A five-parter! Pearl, have you lost your mind?
Liza Bean Bitey, a small, clever animal with more access to my car keys than is healthy for the public, takes a sip of gin from the small flask she keeps. She reaches forward, grabs a lime wedge, bites into it, and the air around us smells like summer.
The mid-February light wanes, and the living room has grown dark. I reach for the blanket on the back of the couch, pull it around me, and wait for her to begin her story.
“We’d been sitting at the bar for some time," she says, "he was telling me about his vacation home in Texas, I was telling him of Squeak Toy’s upcoming gig in the alley – when I became aware that we were being watched.
“Have you ever had that feeling, Pearl?”
I’ve just reached the stage of gin-and-tonic drunkenness where I feel acutely attune to the evening. I reach forward, eyes never leaving Liza Bean, and manage to work a handful of nachos into my mouth. I nod: Go on.
Liza Bean Bitey, of the Minneapolis Biteys, smiles indulgently at me, continues: “’Do not look now, my tabbied flower, but you have caught the eye of another,’ says my new friend.
“I turn,” the cat continues, “in time to see Fuzzwald T. Stripersson lift a Manhattan to his lips, his eyes on me.
“I turn back to Juan Diego. ‘He’s an ex,’ I tell him.” Liza Bean leans over, pulls a large piece of melted cheese from the plate of nachos that sits between us, chews delicately on one end.
“Juan Diego lifts his drink,” she continues, “but his eyes are on Fuzzy.”
Liza Bean licks a spot on her back suddenly, has discovered, apparently, that her shoulder needs licking. The subject of Fuzzwald T. Stripersson is a sore one with her. Many inebriated nights were spent discussing him and his sudden defection out of her life and into one of a much younger cat. Their last night as a couple included a fight in which the tensile strength of a bottle of gin was tested against Fuzzy’s head and her drunken discovery, upon awakening much later in the evening, that her paws had been duct-taped to the bar at Jimmy’s – ostensibly to keep her from hurting herself should she fall off her stool.
The last time they saw each other – the night Squeak Toy played at the Casket Arts Building? – he bilked her out of a substantial amount of money.
Fuzzy: He’s handsome, he’s charming, and he’s utterly unreliable.
And he’s also firmly in her past.
I lift my glass, only to discover that it is empty. “What the –,” I say. I make an exaggerated show of looking around me, checking the front of my shirt, the floor. It’s one of my dad’s jokes: What’d ya do with your drink? Spill it?
“All those limes prolly aren’t part of my diet, anyway,” I say.
“Tsk, tsk,” the cat laughs. “Never mind that.” She hands me the bottle of gin, passes the bowl of limes. “One tells stories, one partakes, of course. No worries, old bean.”
I make a mental note to talk to her about all those Wodehouse novels she’s been reading.
Liza Bean pulls her flask from wherever she keeps it, takes an impressive swig for one so small. “Eventually, of course, we cannot pretend that ol’ Fuzzy isn’t staring, and I turn and wink at him – a harmless bit of abuse. Childish, I know, but what can I do?”
She winks at me.
I nod. Cats: a bit of abuse is expected.
“Juan Diego is telling me of the tide, the little things that get caught in the tide pools – Did I tell you that he writes poetry? – when I see his eyes darken, narrow. I don’t look, but I know Fuzzwald is standing on the bar stool next to me.
“I turn to him. ‘Why Fuzzwald T. Stripersson!’ I say. ‘When did you arrive?’ ‘Only just recently,’ he says to me. ‘You’re looking well.’
“’Of course,’ I say.
“’You haven’t returned my phone calls,’ he says.
“’I lost your number,’ I say, ‘when you left me for that unformed collection of cells. What was her name again?’
“Fuzzwald shrugs, the coward. ‘I don’t recall,’ he says.
“’Phoebe,’ I remind him. ‘You left me for Phoebe.’ I laugh at him, and I admit it wasn’t one of my prettier moments. ‘Where is she now, Fuzz?’
Liza Bean laughs, a bitter laugh no doubt reminiscent of the one she has just described. “Fuzzy has the audacity to bristle. Can you imagine? ‘Who’s your friend?’ he says.”
Liza Bean takes a quick drink.
“And Juan Diego stands up,” she says, “extends his paw. But Fuzzwald doesn’t take it. 'Fuzzwald," I say, 'don't be rude.' ‘’I’m not rude,’ he says, 'but I don’t know this cat and I’m not looking for friends.’
“Next to me, I see Juan Diego shrug, a philosophical movement. But Fuzz is incensed, upset. He places both hands on the bar – I can see his lips pull back – and suddenly the bartender Tony is there. ‘Excuse me,’ Tony says. ‘Mr. Stripersson? I’m to let you know: your taxi is here’.
“Fuzzy pulls back, surprised. ‘I didn’t call for –‘ and just like that he stops. We both turn to face Juan Diego, who is pulling the ends of his whiskers, just so. I am smiling -- and Fuzzy is not. ‘Have a pleasant trip home,’ Juan Diego says smoothly. Oh, Pearl! The look on Fuzzy’s face! But what could he do? Tony had brought him his tab, and the lynx at the front door had already sensed the tension at the bar…
“Fuzzy was angry, his head tilted to one side, his jaw jutting out, just the tiniest of bits.
Liza Bean leans forward, flicks a casually extended claw through the lime wedges, finally spearing a fat one.
“Fuzzwald grabs his hat, pulls it down, pulls his ears through the holes at the top. ‘This isn’t over, amigo,’ he says.
“’Ah,’ says Juan Diego. ‘Very well. I would expect nothing less.’
“And Fuzzy, walking out, turns to walk backwards. ‘Me verá otra vez,’* he says to him.
“And Juan Diego de la Patas Oro lifts his chin and calls out, ‘Voy a confiar en ella.’**
Liza Bean pauses, sighs happily.
“Pearl,” she says. “I think I’m in love.”
*You will see me again.
**I will rely on it.