe that pig hips look like little hearts. Jim’s gesture is kind. A explains to me that Jim has 10 acres of land and raises tiny animals. She adds, Why Jim. She says she’s also talking to a Kenneth, a Shawn, and a Jeff. She adds, There are a couple other guys but we don’t know enough about them yet. I get suspicious at the sudden number update. I don’t know what came over me. I said to myself, “I got to chat with some men,” and now I’m doing that, she adds. I know now that she is sad sad. I also know now that she must have posted something on Craigslist. Did you find them on a dating app? I check. No, B, I really dove off the deep end, she replies. I type Craigslist in all caps and she simultaneously replies with Craigslist in all caps. We laugh, wildly, our “ha’s” snap across the screens of our phones.
A’s post was simply: No dicks. Don’t be old. Tell me anything. No sexting.
Men can’t handle anonymity. I’m Lola, she tells me. And, I’m not good at keeping up with lies so the only things I lie about are my age and name. And they have to be cool with never seeing me. I didn’t get on there for loneliness. I tell her that while I was on an elevator today, a woman asked the man next to me how he was doing. He responded, Well, no one has killed me yet. I tell her that while I was walking to my car today, a man somewhere nearby was screaming. At you, she asks. Psychic pain, I tell her. I want to tell her that it’s okay to feel melancholy. We aren’t simply, we’re sad sad because we’re worried.
Lola, also A, tells me that she wants to suck a man’s soul out of his body with her mouth. I tell Lola, also A, that I want to measure the internal temperature of a man’s individual organs, and then post my discoveries to Wikipedia.
What am I doing, A asks me. Now or in stories, I clarify. Before she responds, I write, Both. Your presence is the full human in the world in terms of language. This is what you’re doing on Craigslist as Lola.
In the next few days, every stranger I encounter asks me if I’m okay. I want to ask them if our happiness is a connection to our shared darknesses. I wear my mask. It’s snapped on tight, now. Are you okay, the man selling me a chicken at the farmer’s market asks. I say, yes, and then think about his bones, specifically the concept that his bones are hidden. His bones mean less than his words. I think about his fingernails, which probably currently share DNA with the chicken I’m holding. I think he wants me to listen to him more than he wants to listen to me, so I say, Yes, I’m Lola, and I walk away in the wrong direction.
Bailey Pittenger teaches and writes. Her most recent work is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Cosmonauts Avenue, and NANO Fiction. She tweets: @baimestayer.