‘I’m going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.’
She looked up at me with a steady gaze, no sign of fear or mistrust. Even if what she said were true, I knew what I had to do.
‘I’m sorry,’ I angled the knife.
But that’s the end of my story. You’d be wanting the beginning.
It began in a Jimmy’s Steakhouse on a Thursday night with me sitting alone, drinking boutique beer and waiting on a burger. Man! I feel like a woman played on the sound-system. I restrained myself from joining in, not only for the looks I’d get – being hairy, mid-fifties, and unmistakeably not of the fairer gender – but mostly because you weren’t there. Singing was something I did to make you smile. You’d been gone 732 days.
The burger was served by a girl who had black hair hanging in two thin plaits and a stud below her lip. I tried not to stare as she deposited a plate the size of an Antarctic ice-floe, the burger some small thing trapped on top and set adrift on my glass-topped table. I always got the same: Wagyu Beef with smoky chipotle sauce, sweet potato fries.
On the second mouthful the strangeness began. I may have made a noise. People at tables nearby looked up and then away. I closed my eyes, a feeling of heaviness enveloping me. And then:
A road stretches for miles, straight in both directions. Blue empty midday sky. Yellow grass ripples like shallow water to the horizon. One tree, a patch of shade already taken up by lumps of bodies. I lower and tear at the grass, which is dry and flavourless.
I startled and opened my eyes. I was covered in sweat like from a bad hangover. I stood up, shaking. I pushed open the door, and walked out into the mall.
Some people might’ve put it down to bad meat or off mayo. But you know me: I always was the Mulder to your Scully. I went to the Men’s and washed my face. Thought some. Then I went and bought a few things.
I will skip some of the particulars here, and only say: the chicken gave me nightmares I may never recover from. For God’s sake buy free-range. Or live on baked beans and vegetables, as I soon shall.
I woke the following morning strangely calm.
Here’s the thing. After you left – well you know how I get. I destroyed every picture of you I had. Deleted them. Tore them up and burned them. For a year or more, I didn’t want to see your face.
And then, one day, I did.
I missed the shape of your jaw. Your smile. I’d forgotten the colour of your eyes. Were they green? Hazel? Blue?
Mishka lay in a patch of sun on the couch in the drawing room. Since you were gone she woke only for food, and regarded me with distaste. I’m the oaf who’d have left her to die, you’re the one who saved her. Every night she used to curl on your lap, lolling and purring, gazing up at you as you stroked her throat.
‘Mishy,’ I called gently, knife clasped in my left hand, a portion of bacon in my right. And then I swear she spoke to me, but maybe it was the strange dreams and drink playing with my mind.
I could have done it cleaner, but it’s not a thing I ever thought to do.
With some difficulty I bagged portions for freezing, then prepared the first with the care of a priest readying a sacrament, though the smell turned my stomach.
My hands shook. I had been crying for some time, tears and snot commingling like rivers joining. I missed you. I placed a small, grey piece of something warm into my mouth, chewed, forced myself to swallow. Washed it down with tequila.
You are here. The smell of you, the feeling of your fingers on me. And then you look down at me and –
I shuddered and sobbed. Something was wrong. I couldn’t tell if your eyes were green or hazel or blue. And then I understood.
Cats don’t see in colour.