Shaded by the blue flowering wisteria, my sister
and I small talked on the recycled plastic bench
before she welled up with tears over her latest
altercation with my best friend. I believed her version
no less than the equally plausible and conflicting one
I gathered from him when he called me to gripe
the day before. She denied most everything
of his account. She simply didn’t understand how
he could be that way. She took me up on my proposal
that the three of us meet at 8 at The Pour Excuse Pub.
I called my best friend later in the day. He was on board
for our get together, though disputing her take on him
and said she was “beyond understanding.”
Into my second beer, I realized he wasn’t coming,
nor was she. I left behind the mug, half-empty
like me, and trudged home. No word from either
of them. “Just one of those things,” I decided,
and crashed out. In the morning, they woke me
with their knocking. There they were at my door,
all smiles, holding hands, inviting me to join them
for breakfast. As I opened my mouth to speak,
their extended palms signaled me to back off from any
cross examination. “It was a misunderstanding,
that’s all,” my sister explained. “Exactly,” my best friend
chimed in. I didn’t press them, and said I understood.
Months passed and I had no luck
getting very far with her. Her veneer
was animated but her core, frosty,
impenetrable. I began to grow
tired of the game. I sent flowers
when her cat, Scampi, died,
for all the good it did me, or her,
or Scampi for that matter. I never
did see the creature for she always
had him confined to her bedroom
at the top of the stairs. All I knew
of this off-limits zone, my holy grail,
was the closed pink door keeping me
out. It was her love of Shrimp Scampi
that inspired the cat’s name
but Scampi wasn’t all that lovable.
With regularity, he’d scratch her legs,
hide in any open cupboard or drawer
and throw up in the kitchen sink
or so she’d tell me in exasperation.
I wasn’t sure how genuine
her weepy voice was when
she called with the news
of his demise. Still, I needed
to be sympathetic if I was to have
half a chance with her. Maybe
after the cremation, she would
take comfort in my arms.
Flowers were an easy token.
In a week I called to see
how she was. She thanked me
for my consideration,
and we arranged to have dinner
at Bistro Milano, our usual haunt.
We met inside the entrance.
She was wearing one of her many
silk scarves patterned with cats.
Bubbly and aloof as ever,
a combination she excelled at,
she seemed not to need cheering up.
She let me plant the obligatory
millisecond kiss on her lips.
I wondered if she saw or felt
the moustache I started growing
at her request. She set in
to gabbing effusively
about her new kitten – Osiris,
named for the Egyptian god
who ruled the underworld,
she told me, and also
symbolized the renewal of life.
She scrutinized the menu
though she must have had it
memorized, with all the times
we’d been there. I was surprised
she was having the Scampi,
her usual. I told her how sorry I was.
She lowered her head
with a solemnity a bit mechanical
but didn’t change her order.
After our meal, she invited me over.
Maybe this would be my chance.
We sat on the sofa, thighs touching
and drank wine, while she cuddled
Osiris on her lap. I looked longingly
up at the bedroom and noticed
the door surprisingly ajar. A corner
of the bed was in fluffy pink disarray.
“Colorful bedspread,” I said,
“would you give me a tour?”
She didn’t get the hint.
She never got the hint.
We were startled by the door-bell.
Osiris jumped onto my shoulder
as she went to answer it.
A somber delivery - Scampi’s ashes
in a cat-shaped urn of stone.
She sat back down next to me,
setting the ashes between us.
After several moments of mutual silence,
she commented that it was getting late
and that the cats (notice the plural)
needed to get to bed. Osiris, on cue,
scampered into the bedroom.
It looked like I’d be striking out again.
Osiris’ muffled meow seemed
to mock my very emotions.
But inspiration comes unexpectedly.
Deciding “now or never,”
I got down on all fours at her feet.
She looked at me intently
for a long while, and made a sound
I could only describe as a purr.
She bent down, moistened a finger,
rubbed it tenderly along
my nascent moustache,
and commented that my whiskers
were coming along quite nicely.
She took off her long silk
scarf, knotted one end loosely
around my neck and led me
up to the bedroom. She ejected
Osiris by the scruff of his neck
and closed the door behind us.
Scampi we left behind
on the sofa, none the worse
for the wear. I felt I might grow
to like cats for real.
Philip Wexler lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Close to 200 of his poems have appeared in magazines. His poetry books include The Sad Parade (prose poems) and The Burning Moustache, both published by Adelaide Books, and The Lesser Light, by Finishing Line Press. Two other full-length collections, I Would be the Purple (Kelsay Books) and With Something like Hope (Silver Bow Publishing) are scheduled for release later in 2022. He also organizes and hosts Words out Loud, a monthly spoken word series convened via Zoom.