"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.
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.