CAT LOVERS by Hayes Moore
ERIC ARRIVED HOME ONE EARLY October evening with a brown bag of Chinese take-out to find Laura playing a computer game, The Night’s Tale, cross-legged on her over-sized office chair. In the unlighted living room the thick glass in her pink frames reflected her Player Character, Cordelia Largeheart, slicing through a den of vampires, the baby-faced minions of the Raven King. According to prophecy the Raven King’s reign would be a dark age such as even poets dared not imagine, blotting out the very sun in its terror. It was nigh. The Raven King’s romances and dreams of world domination were recorded in The Codex of Black Birds, an ancient tome secured in the belly of the bloodsuckers’ crypt. Cordelia, full of a Halfling’s optimism in the face of inevitable doom and a Thief’s lust for plunder, was in the process of obtaining the codex, a plot-centric quest on the corpse-strewn path to saving the world.
“Why did you throw out the black bowls my mom gave us?” Eric asked, clearing off the edge of her desk.
“I didn’t,” Laura hunched closer to the screen in concentration.
“The clay ones,” Eric said. He opened a box of shrimp lo mien and used splintering disposable chopsticks to divvy it into two deep bowls. “Where did these come from?”
“What?” Her fingers stormed across the keyboard, hit the mouse.
“This.” He thrust one of the bowls, pale porcelain with a Celtic design of interlocking lines threading about its lip, in front of the computer screen. The weave was a light blue, the same hue as Eric and Laura’s eyes. If it came undone it could not be redone.
She swatted the bowl of steaming noodles away then paused the game.
“What?” She swiveled to face Eric.
He handed her a bowl.
With a mouthful of shrimp Laura observed that the bowls were new.
“But you don’t know where they came from?”
Laura sucked in a noodle before responding, “Huh-uh. Must’ve been here when we moved in?”
Maybe. But that still didn’t explain where the missing black bowls were. Eric would swear he’d unpacked them. It didn’t explain why they had new toothbrushes every week. It also didn’t explain how one garish lampshade had disappeared and a refined one had appeared in its place or where the substitutes for missing tattered sweaters and yellowing undergarments came from. It didn’t explain how the questionable gifts that the couple had accumulated had recently vanished—a shot-glass from Cancun, an Eiffel Tower magnet, a hand carved chess set from Ghana, a set of clay bowls from mom.
“Maybe,” Laura paused to set her empty bowl aside and swivel back to her game. “Maybe the cats gave them to us.”
Eric stood, laughed, and kissed the helix of hair on the peak of Laura’s head. “Maybe so.”
Before Eric carried their dishes into the kitchen, Laura leaned back to rub her cheeks and jawbone against Eric’s chin and chest. She hadn’t been joking. The marmalade had come almost daily with two helpers to wash the dishes, make sure the mirrors and windows gleamed, dust the shelves and countertops, and take out the trash. The cats swept and mopped the floors, arranged the bookshelves according to spine-color, and kept the bedroom closet meticulously organized according to clothing type—pants with pants, dresses with dresses, sweaters with sweaters, blouses with blouses, and so on. Furthermore, they segregated the wardrobe according to color: from hot to cold, shades of red to orange to yellow, green to blue to violet, and from light to dark, whites to silvers to golds to blacks, with motleys making a final section at the end of the row.
Recent college grads, Laura and Eric had moved to New York to save the world. The marmalade cat was there when they moved in, scouting, maybe, silently envisioning its future home. They found a steal in the West Village, snug against the Hudson River. On the August day they arrived, Laura took a break from unloading the rental van to buy a bagel with lox-flavored cream cheese from the bodega across the street. She smeared the rosy spread onto the sidewalk with a plastic knife. The lean marmalade purred as he lapped up the snack with a shiny tongue.
Squinting through bright humidity, Eric said, “I love cats.”
Laura squeezed his perspiring palm.
On the first night in the apartment, they shaved each other’s perfectly circular heads over the kitchen sink. Laura’s pink glass frames rested by the faucet on the rim of the steel basin. A series of metal stars snaked along her earlobe and Eric kissed the tattoo painted beneath—a dandelion head coming undone, the seeds strewn over her skull, neck, and shoulder blade. Her hairs, as if seeds themselves, scattered and lodged in his spittle, slipped down his gullet. They attached themselves to his lips and tongue, from whence they were transferred back to Laura’s body: breasts, elbows, belly-button, knees. The brunette hairs shorn from Eric’s head made use of Laura’s mouth and fingertips to travel into his ribs, run down the back of his thighs, and furrow across his abdomen. When Laura went to shower afterwards she saw a black tail whoosh in a leap from the bathroom window.
After her bathing, Eric was still sprawled across the mattress that sat without box-springs on the wood-panel floor of their new bedroom. He was nude and drenched in sweat, speckled with the couple’s comingled stubble; above him the summer’s unmovable air captured his overripe onion odor.
“There was a cat in the bathroom window,” Laura laughed, diving onto the sheets to kiss again before bedtime, her tongue still heavy with the flavor of dough and her cheeks soap-sponged into wildflowers and cut grass.
“What you were doing in the window?” Eric joked. “You could fall,” he said, snuggling into her, “and then our new neighbors might see you land naked on your hands and knees.”
“Not me,” Laura mumbled through drowsy teeth, already sunk in hypnagogic reverie. “A cat.”
Unlike Eric, Laura had always been an easy and deep sleeper. His mind full of complex continental theories and an abstract but ambitious—and somewhat paralyzing—project to save the world, Eric had trouble popping his thought bubble fantasies and succumbing to subconscious dreams. As Laura succinctly put it, he worried too much. Despite everything else that they shared—a penchant for complex images and foreign words, boredom with cinema, immediate empathy for anything with wings or feline, a pacifistic defense of individualism, a taste for simple foods and simple sounds, and a fierce sensuality—it was in sleep that they felt most unified. She was a natural cuddler, he in nightly need of a cuddle.
Laura would crash against Eric in tuckered slumber, her arms tangled around his torso, inner-thigh to tummy, the whisper of her pubic hair against his hip, eyelashes on neck, patches of cool fat and radiating armpits, her hot groin against his hard hipbones. He would turn on his side and pillow his lips on hers and drift in out of consciousness, their bodies entwined together as effortlessly as light and shadow. Laura’s deep sleep, her complete submission to another realm, would latch onto Eric’s arms, grapple around his ankles, and press onto his chest, so that he, too, would descend, even still in half-consciousness, floating just below the surface, bobbing, before sinking to join her in dreamland. Coming to, too, he would float, drift, let the waves of her breath and body sustain him, until he broke through into day and consciousness with the startling, gentle grace of a butterfly alighting from one flower to the next. It was a post-coital achievement, sure—in certain moods Eric fancied that it elevated their intercourse from animalistic to angelic. However, it was attained, also, in other forms of exhaustion, buffering after debauched undergraduate get-togethers against ensuing post-party depressions, sustaining them through long weeks of final exams, and forming a sensual conclusion to long nights hammering out seminar papers, his Master’s thesis, her senior project and make-or-break interviews with potential clients.
Going straight from undergraduate studies into a terminal MA program, a Masters of Arts had been handed to Eric after five years of obsessive, if average, scholarship. “Sisyphean Superman: Existential Motifs in America’s Übermensch,” his MA thesis, had managed to utilize four years of High School Latin, a Derrida quote en français, and still never stray far from the central genre-centered argument concerning the postwar desolation of civilization and the hope of humanity therein residing precariously on the preternaturally broad shoulders of comic book superheroes. His collection of comic books, theory, and an ostentatious array of nineteenth-century European novels filled out the bookshelves in the living room. Laura’s design books wound up on a smaller bookshelf next to her computer desk and its luxurious, graduation-gift office chair. Despite the fact, as she saw it, that every art student and computer geek no matter their specialty decided upon graduation to go into graphic design, with the aid of her program advisor she had managed to secure a few high-end clients while completing her senior project. They could coast on her freelance income for the short-term.
In the evenings they strolled the new neighborhood. When possible, they avoided Christopher St. and the better portion of Bleeker St., where tourists and New York University students congregated with local yuppies and Chelsea Boys who strayed too far south. They preferred, instead, the muted interior lights and flat facades of Cherry Lane, Barrow St., and the cobbled one-way alleys that crept with anachronistic doorframes and trellises, silent, discolored bricks and rococo window trims. In so determining their path they considered themselves to have transcended the phantasmagoria of commercialism for historical substantiality—though they believed in neither transcendence nor history.
They did not stroll alone. When they left the apartment they’d see the marmalade perched beside a newspaper stand across the street or slinking in through the complex door as they walked out. Along with the cosmopolitan pigeons and robins, and the urban rats and mad squirrels, cats were stationed at odd intervals on their meandering route. One night an olive green and basalt cat sat perched on its haunches in the ruby umbrella of light cast by a low street lamp on Carmine St. Laura and Eric would swear that the same cat had sat as still as stone on the corner of Commerce St. and Cherry Lane the evening before. In a shadowed alcove on Bedford St. a giant tabby guarded a litter of three sable kittens, its marble eyes mirroring the random lights of the city night. On Hudson Ave. six kittens cried in dissonant chorus from a third floor window, their disproportionate heads mere wailing silhouettes against the starless blue-velvet sky, but their din powerful enough to drown out the passing cars and drunk passersby. A milky-white mane would dart past them on Leroy St., disappearing into a recess between two buildings only to reappear tip-toeing ahead of them several blocks later. A tailless ginger tom mewed plaintively above them from a rusting fire-escape on Grove St. The marmalade waited at the complex door, rushing to rub his whiskers against Laura’s shin at their return.
Laura bought more bagels and spread lox-flavored cream cheese over the sidewalk.
While Laura dedicated a portion of each day to realizing her clients’ individual needs at her computer, spinning and sliding the cozy office chair around the living room floor, Eric’s fantastical vision for the immediate future deteriorated in stages: adjunct position at one of the many local universities, high school instructor, ESL instructor, private tutor, job in publishing, proof reader, and finally at the end of September he stumbled into a data-entry job making electronic files for a warehouse worth of books—mostly in English. While it was a temporary setback to the achievement of his unknown calling, it was also a temporary solution to the need for immediate income.
By mid-September they had arrived at a routine. Eric would rise just past dawn, put in eight hours of cataloging with an enforced, unpaid thirty-minute break and two clocked fifteen minute breaks for each four hour stint. On his way home after work he would stop at one of the many specialty restaurants to pick up dinner to share with Laura. He would check the mail on his way up the stairwell and every two weeks or so a sheet of unaddressed, colorful blank stationary would be waiting for him, slipped under the seam of their door. It was gorgeous paper and for the young couple it soon came to symbolize the unexpected, anonymous beauty that the city had to offer.
After a day of data-entry Eric’s level of awareness would be just greater than a zombie’s. To rise out of such murk would have required a shower, coffee, and perhaps even light physical exercise. The rub of waking in the late evening was oversleeping the following morning, being late for work, and having to stay even later at his cubicle in compensation. Instead Eric opted to climb into bed with a graphic novel (Night Fisher, shelved among the cream cheese whites).
By the time Laura crawled in beside him the sky was lightening in the bedroom window. Eric shifted with a grunt. Night Fisher thudded onto the floor.
“Shhh,” Laura said, adjusting a pastel-orange comforter ornamented with white stars.
“Huh?” Eric mumbled.
“Cordelia just rescued a fairy. Her name was Syrinx. The Raven King imprisoned her in this river thousands of years ago because he loved her and she didn’t love him back. It must’ve been torture. She hugged me and sobbed when I freed her. It took forever to find her because even once I knew she was in the river, you know, I still didn’t know she was in the river, I was trying to look through the water, to something on the floor, underneath the water. She was trapped in the water. As a reed in the current.”
Laura’s first freelance job in the city had won her a good reference and ample paycheck. Since, her greatest achievement was deciding to go Halfling and level Cordelia Largeheart as pure Thief.
Eric was now awake. “You found her though, and rescued her?”
“Yeah. Just needed a simple incantation and this dagger that cuts water,” she chortled. “Syrinx was so pretty and she told me where to find this map I need.”
Eric yawned, “Laura?”
“Yeah?” She rolled a thigh over his abdomen and nuzzled into him, arm flopped across his chest.
“Where’d this comforter come from?”
Laura laughed softly, the spicy heat of her breath caressing Eric’s neck. “I don’t know. Where?”
“You didn’t buy it?”
“Huh-uh.” She yawned one monstrous yawn against his jaw. “Maybe the cats?”
Eric had no time to bob with Laura’s body in bed. He disentangled her limbs from his and dressed in the half-dark.
Before leaving for work Eric went into the living room and pulled a copy of Anna Karenina from its spot on the bookshelf where its portentous black spine sat wedged between the lithe black spine of Graceful Exits and the abused black spine of The Structure of Complex Words. He then pulled the blood-orange spine of The Enchantress of Florence and shelved Anna Karenina in its place, so that Anna Karenina’s black spine now sat between the stout orange spine of Drawing Down the Moon and the uncracked muddy orange of Practicing the Path. The Enchantress of Florence he shelved where Anna Kareninaused to sit, a pumpkin moon in a starless night.
Laura rose late in the morning. She brewed coffee and opened a can of tuna to set in the windowsill. Dressed in warm-ups and a hoodie, her thick woolen socks tucked under her on the office chair, while the computer came out of hibernation Laura listened to the purr of the coffee pot and admired a bouquet of asters, ranging in hue from lavender-pearl to dusky-purple. They hadn’t been there when she went to bed.
She double-clicked The Night’s Tale.
Once her sobs, as beautiful as a crystal flute, had subsided, Syrinx told Cordelia where to find the Undulant Map—an ancient scroll rendering in symbolic demarcations the whereabouts of the sundry portals whereby one could traverse to hidden dimensions superimposed upon this one, providing access to a world insensible. Raven Castle, the stronghold of the Raven King, lay secured in just such a realm.
To obtain the map, Cordelia traversed the craggy countryside for many moons, leaving a trail of demonic corpses in her wake. She slew countless winged harpies in the flatlands, lopped off the malformed heads of sea hags and the slimy tentacles of apocalyptic squid along the coast, trekked through forests where wicked pixies cast spells of bewilderment and confusion upon Cordelia’s stout mind, blinded her with brightness, and enchanted her with song. But she was not conquered and in the end Cordelia discovered the scroll precisely where Syrinx had told her it would be, occulted in one of the crumbling pillars of a ruined temple, now an overgrown nest for vipers, the only remnant of some long forgotten god.
Tireless in her quest, Cordelia conferred with the map and followed the coast to the Valley of Ashes, where, in a dimension immaterial, stood the foreboding Raven Castle.
Eric arrived home in the evening clutching a brown bag with falafel platters in one hand and the day’s mail in the other. They had received a large manila envelope containing an unfolded, blank missive of dense homemade paper, the palest shade of pink, emboldened with regal gold, pomegranate red, and ocean blue grains.
The marmalade cat sat in the sink, licking coagulated soy sauce from one of the new porcelain bowls.
“Laura,” Eric called. “Laura,” He called again, going into the living room doorway, “I’ve brought dinner. Let’s eat in the kitchen,” he held up the bag. “We got more paper in the mail—a nice one.”
Laura nodded in the unlit room like a curtain brushed by a slight breeze. The computer cast her profile in a synthetic glow. Eric had a sensation akin to déjà-vu, as if he were looking at a figure in a photograph or, rather, as if he himself were gazing out from a moment captured in some other place and some distant time.
Anna Karenina had returned to sit pompously with the black spines and The Enchantress of Florence waited to be read with all the other oranges.
As he made his way to the kitchen table, the mossy eyes of the marmalade cat in the sink scanned Eric and fixed on the dense paper he carried. “Oh good,” he said, “you received it. What with your lack of replies, I never do know until I see for myself.”
The cat leapt from the sink onto the kitchen table. He sniffed the brown bag of falafel and then said, “I’ve discussed the matter with the council and we are unanimous in the decision that it would be most desirable if you were to leave both the complex door and your individual apartment door propped wide tomorrow. This is in addition, of course, to our instructions that all screens shall be removed from all windows and all windows shall remain open from moonrise to moonset or until the council instructs otherwise.”
The cat studied Eric’s bemused expression, smiled diplomatically, and deemed it necessary to explain, “This will not be an inconvenience. While most of us will use the fire-escape, it could be a great pleasure for those of our more sprightly friends to have a leap at less easily accessible portals; and for our more arthritic bedfellows, the straight-shot of first floor open doors will be a welcome luxury.” He took on a thoughtful expression, nodded once, and leapt back to the kitchen counter, which he preceded to lick and polish with his paws.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Eric said carefully after a long silence.
“But we sent you ample notification,” the marmalade cat said, looking up from the counter. “I know you received our missives, I have seen them on the table or scattered willy-nilly.” The cat cocked his head. “There, that right there,” he swung his tail toward the light pink parchment, “really it’s all detailed right there.”
Eric skimmed over the flecks of ocean, gold, and pomegranate. The threads spun out a spectrum of color vertiginous in its splendor. At last he said, “I can’t read it.”
The marmalade cat raised his moss green eyes, examining something on the thither side of the ceiling. Finally he said, “Ah.” He patiently licked a paw, then added, “That explains a bit. It is fortuitous, then, that we’ve had this chat.”
Eric rose and walked into the living room, where Laura was slaughtering sea-trolls along the north coast. “Hey,” he said, “there’s this cat in the kitchen that I’ve been talking to.”
Laura nodded, her fingers like busy antennae over the keyboard, sending acidic arrows through pea-sized brains.
“It says it wants to move in here tomorrow. And bring friends.”
Cordelia felled a sea-troll and immediately got to work setting it ablaze, aware of the uncanny regenerative capabilities of sea-trolls. “Cool,” Laura said. “I love cats.”
“I brought falafel,” Eric said and returned to the kitchen.
The marmalade was polishing the forks. Eric said, “Cool. We love cats.” The marmalade smiled brightly, nodded, and returned to polishing the forks.
They came the next day at moonrise, Eric had just arrived home. He stood in the middle of the kitchen as they poured in—blue-eyed snow-white long-haired cats, black cats with sparkling emerald eyes, light gray cats with dark gray hoods, brown-hooded cats with short white fur and pale lemon eyes, mottled tabbies, short and long-haired gingers, bushy black cats with patches of white, small short-hairs with streaks of moss and spots of tumbled brownstone in granite furs, fat cats with eyes of gold, broad shouldered cats with blackberry eyes, rotund and merry cats, morose and skinny cats, slim graceful cats, broad-shouldered brutish cats, and all kinds of cats in all kinds of shapes and all manners of coats and eyes of every hue. They streamed in through the windows, jumping onto the kitchen table, leaping onto the loveseat, sliding across the desks, marching curiously through doorways. They gushed into the hallway and spread into the bathroom, slid down blinds, tore through curtains, chased into the bedroom, hunted and raced all over and under the bed, stalked around corners, curled up in the hall closet, stretched out on bookshelves, sat at attention under chairs, lay with legs dangling from perches atop the refrigerator, the filing cabinet, computer, bathtub, and generally made the space their fairground, territory, and home.
The marmalade cat approached Eric in the hurly burly. “Excuse me,” he cleared his throat. “Would not a welcoming dinner of, say, haddock, be an appropriate gesture?”
“These are your friends?” Eric asked.
“Ah, indeed. There will be ample occasion for introductions by and by. Perhaps after dinner?”
Eric placed an order for smoked haddock and waited outside for the delivery.
In the living room cats sharpened their claws on the side of bookshelves or sniffed their way over the loveseat. A golden long-haired cat with matching golden eyes leapt onto Laura’s lap and immediately began to purr. A cat with white fur patched in black and orange stretched out next to the monitor where, step by bloody step, Cordelia was coming ever closer to saving the world and keeping inevitable prophecy from its inevitable realization.
By the light of a full moon Cordelia had ended the misbegotten existence of a pair of gargoyles who stood guard on either side of the towering twin doors of Raven Castle. Beyond the creaking doorway lay a massive hall of dilapidated marble where spiders the size of stallions with legs like daggers spun gargantuan webs. The floor was littered with the gruesome skeletons of hellspawned things, their very skulls contorted in the throes of agony. Cordelia went as quietly as a Halfling Thief could, her alert eyes scanning the room for traps and bogeys.
When Cordelia reached the center of the room the Spider Queen, a black widow the size of a cottage, leapt from darkness. It was a harrowing battle, but Cordelia hacked at its poisonous fangs and sliced numberless menacing eyes and would not relent though poison froze her blood until in the end she prevailed. She quaffed antidotes and bandaged her wounds in the moonbeams that fell through the ruined casements of tremendous windows. After hunting down the Spider Queen’s myriad offspring in the dark recesses of the cursed chamber, she ascended a crumbling spiral staircase, following a blood-stained banister up into the heart of the castle.
Cats colonized the bed. They hissed and shook their paws when Eric came too close. The loveseat, too, was occupied with a dozen cats, cuddled into one another and stretched out over the armrests. He had no choice but to lay out sheets and quilts as a makeshift cot in the kitchen. All night long he heard the mischievous patter of cats prancing across the floorboards and felt poking paws and the hot breath of inquisitive noses sniffing him through the covers.
Laura had no such difficulty. She retired at dawn into her own bed, just as the marmalade began to tidy up. The cats shuffled for her and when she was tucked cozily beneath the starry orange comforter they nestled into the angles of her body with warm, reverberating purrs. The trick of the matter—as Eric would learn in the days ahead—was that she naturally exuded a feline odor, sweet as paper and tinted with salmon and chlorine. They showed her the same aloof affection they shared amongst themselves; and she, in turn, never questioned her role as a sovereign host to the cats. Laura and the cats played as fancy decided, cleaned each other according to an inborn cosmetic standard, cuddled when cuddling was called for, and properly recognized when to leave each other well enough alone.
Excepting an occasional hiss, during the first week the marmalade was the only cat that acknowledged Eric even lived in the apartment. When Eric questioned him on the matter the marmalade gave a sad, presidential smile and said, “You rather stink, old friend.” So it was that a week or so into their stay, one night after moonrise, the marmalade cat called an emergency council meeting wherein, out of a unique concern for sociability and aesthetic harmony, he organized Eric’s baths.
As usual, Eric had been forced to sleep on a makeshift pad on the kitchen floor. It was a dark experience, even the streetlight reflected into the kitchen window did not so much shed as suck, vampirically, faintest lights; by a synesthetic trick of tactility and color the fingernail-pink of their tongues glowed in the darkness and occasionally an eye—emerald green, amber orange, topaz blue—would flash. The cats did not swarm, they simply rose up from where they always were. Their tongues were rough as stubble, adhering to his flesh and conveying reciprocity in their complexity of touch. So that, though passive, though he lay there merely making the crooks of his body accessible, Eric felt that his body, too, was engaged in the encounter—stroking back as it were.
The cats bathed him the next night too. And the next. It went on until Eric’s flesh burned from the caresses and he whimpered and jerked reflexively. The cats jerked back with slashing claws and willful jaws until he lay still. The ritual bathing continued in the deepest moment of each night for weeks, until Eric possessed two new skins: a raw cherry-blossom pink, redolent of iron and cream, and another skin of encrusted slashes interspersed with the first like a fake fur of fancy vermillion.
Things were changing. For a while Eric would return home from work with fish dishes and dine with the cats, feasting on grilled trout with ginger, salmon loafs with horseradish sauce, halibut in creamy cucumber sauces, crab cakes and lox. When he did not so much quit as cease going to work the household subsisted on Laura’s income. When money was tight the cats would bring home rats from the bodega across the street or fresh pigeons from the fire-escape.
Though none but the marmalade spoke to him, yet Eric thought that the cats were trying to communicate as a collective in codes of eye color, encrypted coats of fur, the length and downiness of fur, in matted tufts. Fallen whiskers made strange poetry that Eric stuttered tongue-tied to enunciate, studied to understand. He spent the better portion of days and nights lying on his back naked trying to decipher from upside-down the scratch mark hieroglyphics that inscribed the walls.
The marmalade had recruited two helpers—a runty black cat and a big-boned tabby—and the three of them kept the apartment more immaculate and glistening with a color-coded resplendence than ever. They furnished Laura’s desk with a garden of flowers, from orchids to amaranth, in the midst of which the cats prowled or lounged, swatting at the blossoms with indolent claws or creeping up on one another in surprise pounces. They traded off naps in Laura’s lap as she rallied through the night.
The ancient wooden door had no lock. Cordelia pushed it open and there before her stood the Raven King. He was a twisted mockery, half-man and half-bird, a skeletal being of wickedness. Cruel flames danced in the eye-sockets of his skull. He smiled gruesomely, arose on blood-stained talons, and cried out for war.
Cordelia leapt to the side and thrust a dagger that rang off his beak. She skirted around, gaining an advantage with agility. The decayed bird spun and sliced at the air. Cordelia sank her blade into the tendon of his wing and hacked down, sending the sickening being to the floor. He cried out and once again took ungainly flight, flinging himself toward Cordelia.
As cool as winter, Cordelia stood her ground, spinning and striking as the foul beast swept down upon her. The blade caught the other wing, slid out, and burst through a decrepit cage of bone straight to a withered heart. A mortal shriek echoed in the blood-soaked rain of raven feathers—the last, lingering caw of the Raven King.
Laura pushed herself back from the desk and savored the moment. She rubbed the stubble at the nape of her neck. The hour, the day of the week, the month, the year, and all of time was a whirling, polychromatic iris, and she the gravitational tug at the boundless center. She stretched and sighed. She stood and walked gingerly, prancing tippy-toed around and over and in between the languid bodies of drowsy cats. A tom yawned and somnambulistically swatted at the chipped glitter on her dancing toes.
An alert Siamese sat on Eric’s bare chest, riding the gentle tide of his breath, and a svelte gray cat was stretched along Eric’s ribs, curling her lower hips into Eric’s own. At Laura’s approach the Siamese unhurriedly stepped down and sashayed toward the bathroom.
Laura squatted beside Eric. “Eric,” she whispered.
The gray’s tail flicked.
“Eric,” she whispered again, shaking him gently.
He opened his eyes. Laura was radiant. In the unclosed window behind her the sky was dawn-blue and her eyes were a paler shade of the same blue, enormous behind pink frames. Her impossibly broad smile beamed and spread even broader, glowing and growing until it eclipsed her moony cheeks.
“Eric,” she whispered, “I saved the world.”
HAYES MOORE recently defended his doctoral dissertation on experimental Chinese poetry at Columbia University. His poetry has appeared in MaryMark Press, Segue, and Graffiti Rag. His fiction can be found in Foliate Oak and his co-translation of “Clover,” by the late author Guo Songfen, is in the collection Running Mother and Other Stories from Columbia University Press.