Short Story

"Get off the record player," said Tess to her cat. The cat jumped off the record player and onto the table.

"Get off the table," said Tess. The cat jumped off the table, walked into the kitchen and lit up a Nat Sherman.

"Put that out," said Tess. The cat glared at her and pissed on the floor while smoking his Nat Sherman.

"That’s disgusting."

The cat turned his back to Tess and cleaned up the puddle. He went into the kitchen, got out an Abita Pecan Harvest and poured it into his bowl. He drank it. Immediately, he became visibly drunk.

"Stop it, you’re sensitive," said Tess. The cat threw up in the trash can and washed his hands with his tongue. He brought out his iPhone and started playing the Foo Fighters.

"Sorry, but that’s annoying," said Tess. The cat shut it off and began checking his email.

The cat read an email he didn’t like. He puffed up his fur and hissed, then swatted the phone down the hallway to the bathroom and tried to flush it down the toilet.

Tess entered the bathroom. “What are you doing?” She asked. “That was an expensive phone.”

The cat was sullen and hid behind the shower curtain, hugging the floor with his belly.

"Don’t be like this," said Tess. "Go sit in your place."

The cat went and sat in his place, by the bottom of the refrigerator. Tess fed him tiny bits of ham. He asked for capers and she said no, then asked herself why not and gave him some. He went into the living room and considered the Christmas tree. He could not access it because of a baby gate. The cat cried long and hard.

He gathered his courage and tried to figure out how to move his lips. “Please,” said the cat, “I want to go under there.”

"You’re going to pee on it," said Tess, because she had known the cat for a dozen years and he had never failed to pee underneath the Christmas tree.

"I won’t," lied the cat.

"Yeah, you will," said Tess.

They locked eyes. The cat’s eyes were yellow and unrelenting. They sat there for hours, through Christmas eve, through Christmas day, on and on and on over the presents that were opened and the egg nog that was poured. The cat’s tail waved in the background like a metronome. Tess excused herself for food and other necessities, but brought the cat with her on her shoulder so that she could continue to stare at him.

Neither was willing to break. The tree was hauled away and the gift wrappings put into bags that were thrown in the dumpster down the block. Dean Martin played on the radio, the cat’s favorite. In early 2014, they arrived at a truce. Their cups of eggnog were attracting flies, which distracted them both.

"Next year," said the cat, "I’m going to get you."

"Not if I get you first."

Tess was tired and had to go to bed. She left the room and closed the door so the cat could be alone with his thoughts. She heard him dancing on the record player, smashing the five plates that she considered her best china, and whispering about her in a nasty way. She whispered about the cat — his worst embarrassments, the duvets ruined and the times she had caught him doing unmentionable things to dog toys — and their whispers grew louder and louder through the night, as neither one slept, until she got out of bed in the morning and they shared their first cup of 2014 coffee, regarding each other across the table.

Between them stretched twelve years of cohabitation and familiarity. They had arrived at new apartments and houses together, gone to college together, gotten drunk together. They had seen each other in dirty towels after flu-showers and covered with soot from crawling around in the fireplace like maniacs. They had chased laser pointers as kittens and sat on balconies in the dark listening to burbling pools in separate spheres of intense loneliness. The cat had often crawled into her lap purring when she was devastated by something and massaged her shoulders with soft paws. They had experienced periods of hatred for one another, when she had yelled because he had scratched her face and he had hissed at her in fear and spent the night destroying or eating everything in the wastebasket. He had taken her shoes. She had given up serving him wet food. Now they were both old, but he was (realistically speaking) older, and that made her very sad.

Next year, he would get her, if she didn’t get him first. But soon it would be spring, and then summer (which they agreed was their favorite time together, when they would stretch out on the floor in a patch of sun by an air conditioning vent to read Vanity Fair), and by the time it was Christmas again their whiskers would be even longer and the jump from the cabinet a little tougher on the knees. And eventually it would be the last Christmas, and she would know. And there would  be no baby gate around the Christmas tree, only drop cloths and Nat Shermans and catnp and the vague memories of past holidays where they had warred from either side of a door. Those seemed pleasant now. And they would take out an issue of Vanity Fair and stretch out on the floor like it was summer and the cold air would slip in from a crack in a window as they thought of all of the things they’d seen together, and how well they knew each other, and outside the snow would fall like sparkling bonito flakes from heaven.

Where Are The Geniuses?

Hey, geniuses. I have some ideas for you but absolutely no practical knowledge. Can you please make these things for me/the world?:

1. PURSE CLEANING MACHINE

This is a box. On the left there are three settings: leather, pleather, and other. On the right are three more settings: filthy, disgusting and gross. Then there’s a little red button in the center that says AUTO-CLEAN (this feature incinerates all the trash so you don’t have to feel bad about yourself). You put your purse in the box and select your cleaning cycles. The device uses UV lights, cyclonic wind energy, atomized perfume and magic to shake your bag free of gum wrappers, tiny paper crumblies, melted gum, cookie particles and snotty tissues, then adds an aroma that makes you forget about the time a milk carton exploded in its guts. VOILA.

2. A LITTERBOX WITH LEGS

There are litter robots, and they are ill-conceived. I have two cats — my mistake — and I know that if you have a cat who’s cool with entering into a contraption that makes sounds like a garbage disposal and has light-up eyes, you should just send your feline to MIT and let him use the restrooms at college. This is a traditional litterbox with legs so that, when prompted, it can walk itself out to the garbage or your enemy’s lawn and empty itself. I feel like this one I could probably tackle on my own, because those little wind-up toys with legs don’t seem like rocket science or anything, but I’m busy and bad at math and I’m just going to pass this idea along to cat-people engineers. VOILA.

3. HAS THIS GONE BAD SENSOR

You know when you have a little container of dairy-thing and it stinks like it’s bad but it claims to be good? Or you scramble eggs with past-due dates that haven’t come but there’s just something weird about them? We need a scanner that just tells you what you’re in for. A little arrow points to POISON or DELICIOUS, depending on what’s up with your groceries. Take it on the road and see how old the lettuce on your sub is, or when your sushi was fished out of the sea. Never barf again. VOILA.

4. FLOORS THAT OOZE SOAP AT NIGHT AND SQUEEGEE THEMSELVES CLEAN

I fought with a Roomba for five years. It was my most expensive enemy. It jammed, it snagged, it heaved, it expired over and over. Why can’t we make floors with vents that double as black-hole vacuums and sweat Murphy’s oil soap at night (you don’t want to see them do it, it’s bound to be gnarly). Squeegee friends emerge when everything’s slick and glide across your hardwood, absorbing the soap with their microfibers. Then a hologram beams a vase of flowers onto your coffee table that can’t be knocked over by your pets. VOILA.

5. SPEAKING OF HOLOGRAMS, I WANT ONE FOR MY FACE

Makeup is annoying. So is plastic surgery. Sometimes you want to go out to dinner wearing Tupac’s face. This would also be great for criminals. VOILA.

Short Story

The headline read, “BREAKING: ALL ASPARAGUS INFECTED WITH C. COCCOLETTI VIRUS. THE WHITE HOUSE ISSUED A STATEMENT THIS MORNING: ‘DO NOT EAT ASPARAGUS. YOU WILL DIE.’

It was not hard for Dennis to find asparagus. There was a giant bag of it sitting outside FreshMarket, slumped between two dumpsters. He picked it up and placed it in the back of his station wagon, locked his car, and went into the store to buy lemons and butter.

Dennis texted four of his friends and asked if they would like to come over for dinner. He told them that there would be poisonous asparagus. His friends were journalists, so they instantly agreed. Cate offered to bring wine, and asked if he would prefer red or white. “What would you like as your last drink?” He answered that she should bring both, and maybe whatever else she had lying around.

Sam offered up a coffee cake from his grandmother, but Sam and Dennis agreed that he should eat it himself before he left his house instead. There would undoubtedly be a lot of vomiting after they ingested the asparagus, and if Dennis managed to survive, he didn’t want to clean regurgitated coffee cake off his walls, along with having to dispose of the corpses of his friends. “Totally get it,” responded Sam.

Dennis prepared his dinner table while concurrently emailing Vice back and forth about compensation. Alex had already claimed The New York Times, which bothered Dennis tremendously because it had been his idea, after all. He hoped Alex died first, or just most horribly. Cate had secured xoJane, and Sam was planning to use the material for an autobiography released posthumously (he’d been working on it for years, and had written over 30 chapters of it so far). Everyone arrived and arranged themselves in the living room. Dennis poured them each a drink, and then another, as they all sat around silently clicking on their machines. It almost seemed a shame that they’d all have to move to the table soon and die. At 8:30 on the button, after each had filed part one with their editors, they moved into the dining room.

Dennis steamed the asparagus on the stove, tossed it with butter and squeezed lemon onto it.

"What kind of lemon is that?" asked Sam.

"Regular, not meyer," said Dennis.

"What kind of butter?" asked Cate.

"I splurged. On Plugra."

Tap tap tap tap tap.

Dennis brought the platter into the dining room. Alex had to move his computer onto his lap, and then Sam spilled his wine all over it.

"No!" cried Alex. "I didn’t save!"

"You saved part one, right?" asked Dennis.

"Part one was so short!"

Alex was in a panic. He tilted his keypad sideways and red wine poured out of the return button. The screen was frozen, then went to black. Alex stood up from the table.

"I don’t want to die tonight," he said. "This sucks. This is going to cost thousands of dollars. Thanks a lot, Sam. You’re an asshole."

"You’re going to regret that!" said Sam. "I’m putting that in here, and everyone’s going to rip you apart in response pieces when they read that those were the last words you said to me!"

"I’m sorry," said Alex.

"I’m not even putting that part in, because you called me an asshole."

"You have to," said Alex, "or you’re risking your integrity. There are witnesses."

"The witnesses will be dead!"

Alex sat back down. “Give me the asparagus,” he said as he scribbled on his emergency legal pad. “I want to eat it first.”

"Alex, don’t," said Cate. "Come on."

"No. I want to be the first one to go, and I just want you all to know —" he glared at Sam, "— that I’m going to say what good friends you all are and how I was lucky to spend my last night with you, eating poison. And that I apologized. And that I was the first to die."

"It’s probably about how your body handles it, not who ingests it first," said Dennis.

"Okay, but you’re all going to have to say who ate it first. You’re going to have to say. It was me."

"I kind of thought I’d be first since it’s my party," said Dennis, "and my idea."

"Yeah, but I’m writing this for my autobiography,” said Sam. “I already have 400 pages.”

"Fine," said Alex. Sam helped himself to the vegetables and passed it to Cate. She paused.

"I’m just thinking, you know, I could freeze this asparagus and write my own autobiography," said Cate. "I’m having second thoughts. I could do this in a year. I’m sorry, you guys. I just know I could go long on this."

"That’s a really good point," said Alex. "Do you think you can freeze it after you’ve steamed it?"

"I’m pretty sure you can," said Cate. "You can freeze anything."

"No way," said Sam, his mouth full. "Everybody has to eat the asparagus."

"Yours will be published like a year before hers," said Dennis, "you could leverage with that."

"How long do I have?" Sam stared at his plate.

"I don’t know, I didn’t look into it. You’d think four hours, right?"

"I have to send an email," said Sam. "This is becoming more complicated than it was supposed to be." Sam was looking pale. His fingers were freezing up. "Hey man, you think you could help me get this out?"

Dennis took Sam’s laptop as he dictated the message. He looked very unwell. “Say, you know — I’m thinking double the advance, basically — I don’t know, don’t be too forceful or mean or anything, just be really firm about it. And at the end say ‘thanks’ with an exclamation mark.” Sam spread out on the floor. He was very pale. “Just send it, whatever. I really hope he gets back to me soon. Are you guys going to eat it? You guys? Dennis? Did you send that? Refresh it. Dennis?” Sam died. It was gross.

Nobody could eat in that kind of environment. The asparagus was taken back to the kitchen and divided into three Ziploc bags. Emails were sent explaining what had happened. Tweets were composed. RIP Sam.

Dennis sent Alex and Cate off with their leftovers and condolences about Alex’s computer. He got an email from his editor: “You know, I think it’s an even better story because you didn’t eat it. You might catch some heat for this, of course. The authorities are probably going to get involved. But it’s a pretty big story. Really dramatic, even though you’re still alive.” Dennis tossed his bag of asparagus into the garbage and looked at Sam’s body, wondering what he should do with it.