“I am not a cat person.” The first thing she said when she walked into my apartment. I hadn’t told her about Zeppelin - I mean, why would I? It was our first date so I didn’t want to bore her with my life story (raised in Minnesota, moved to L.A. for graduate school, blah blah) or a detailed description of my apartment. For example, did I tell her about the switch in the kitchen that gives you a mini electrical shock every time you turn it on? Or how sometimes when you flush the toilet, the water runs forever until you jiggle a metal hook in the tank to make it stop. She knew I lived in the bottom half of a duplex in the mid-city area, where I’d gone to college (Carolina, Go Heels!), that I liked “Walking Dead” and “Homeland” (until it got bad). Let’s face it, she knew plenty. So was it a mistake I hadn’t told her about my cat?
I never notice any cat odor. Not that I buy super fancy litter, I get what’s on sale. But I keep one of those diffuser things on the sink near the litter box (my mom sent me the diffuser – I didn’t know what it was – I thought the skinny sticks were some new kind of cinnamon. Then I read the instructions and saw they were supposed to make a room smell “bright and fresh” and I thought – why not put ‘em by the litter box? Couldn’t hurt.
But the way Shelby wrinkled her nose when she walked inside and made the snarky cat person comment makes me think I should ask my mother for a new diffuser. Or maybe it doesn’t matter since this date will be over in about five minutes.
“Did you see Zeppelin?” I ask, hoping she spotted a flash of him and wasn’t reacting to an imaginary smell of cat piss.
“Zeppelin?” She wrinkles her nose again and what I thought was a charming quirk I noticed in the bar when we met now seemed to be more like an unfortunate (and unattractive) tic.
“My cat,” I say. “He’s sort of built like a zeppelin. Long and round and grey. And it’s one of my favorite bands, so it seemed like a good cat name.”
She’s staring at me. Please don’t wrinkle your nose again, I want to tell her. “There’s a band called Zeppelin?” she asks.
I wonder what the world record is for shortest first date. There must be cases of someone opening a door and then closing it immediately. That isn’t going to happen – she’s already in my living room. I could pretend to have a family emergency. Fake hearing my phone buzz. “Excuse me,” I’ll say to her. “Got to take this. My father’s been touch and go for the past few days. Hope it’s not bad news.” And I’ll run in the kitchen and pretend to have a conversation and then appear again and tell her things don’t look good. So tonight won’t work out. Bummer.
Except that’s probably serious bad karma. And my father, who’s in excellent health (he runs half-marathons), would probably drop dead the instant I make up a bullshit story about his sudden demise.
“Led Zeppelin,” I say to her. “You know, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
“Oh.” She nods. “I’ve heard of them.”
This is the moment where I should ask her what kind of music she likes. But I’m filled with fear, a cat-pissy kind of fear that she’ll say something wrong. Wrong and unacceptable and I’m not a music snob – I don’t care if you like Keith Urban or Kacey Musgraves (very hot) and some pop stuff is okay, like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Opera and classical, they’re fine - not that I’m a fan though. For a minute I’m thinking there’s a chance Shelby will surprise me and say something about Macklemore and I’ll laugh and say, “I didn’t pick you as a Macklemore girl” and she’ll start singing “Can’t Hold Us” and later when we’re in bed, we’ll laugh about Led Zeppelin and my cat and she’ll admit she never had cats before but now that she’s met Zeppelin she realizes cats are great, no, cats are amazing and we should go to a shelter tomorrow so she can have a cat of her own.
“You are so sweet,” she’ll say to Zeppelin and scratch him under his chin the way he likes and he’ll purr and look over at me as if to say, “It was iffy there, but she’s okay. I approve.”
Shelby’s checking out my apartment, not wrinkling her nose (thank God), but I can tell she isn’t impressed which is crazy because my apartment is big for a place in L.A. and it’s pretty clean for a place shared by two guys and our furniture is in moderately good shape and we’ve got an almost new flatscreen and great audio system. “I don’t listen to a lot of music,” she says.
“What do you listen to?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “I like silence. I guess silence is music to me.”
Fuck me. She was normal at the bar, I swear. Funny, smart, big tits. And now - she’s a fucking psycho. Hates cats, hates music. What’s next?
“That’s kind of cool,” I say. Thinking life without music – real music, not silence – would suck more than anything.
“Where’s your cat? Is he going to jump out at me?” She wraps her arms around her shoulders and I’m tempted to tell her Zeppelin might drop from the ceiling at any time, like a bat, swoop in front of her, claws bared, mouth open, hissing like a banshee.
But that would be rude. “He’s shy when somebody new comes over. He’s probably hiding under the bed in my room, but he’ll show up. Unless you don’t want him to. Are you allergic?”
“No,” she says. She smiles and I’m relieved because in spite of everything, she’s still attractive. Sometimes the bar thing, a girl looks great through the haze of four margaritas and dim light, but you stop at 7-Eleven for “essentials” and she wants to come in the store with you to get an Arizona Iced Tea and you see her under the fluorescents and holy hell, she’s ass ugly and you have a moment of wanting to ditch her because suppose you run into somebody you know and you have to explain she’s your date? And suppose your roommate is home but hopefully you can sneak her into your room without him seeing her and she does seems drunk and fuckable and so what, you can keep the lights out in your room and pretend she’s Mila Kunis.
This girl, cat-hater Shelby, she’s cute and has a great body, but she’s giving off a vibe that sucks the air out of the room. I think about the excuse thing again - maybe not my dead father, maybe a fake dead relative to avoid bad karma.
Zeppelin appears in the hallway, almost as if he knows we’re talking about him. Cats have this weird ability to pick up on who likes them and who doesn’t. And a hater is way much more tantalizing than a lover. I watch as Zeppelin observes Shelby. His round yellow eyes blink several times and I know he’s sizing her up – blip blip blip goes his kitty brain and in a couple seconds he’s got her number.
“Hey, Zeppelin,” I say to him and he walks over and rubs against my legs, not showing affection, instead he’s demonstrating to Shelby how I belong to him. Marking his presence, minus the peeing. “Isn’t he handsome?”
“I suppose.” She leans against the sofa. “I don’t get why anyone would want a cat. They don’t do anything.”
“Zeppelin’s great to have around.” I bend over and scratch Zeppelin behind the ears and get rewarded with a small purr. “He sleeps on the foot of my bed, he likes to chase things. Sometimes when I’m watching TV he sits on my lap and purrs. There’s nothing like a cat purring on your lap.”
She doesn’t look convinced. “But he can’t do tricks. Like a dog. Sit and speak. Fetch. You know, stuff that’s interesting.”
“Zeppelin could do all those things. But he chooses not to. Cats consider tricks beneath them.”
She laughs. She doesn’t believe me and I know I’m sort of making that up, but I need to be loyal to my pet. “They’re not as smart as dogs either,” Shelby says.
“How do you know?”
“How many cats do you see in movies? You see dogs all the time. Because they can be trained. Police dogs, drug sniffing dogs. Have you ever heard of a drug-sniffing cat? Think about those rescue dogs who crawl through neighborhoods devastated by tornados and find barely alive people. Or guide dogs. Service dogs who can call 9-1-1 for people with terrible diseases. Cats can’t do any of that.” She takes a breath and smiles at Zeppelin. It’s more of a sneer.
I watch Zeppelin. His eyes blink at the girl, like a camera lens, like he’s imprinting her image on his retina. Maybe cats have some kind of mental version of Facebook where they communicate with each other – like Zeppelin will send out a mass PM with a photo attached – “Shelby. Cat hater. Beware.”
Zeppelin moves to Shelby and for a moment I imagine her kicking him or screaming, “Keep that monster away from me.” But neither of those things happen. Zeppelin stops at her feet and taps his head against her legs. Shelby looks down at him and frowns.
“He’s not going to shed on my new jeans, is he? They’re True Religion.”
“He doesn’t shed much,” I say to her and I mentally pull the True Religion jeans down past her waist, past her ankles. Trying to salvage something out of the evening.
Zeppelin slides his body back and forth against Shelby’s legs and I can hear him purring. He doesn’t do that often with strangers. Especially strangers who radiate “I despise you.”
She looks down at Zeppelin, then up at me. “That feels kind of good.”
I could say I told you so, but I don’t want to ruin the moment.
“It’s too bad he can’t do tricks.” Shelby moves away from Zeppelin and gives him a tiny shove with her foot. “How big do you think his brain is? Probably the size of an M & M.” She isn’t paying attention to Zeppelin anymore. Instead she walks to me and puts her arms around my waist. “So are we going to do it or what?”
In the morning I wake up and she’s in bed, facing away from me. The sex was okay, nothing extra special, sort of clenched and uptight like the rest of her personality, but it wasn’t horrible. She’s naked and I think about rubbing her back and how that might lead to something else and she gives a soft moan and I wonder if she’s dreaming. Dreaming about me or guide dogs or spending too much money on expensive jeans. Her head rolls over and I can see her face. Eyes closed, a big smile on her face. She’s in that half sleep/half awake place and she moans again. And giggles.
“Robbie. Stop it,” she says. “Your tongue. It tickles. What are you doing?”
I look over and notice Zeppelin. Zeppelin who is sitting close to her shoulder and licking her nipple. He stops what he’s doing and looks over at me.
I am not an asshole. It’s not often (or ever) I find myself in a situation like this. Do I try to silently push Zeppelin off the bed? Do I let Zeppelin keep doing what he’s doing? Shelby seems to be enjoying it. But I’m not sure how she’ll feel if she wakes up and sees a cat licking her boob.
She moans again. Her eyes are still closed.
Zeppelin looks at me. Blinks. What should I do, he seems to be asking.
I look up at the ceiling. And she said cats can’t do tricks.
Colin Demayne is a writer living in California.