The White Cat’s Valentine
Celia looked out the window from Aphrodite’s Poison, the local café where we hung out every Wednesday.
“It’s crazy that everyone is driving out at this time of day with the snow blowing in.” Celia said.
“People do have to get to work, you know.” I pointed out.
“Oh Trevor, I know that. You even reminded me that I have an appointment with a client.” She looked at her watch, but her face was still troubled. “I have about an hour to get to my office.”
Today was the anniversary of her boyfriend’s death.
I remember getting the news over the phone last year. Celia called me, sobbing like she was about to slide off a cliff.
“Trevor!” she cried, her voice breaking. “Please come over!”
Those words haunted me, a reminder that a wonderful person like Celia was vulnerable to despair. When I came over to her house, she gripped me tight, her wet face pressing into my coat.
“They said he was dead on arrival!” Celia cried. Her boyfriend, Tom, got hit by a group of frat boys loaded with Corona brand alcohol.
Celia calmly stirred her coffee in the present. I tried to think of something to lighten her mood. She was still alive, still capable of loving someone else.
“I’d better get going,” Celia said, standing up and leaving two dollars on the table. “I’ll be seeing you later. Keep warm, okay?”
“Yeah, sure.” I said. “Yeah, sure?” Why not “I hope you keep the same!” or “Take it easy?” I had to utter the pathetic, mundane phrase “Yeah, sure!” I gave myself whiplash in not caring for Celia enough. Worse, I did not give any hint that I liked Celia more than just the friendly state we were engaged in. I knew that Celia meant more to me than she could ever make out. Hot guilt poured through as I contemplated over my cappuccino.
My fingers ran through the keyboard typing lesson plans for my art history class. But my brain ran through Celia’s unhappiness. It was mingling with mine, rupturing my heart like an enflamed oil barrel about to explode.
We first met in Aphrodite’s Poison Café after I graduated college. Oh, Celia was with Tom at the time while studying to be a clinical psychiatrist at another school. She would explain that he specialized in sound systems. She lovingly reported about him always bringing roses whenever they got together. Now Celia would lay roses on Tom’s grave from time to time.
The television was playing an ending from a romantic comedy. The man and the woman come to the realization they love each other just because the film’s triumphant music score was playing. I held a firm belief of the genre being complete bullshit when it came to the guy and the girl embracing each other. The belief was solidified with the sappy music playing in the background. The real killer was the camera moving farther away, signifying that Cupid accomplished his mission as the director intended it. This never worked with my pessimistic self struggling with affection for Celia. She appeared convinced continuing to love a dead man, which was close to necrophilia!
A commercial for Chinese food popped on, trying to entice with fried rice. An idea stabbed into my heart. If they say the only way to a man’s heart was his stomach, why not the reverse with the girl of your dreams? I was known to make a lethal stir fry, winning several cooking competitions with my peppered Thai beef with fried rice.
I picked up the phone and dialed Celia’s number. Her voice came on. “Hello?”
“Hey Celia, what are you doing tonight?” I asked.
“Trevor!” Celia answered with surprise. “I guess I’m not used to you calling around five thirty in the afternoon.”
“I know I’m not particularly known to break out of habit,” I replied, “What are you doing tonight?”
“Oh, nothing much,” she replied. “Why?” Celia’s tone was wary but curious.
“I was thinking of bringing hot dinner over.”
“I am known to make a mean helping stir fry.” I said.
There was silence on the other side. Oh shit, I thought, I screwed up.
“You can cook stir fry? I never knew that!” Celia answered happily. She was also laughing on the other line, another good sign.
“I reveal my best secrets at the last minute,” I replied.
“It’s been a while since I had a proper dinner, ever since-”
Damn it, why did she have to pause like that?
Celia finished her speech. “I mean, all I have been indulging in are ramen noodles in a box! So, what time are you coming over?”
“Would six-thirty be good, Celia?” I asked.
“Sure thing! Just drive safe!” she said.
Hanging up, I gave the wok a healthy workout with sliced beef, chopped vegetables and fried rice. All the ingredients sizzled satisfyingly, like they were all in secret agreement to make the dinner a worthy effort to Celia’s heart. In forty-five minutes, I had a piping hot bowl of spicy stir fry with steam twirling in the air. After a five minute shower, I was on my way to Celia’s with the bowl resting on the passenger’s seat. Tonight could be the evening I could rid her affliction of loss once and for all.
Celia opened the door, her eyes wide in delight at the bowl in my hands. The moment I set the dish on the table, something brushed around my leg. Whatever was brushing followed with a sharp sensation of something trying to tear through my jeans.
“Tom! Stop that! We have a dinner guest tonight!” scolded Celia, picking up a white feline. The cat looked at me with its questioning blue eyes. Could it mean silent protest of me dining with Celia? And why the hell was the cat named Tom?
We sat down, chopsticks at hand. Celia took a bite and grinned. At least that was one point for my team!
“This is wonderful!” Celia almost exclaimed. “If I knew you were good at this, we would be dining in style every night!”
Yes! Another point for Team Me! She digs Thai!
“Well, gee. I’m really flattered at that, Celia!” I said. Then trouble came over to the field with the sharp claws molesting my pant legs. I tried moving them away but the cat yowled in protest.
“Does your cat always treat guests like this?” I asked. Celia had a troubled look on her face, checking beneath the table.
“Not usually,” she said, “In fact, Tom had never acted this way before anyone had come to visit me.”
Tom leaped onto my stomach. The impact caused me to drop my chopsticks which held my food. It fell straight into my lap with Tom clawing at my shirt!
“Hey!” I called out. My hands were close to grasping the animal’s neck but Celia stopped me as she erupted from the table.
“Tom! What’s the matter with you?” she demanded, yanking the furball from my shirt. “Trevor! Are you all right?”
“Uh, I’m fine for now.” I lied.
“The bathroom is on the left,” Celia said. I hurried over to the bathroom, staring at my shirt covered in Thai and scratches. So what was my crime for bringing hot food to a girl who was not only my friend, but the love of my life? I started contemplating on the cat’s name. Celia dubbed this white package from chaos “Tom.” Of all names, this feline felon had to be named after her deceased boyfriend! She was a far more troubled girl than I gave her credit to be!
I felt something swirl between my legs. I noticed Tom prowling around them, like a shark circling a surfer. He struck at one of my pant legs, at a part where my sock was exposed.
“Fuck!” I yelled, holding my leg as Tom vacated the scene of the crime. Lowering my sock, I found that the cat’s claws were sharp enough to leave a gash. I grabbed for some toilet paper tissue after turning on the faucet. I soaked the wound, peering at the door in fear of Tom’s return.
I limped out of the bathroom, a dry patch of toilet paper covering the wound in my sock. Celia looked with concern with the cat from hell in her arms.
“Is there anything a matter?” she asked.
“No, no,” I insisted, weakly holding out my palm out. “Everything is okay.”
“I thought I heard you cursing in the bathroom, Trevor.” Celia pressed. “There is something wrong.”
I sat down, returning to the stir fry. “Please Celia, this is not a good winter evening for worrying!”
Tom launched himself like a bullet out of Celia’s arms, knocking into my bowl of cautiously prepared stir fry. It spilled over from the table with the bowl shattering onto the floor. I was about to yell at Tom, pointing my finger at him with a good “You bastard!” But then I stopped myself, with Celia hastily getting a mop. The cat stepped aside, his eyes pierced into mine with mocking glee.
“Oh God, Celia!” I said in despair. Celia looked at me with comforting green eyes.
“Trevor, don’t worry about it,” she said, putting excellent stir fry into a filthy trash can, “Besides, you said this was not a night for worrying, right?” There was the grin on her face, and I had to grin back. Usually if I fell at my wit’s end, Celia would think of something I could not pull out earlier. “Let’s just watch a movie. How about Lady Vengeance?”
The idea of watching a South Korean revenge film after the stir fry catastrophe was a strange choice. I chose not to argue, as there could have been a worse idea offered.
“As for you, it’s time out!” Celia said to Tom, her tone changing from a warm flame to a cold icicle in a second. Tom leered at me again as she was taking him to the basement. I swore the furry bastard would mangle me in my sleep.
Celia put Lady Vengeance into the DVD player. The beginning credits were rolling as she sat down by me. Celia was close but not as close as I would have wanted her in some nonthreatening fantasy. The warm air coming from the vent behind us seemed to begin to bond us together.
“Trevor,” she said while looking at me, “I know some crazy stuff has happened tonight, but it shouldn’t ruin the evening entirely.”
“I know, Celia.” I replied, even with knowledge that the evening was ruined already.
“Seriously, it’s okay.” Celia insisted, “Tom had never acted that way before.”
“Why did you name your cat ‘Tom?’” I asked. Celia moved strands of red hair from her face, her green eyes narrowing down to mine.
“I guess I’m still depressed about the real Tom being dead,” she lamented, “We used to sit down and watch Asian films together, every Wednesday.”
The vent began to feel hot, so hot that I would break out a sweat. My skin would crawl all over the place.
“I remember when we first met, we saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I have to say he was the culprit for my love of Asian cinema in the first place. He showed me older stuff like the Zatoichi movies and Seven Samurai. I know you like those movies too, so it is a little strange that-”
Celia stopped herself. I was close to choking.
Damn it Celia, why now? I thought frustratingly. Why not just get it over with? Just tell me that you are obsessed about your dead boyfriend. Confess that you have been holding secret séances to speak with beloved, dead Tom. Or at least tell me you like me but will never like me as much as Tom or a cat holding his namesake. Just fucking say something than pause in midsentence!
“Hey, what were you about to say?” I asked, burying the other statements into my subconscious. Her hair was down again. Celia did not move it back. There was a secret she was reluctant to give. Was it the confession I was hoping for?
“You remind me a lot of Tom.” Celia finished with a weak smile.
The dream sequence with Lee Young-Ae appeared on the screen. She dragged her object of revenge in form of a stuffed dog with a man’s head. She aims the pistol at his head. A loud blast from the gun brought a smile of satisfaction to the wronged woman’s face.
Then there was the sensation of sharp claws against my head.
“Goddammit!” I screamed, powerless in Tom’s power.
“Get off his head, you jerk!” Celia yelled, hitting the cat which forced him off. I moaned in pain, with Celia guiding me back to the bathroom. She took a moist cloth, cleaning my wound and soaking it in hydrogen peroxide. I breathed heavily, looking into the mirror at a guy somehow cursed to be alone.
“Tom must have crawled through the vent behind the couch.” Celia explained.
“Celia, maybe I should go.” I said, “This has not gone too well.”
She had a look of disappointment on her face. Her sad expression was ten times more painful than the wound Tom gave me.
“Look, Trevor-” She started to get closer to me but I drew back.
“Please Celia! I don’t want to make this night any worse!”
“It’s you who’s having a bad night.” she said. Giving a heavy sigh, Celia turned around, clutching herself. “Drive safe, Trevor.”
Those were the words I heard from her as I went for the door. My legs carried me the best they could so the vengeful spirit of Tom would not get me a fifth time. Bad things were supposed to happen in threes, not fours! If they happened five times in a row, I was damned to death.
I drove back home, ignoring the slick road. After hitting the driveway, I hastily got out of the car. The fridge, the one thing among few things that would never toy with me, had a bottle of Corona waiting. Yes, a Corona. The same drink that was responsible for Tom dying. Coincidence was a bitch.
I opened the cap and drowned myself with the bottle. The guilt inside me was burning ceaselessly more than the scratch wounds. Was I scared of Tom, her cat who might have been an incarnation of a jealous boyfriend? Or was I that scared of Celia and her obsession for Tom?
The phone rang. I was beyond the point of caring until I heard Celia’s voice.
“Trevor? Trevor? Are you there? Look, I should apologize for the evening. I guess I should have never brought the subject of Tom up, let alone the cat. I know naming my cat after Tom sounds unhealthy but it is difficult to explain. He proposed to me, I really had high hopes of us getting married before the accident. I adopted the cat after his death, because I was alone. Trevor, please call back.”
There was a compulsion to reach for the phone after the message ended. If she already knew how I felt about her, how would our relationship go? Would I get into a wreck like Tom did? Would Celia be cursed to name her next pet “Trevor” with the next guy to suffer for it?
I drew my hand from the phone, from Celia, from her cat and our relationship as a whole.