Doug is yellow — hair, skin, suit jacket, nails — except his eyes are nice. He has no family, no friends, and only one co-worker who is actually his boss.
On Thursday he comes home, in, and puts his keys by a fruit bowl with one brown banana and a rotting peach. He looks through the mail and there’s a letter addressed to him in cursive. It looks handwritten, but is really just a mass-produced advertisement. He looks out the window at the overpass where all the cars are stuck in traffic. He flips a switch and the overhead light sizzles and then goes out.
He goes to the kitchen and opens the freezer, which makes a very nice swwhhhwoop sound. The sound is the best thing he’s heard all day. Inside, four stacks of five boxes of TV dinners can fit perfectly. He takes a meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner from column five, row three. In the freezer door there is one pint of Strawberry ice cream, for later.
As the meal spins to perfection, he goes to the bathroom with the door wide open, sweating from his face onto his hairy thighs. Something plops into the bowl that’s streaked with blood. He flushes without looking and leaves his pants at the base of the toilet.
The microwave makes a hellish cry that delights him.
The food is good to him. It is sweet, sugared meat, and cloud-potatoes, and green peas that are difficult to catch with a fork, infusing the meal with an element of sport. He sits at his table, in the dimming light, with a view of the sun bursting over the overpass, where the stuck cars reflect its berry light and look on fire. He bites down on a mouthful of peas, exploding their green into sweetness. He finishes his dinner, swirling his tongue inside each portioned section of the plastic tray, and with his free hand, rubs his bulging gut like it’s a pet. He pats it and says, “Yummy.”
Soon the sky gets fully dark, and the shadows inside begin reaching. The only light is from the kitchen and it barely touches his empty plastic tray.
He goes to the freezer for his dessert, but when he picks up the carton of Strawberry, he can tell by its weight that it’s almost empty. He opens it, and there is only enough for one spoonful. His heart pounds, and then he jumps, thinking he sees a ghost floating by the window. But it’s not a ghost, it’s just an old apron hanging from a hook on the wall.
Doug steps outside, and it begins to rain. It’s raining, in winter, after a long day, and he passes a dark alley with a tipped over trashcan. Inside it, he sees a cat trying to eat a plastic bag.
– Heyyy! Don’t be dumb.
The cat shrinks back from Doug’s face and large hands. He has a beard like a small, grey bush that the cat probably thinks is a rival cat, or a small, grey bush.
– Plastic is not food.
The cat shivers with terror, or from the rain. He’s covered in shadows, but his green eyes pop like seedless grapes — each one containing a tiny fire. He is just bones and turkey skin with little tufts of orange and the bag is nestled like a treasure under his paw.
– Ppsssst, pssst, psstt.
– Come here, dummy.
He doesn’t know why, but for almost ten minutes, he waits in the rain, crouching into a trashcan, wind whipping his ears red. When he finally turns to leave, the cat comes closer. He looks into Doug’s eyes and the gaze freezes both their bodies.
Doug doesn’t like cats so it’s confusing but he decides to save it. He lunges into the dirty can and takes the cat by the scruff. It hisses and scratches his hands until blood drops fall from his hands. The cat instinctively rebels against the imminent fusing of his life with another — even though his life is reduced to eating garbage, his freedom is all that he is.
Two free men/cats, in the rain.
The cat slices through his soft skin, Doug squeezes the cat’s tender throat and body. A small old lady passes by and her jaw falls open, then she hurries away with an umbrella covering her face.
– Hey idiot …
Says Doug, breathless, tightening his grip around the cat’s little neck.
– … I’m just trying to help you!
Then the cat sinks his incisors into Doug’s forearm, which makes him release a scream with so much pain in it that the old lady hears it from a distance and runs the rest of the way home.
He cries like a baby. He cries at the pain, but also at the injustice of trying to be good and then getting bit for it. It goes on for a while longer than you would expect. It is possible that some other injustices are mixed up in this cry.
The cat is quiet, still. He could have run away then, but instead he watches Doug and then comes toward him, tentatively.
Tentatively, Doug pets him.
Tentatively, the cat licks his hand.
This lick makes him cry a small burst more, but then the tears naturally subside.
Doug thinks about how he has not been touched by another person or cat in a long time, like 7 years. The last time was when his boss slapped him on the back after he asked for a raise, thinking he was only kidding.
– Wait here.
Doug stands up to leave and the cat follows him down the sidewalk. He goes into a gas station and the cat waits outside, on a bench. It’s still raining, but the rain looks pretty when you’re only looking at it, and not getting wet by it. After a few minutes, Doug comes out holding a plastic bag and a cup of steaming coffee. Inside the bag is: a pack of tissues, three cans of Fancy Feast cat food, and a light bulb. He sits down on the bench, beside the cat. He pulls the metal tab and the cat devours Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Paté. He both eats it and smooshes it into his tiny nostrils. Doug watches and holds the coffee between his hands to get warm. He also feels warm, not just due to coffee. He is about to open the second can when he says:
because he forgot to buy the ice cream.