There seems to be a problem, thought No One. But it’s not obvious. It’s more a feeling in the air. A hum. A dysfunctional hum. The cat didn’t come home last night. The windows are battened down. Have been for years. The cat didn’t come home. Where is she? Where is everyone, thought No One. There is no one home. His wife. His daughters. Gone. Again. They appear and disappear. Come back for things they forgot the first time they left. They slip into the house. Try the windows. They don’t budge. They take stuff. Leave. There is no note of explanation. No One wants information. Why did they leave in the first place? It’s not obvious to him. Was it his rock-hard pancakes? That he didn’t remember birthdays? That sometimes he didn’t come home himself for days on end? But beyond those glitches, he gave so much, No One thinks. He worked his fingers to the bone. He brought home the bacon. He fixed the roof when it leaked. He changed the oil in their cars. He swept the front walk and driveway. Washed the windows yearly on their two-story brick colonial set on a lovely street.
No One calls the office and takes four weeks’ vacation. Decides to wait in the kitchen to better hear his family’s light footsteps, their fumblings with things they come back for. The slight sound of whispered voices. Them taking what they need. Them driving away in his wife’s Ford Focus, the bobbing, lovely blonde heads of his three young daughters barely visible inside.
Two weeks into his vacation time, No One is sleeping under the kitchen table to be at the ready. On this particular night, he hears a scratch at the door. No One crawls from under the table and springs to his feet. Should he wait for his wife and daughters to enter? Or open the door? He thinks he should have figured this out beforehand. He panics. Then decides to open the door. She comes sashaying in like she had never been lost. The cat. The cat has come home. No One gathers her in his arms and cries into her fur. She fusses and he puts her down. He thinks he will never let her out. That way she can never, ever be lost. She curls up in her cat bed in the kitchen. He puts out food and water for her. Then crawls back under the table to wait. The cat looks at him. The cat continues to look at him on the floor under the table. She licks her paws and looks at him. Her eyes blink. The cat blinks at him, then curls into a ball. So, No One thinks and studies the cat. So, okay, he says out loud. He looks around the kitchen at his makeshift bed under the table, the dusty walls, the dirty dishes piled high next to food delivery boxes. Begins to clean up. No One spends two days getting the house into shape. He remakes the bed in the master bedroom. Polishes the silver faucet to a high shine in the master bath. The cat watches him and walks by his side. He goes outdoors for the first time in weeks. He decides to let the cat go with him. He mows the lawn. Sweeps the front walk and driveway. They go back inside. The cat sleeps, but No One walks through the clean space, thinking he’ll be back at work soon and the thought fills him with pleasure. No One think about his wife and daughters. When they do come back, he thinks, together they will open the battened down windows. Then the five of them and the cat, too, will dance sure-foot around the kitchen table.
Atwater is a Minnesota/Manhattan abstract painter and literary fiction writer with stories forthcoming in Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Magazine and published in PANK, Vestal Review, Star 82 Review and others. ajatwater.com.
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Art by Eric Kim (x Edward Hopper)