Ketchup went missing. I made some posters and taped them around the neighbourhood.
Black and white cat. 7 yrs old. White socks. White spot on head (see pic). Last seen yesterday (Sept 27th) in the Glenwood area.
Reward for information. Call us on ***** **** **** even if it’s bad news. Please return Ketchup if you have him, no questions asked. Ketchup is really missed.
Every telegraph pole, lamppost, or empty surface around the nearest blocks had a poster attached. If Ketchup didn’t return, I planned to extend the search area to streets farther away.
After a sleepless night I got out of bed to find Regina already up, eyes red. I hadn’t seen her eyes like that since her dad punched her brother at our reception. She looked at me, headphones on, guitars blistering, some track I couldn’t make out. I grabbed a handful of dry cereal and then my bike and rode, coming back every few hours to break her heart with no sign of Ketchup. She worked from home and wanted to be there in case he came back, but she greeted me each time with the same red eyes that said Ketchup hadn’t returned.
On the third day of Ketchup’s absence I had to go in to work. Sticky air met me as I left the bar, having spent my time cleaning. There had been no real rain for weeks, and the baked concrete of the day turned stale in the evenings. I collected my bike from the locked courtyard behind the bar and took off in the direction of home.
Hunger pangs irritated me, but despite the discomfort I swerved around a corner, deciding to take the long way back with the intention of checking that the posters with Ketchup’s details were still in place.
A telegraph pole resided at the end of the approaching avenue. The streetlight farther along had lit up earlier than the others and it created a strange light when mixed with the lemony dusk. I clutched at my bike’s brakes and they squeaked with dry dust. The dark wood of the telegraph pole really made the white poster attached to it stand out. I glanced at the poster, ready to ride away. Something wrong with the picture. I bumped the bike’s front wheel up onto the pavement and walked the bike closer to the pole.
There, where Ketchup’s picture should’ve been, another image had been placed—black and white, a printed reproduction of an old photograph, glued into position to cover Ketchup. A figure stood mid-picture, dressed as a cat, the costume sagging around the body, tail ragged and floppy, the head rounded and cushioned, large eyes, ears slightly flattened, a checkered bowtie around the neck. Hard to tell what colour the costume would have been, but something about the shade of grey made me guess at light brown. The figure in the cat suit stood on a suburban street, a street indistinguishable from any around the neighbourhood. Waving a raised paw, the cat person posed in front of a garden that appeared to be from another era, as did the small 1950s house.
I reached out my hand, slowly, pointing, and then placed my finger on the poster, tentatively running my fingertip along the outside edge of the image. Whoever had put the new photograph there had been careful when attaching it, the glue or paste firmly adhering its edges to the poster underneath and at the same time using just enough of the substance to not soak through or spill out onto the surrounding poster.
I ripped the poster down. It came off mostly intact and I put it in my backpack. Wondering if I should tell Regina about it or not, I shuffled my bike back onto the road and continued along the avenue.
Distracted by my thoughts I almost sailed past the next location of a poster, this time a lamppost. This lamppost hadn’t lit up yet, like the malfunctioning one I’d left behind. Before I got close to it I could tell that Ketchup’s picture had been tampered with again, the same image placed over it, a black and white shot of a figure in a cat costume, holding still for an unknown photographer.
I travelled the neighbourhood, ripping down every poster, Ketchup’s picture smothered by this new image. When I got home my backpack was bulging. I walked into the kitchen, part of me hoping Regina was out somewhere, as I knew I had to tell her, but didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to say. Regina looked up at me from her place at the kitchen table, partially torn posters scattered over the tabletop. What posters I’d failed to locate she’d apparently already dealt with.
Regina spent some hours the next day reprinting Ketchup’s poster. I called in sick and re-postered the neighbourhood. It didn’t even occur to me to be concerned that we hadn’t received a single call about Ketchup.
Exhausted, I closed the back door on the dark midnight behind me and staggered into the spare room we’d made into a den. Curling up on our small sofa, bile shifted my guts, steadily rising until I couldn’t stand it. I got up and went to get my bike.
Outside, night insects flitted between gardens. A hush came down driveways. I rode around the streets, protectively gazing over the posters I’d taped up in daylight hours, all as I’d left them.
My head pounded. I’d been awake too long. A sudden swell of uninvited emotion hit my chest as the light from a lamppost struck Ketchup’s picture from a peculiar angle, causing the image to halo in my vision. I shook my head, halted my bike in the middle of the street. No good being out here. Go home.
I took off, rounding a corner, aiming for the shortest route back.
About halfway down the street a figure stood next to a lamppost, arms up and reaching for a poster. I clutched at my brakes, screeching the bike’s tires, and stopped. The figure rotated its head in my direction, a head adorned with a cat’s face. Dressed in full costume, the figure clutched at a bundle of papers under its arm and turned to run.
For a moment I froze, but as the figure rushed towards a section of street in shadow, where it would be possible to slip out of sight, I felt myself press the bike peddles into action and before I realized what I was doing I was chasing it.
The person was fast, wearing trainers, not cat costume feet. It reached the darker stretch of road and upped its speed, rushing ahead under high black trees, branches overhanging from unkempt gardens.
I felt a bump, then something wedged beneath me awkwardly and sent my back wheel skidding out from under me. The ground hit me quick, my shoulder taking the worst of the fall.
I lifted my head to see the figure turn, the person having heard the accident. The cat costume was identical to the one pictured in the photograph, but sorrier, worn, the lightish brown colour I’d imagined, the same checkered bowtie skew-whiff around its neck. The figure raised a paw, mimicking the pose in the image, and scrambled to flee and was gone.
I recovered myself and hobbled back home, a bruised shoulder and sprained ankle the result of the night’s efforts.
The following evening I sat with Regina, both of us trying to watch TV but taking very little of the streaming film in. Around eleven pm, when tiredness had enabled us both to doze on the sofa, our heads roused at the sound of a car coming to a loud stop on the road outside. We paused as a few moments of quietness passed, then listened to indistinct noises echoing from out front. A car door slammed and almost immediately the car sped away.
Regina looked at me, then stood up, moving to the den’s window and peeking out from behind the closed curtain.
A harsh sound resonated from the kitchen behind us, a noise we’d heard so many times previously. The cat flap.
A dark blob rushed past the den door. It came back along the hallway, slower this time, a cat shape, weaving around, as though regaining its bearings. Ketchup walked into the den, a lopsided checkered bowtie attached to his neck.