Here is Denise Jarmola's short story that took 1st place in the Friends of the Library Creative Writing Contest fiction category.
I can hear people in the living room saying my name. But I won’t answer. Just don’t feel like it at the time. And now-a-days I only do what I feel like, no more, no less.
I wasn’t always this way. A year ago I had a job. I was a teacher. Never really wanted to be a teacher. Just kind of wandered into the job. That’s how I did most things. Wandered into them. I wandered into college, because that’s what was expected after high school. Then they made me choose a major. I had no ideas, no dreams, no goals. I’d be an elementary teacher. Seemed good enough. The pathway of least resistance. I also wandered into relationships. Scott was a decent guy. Not too cute, but not too ugly. He seemed dependable and we got along well enough. Wasn’t really in love. Didn’t really dislike him. Just seemed like the easiest way to go. So I just inadvertently wandered into marriage. It made my parents and my friends so happy. Marriage gave a purpose to my life. I had an obtainable goal. Might as well. Needless to say, we later wandered into divorce. Scott seemed to think there should be passion not passivity in our relationship. Just coexisting wasn’t enough for him. I didn’t really care. For a while I almost felt bad. But, not for long. No reason to stay together. We parted.
Only one thing have I ever felt passionate about, my cat, Mr. Tibbs. He’s a black, long haired beauty. One day while on playground duty he appeared on the school grounds. He looked lost, scared and in need of a home. He was quickly ambushed by the second graders that I taught. I quickly felt the need to save him from all the groping little hands. He was grateful. From that point on we were bonded.
Perhaps Mr. Tibbs was why my husband finally gave up and left. For the first time ever he saw me actually interested in another being and it wasn’t him. Seems rather childish to be jealous of a cat. But it was the end.
So, Mr. Tibbs and I have spent the last four years together. At the end of a hard day of teaching he was always at the door to greet me and demand his dinner. He only likes canned food, not that nasty hard stuff in a bag. Evenings we watched TV together. He prefers the nature shows.
I used to go out on the weekends with my fellow teachers. They liked to go to museums or plays. I never really cared. I’d just follow along with whatever someone suggested. Then one weekend I had a cold and stayed home with Mr. Tibbs. And it happened; I had an epiphany. I much more enjoyed just lying around the house with my big black cat to walking through overcrowded, old buildings trying to hold up my end of a stimulating conversation over art, which in reality I was totally apathetical about.
That was the weekend of my slow retreat from humanity. Slowly I morphed from a follower to a loner. Once school was over each day, I rushed for my home, my splendid sanctuary away from having to pretend that I cared about others.
My job became more and more difficult. Second graders are needy. They want to interact with you. They want a relationship. I couldn’t just teach them, I had to “bond” with them. They kept telling me the personal parts of their lives no matter how little I responded. Soon my principal was “visiting” my classroom more and more. She was “concerned” with my indifferent responses to the children. I didn’t really tune in to her. I just dreamed of being in my own home, curled up in my window seat with the sun streaming down on me and Mr. Tibbs.
Their voices jolt me back to the present. I hear Jaynie, a friend from back in the day when I cared to interact with others. I pay attention for a little while. “Her mother is frantic about her. No one has talked to her in over a week and a half,” she seems to be telling someone.
“I knew something was wrong,” responds the other voice I don’t quit recognize. “I tried so hard to talk with her at school, but she just withdrew further every time I did.” Oh, it’s my ever so “concerned” principal talking in her superior way.
I’ve heard them coming and going in my house for the past week. At first I thought I should make some effort to talk to them. Let them know that I’m OK. But, it just takes too much effort. I do appreciate that they are keeping Mr. Tibbs and me fed. Sometimes I do go by and look at them, usually not.
As I was saying, it all started the weekend of my epiphany. I knew then that I much preferred spending my time in my own little home with Mr Tibbs. Now Mr. Tibbs is a typical cat. He does only what he wants when he wants. If he wants to sleep, he sleeps. If he wants to eat, he eats. If he wants to flop down in the floor and lick his private parts, that is exactly what he does, and he doesn’t care who is watching. I started to envy him. Not that I ever planned to lick my private parts in front of people, but the other whole cat persona. Why was I staying up past midnight to grade inane papers and fill out ridiculous educational red-tape paper work when what I really wanted to do was curl up in my big four poster bed and go to sleep? Why was I eating salad when I really wanted chocolate? Why had I gotten a teaching degree when I didn’t really like children? Why had I gotten married just to make others happy?
I decided it was time to take some advice from Mr. Tibbs. I’d live my life by what I wanted, not what was expected. So all the SRA’s didn’t get recorded. Too bad. Those students would learn to read in spite of documentation. So maybe I took a few naps with my head on my desk, the children didn’t suffer. They would sit quietly, unsure what to do and I could rest.
My life was changing. I was being freed of all the silliness of other peoples expectations. My clothes didn’t have to match or be in style. They just had to be soft and comfy. No more hairspray or makeup. And definitely no more high heels.
I can hear them talking still. Their voices are annoying, but I won’t complain as they are being nice enough to clean out the litter box. “She didn’t use to be that way,” Jaynie was explaining. “We used to go to the theater together or art museums almost every weekend. Oh, she was never the life of the party, but she joined in. Then all of a sudden she quit going with us.”
“Did someone do something that hurt her feelings? Was it something to do with her divorce?” asks my “concerned” principal.
Jaynie seems to think before responding. “I don’t think the divorce affected her much at all. Strange, huh? She just acted as if it was a minor inconvenience.”
“Did she have anyone she was close to? I never heard her talk of anyone.”
“Not really,” Jaynie answers. It takes all my effort to pay attention to their conversation. The sun is shinning down on me. The warmth and the laziness of the afternoon makes me want to sleep. In spite of it all, I still have a little curiosity left, so I continue to eavesdrop on this analysis of my psyche. “She never talked badly of her parents, but then again she never spoke with any great fondness. The same about her ex.” Then Jaynie began to give a confused laugh. “In fact the only being I ever heard her speak of with any emotion is that spoiled cat, Mr. Tibbs. She absolutely dotes on that boy. Oh speak of the devil and here he comes.”
So Mr. Tibbs has decided to go check out our house guests. He should be happy that they cleaned the litter box. He so hates a dirty litter box.
I guess that’s the only thing I feel bad about, I can’t take care of Mr. Tibbs like before. He needs fed twice a day, but our help only seems to make it by once a day and they don’t always clean the litter box like he likes it. Sadly there is nothing I can do now about that. We must all adapt, I suppose. I’m thinking so seriously about taking a nap, as the conversation in the other room is just not that riveting, but I hear the front door open. It’s Scott. That’s weird, but even after all these years I can tell it’s him from how he walks. Oh, and that’s strange, but now by his smell. Well, I’ve always heard that when one sense is gone the others become more powerful. It appears to be true in this case. Yes, now that I think about it I can smell him and Jaynie too. And Ms. Principal. She doesn’t smell too good.
“Has there been any progress?” he asks as he enters.
“Nothing new,” respond both the ladies.
It’s not that bad, I start to go tell them. Then I rethink it. I never could get Ms. Principal to see things my way, no reason to start now. That’s one of my favorite things about my new life. I just don’t worry about others’ opinions. I used to make myself sick worrying what others would think, or trying to persuade them to see things my way. Now when someone says something asinine I just roll over and go to sleep. Yes, this new life is better.
“I talked with the police this morning. They still have absolutely no leads where she has gone,” Scott told the ladies. He didn’t make much sense to me. I’m right here. Nothing has made sense for more than a week. Not since I had that Chinese food. Actually the food was fine. It was the cookie.
“The detectives keep asking me if anything is missing and I tell them not that I know of. Her closet looks full. Her car is in the garage. Her cell phone is on the charger. It’s like she just instantly vanished. Even her take out Chinese food was still here on the table, half eaten and her fortune cookie broken in two,” Jaynie explained again. A conversation I had overheard over and over this past week. Ever since I opened that cookie and it said make a wish. So I did.
“We’re just trying to take care of the cats,” Jaynie adds.
Ms. Principal chimes in, “And Jaynie is a saint as she doesn’t mind cleaning the cat box. With two it gets extremely disgusting so quickly.”
“Cats?” Scott asks. “She only has one cat. The almighty Mr. Tibbs. When did she get another cat? She worships Mr. Tibbs. I can’t believe either of them would make room for another being in their lives. They sure didn’t when I lived here.”
I think it’s time for a snack. Another thing I love about this new life. Eat when hungry. Sleep when sleepy. Be sociable if I want, but don’t ever feel obligated. Yes, it’s the life I always dreamed of.
As I round the corner Jaynie points at me, “See Scott. She’s a beautiful white Persian. I can’t believe you ex never told any of us about her.”
Yes, it was a great fortune cookie. All it said was make a wish and be what you always wanted to be. Oh, it’s a wonderful life being a cat.