She lives with Her Girlfriend. Her Apartment sits two floors up, a red and beige bricked building on the outskirts of Sunderland. I know this because I’ve heard the local chat, I’ve seen the dead shipyards, and I’ve witnessed the erection of a green metal-studded bridge across the Wear. Just the other day I heard Old Man talking to his friend in the pub up the road. His friend had just bought him a ticket for a football match on Saturday. Nee way, Old Man shouted. Top man you mind, you garn anorl? She doesn’t know who Old Man is. Just like me, She has never met him. In fact, I have never left this apartment. Still, I know most of these people. I can hear their meaningless and meaningful talk. I see their struts, their hard day’s work, their acts of kindness and violence. I smell their pride and their sorrow, and feel their headaches and beliefs. It’s a compassionate place, but one that has been assaulted by the North Sea winds. Tortured by southern men with floppy hair in stiff black suits. Forgotten by its neighbours.
Life in Her Apartment varies from a chilling quiet to earsplittingly loud. It can happen in the space of seconds or hours. One time, Her Girlfriend accused her of flirting with a man. Seconds later the living room door handle was wedged into the wall, and the television set was leaning awkwardly from its stand. Wailing followed for half an hour. It was during this time I recognised how she curled and sucked when upset or in wanting of attention, like a skinny elongated freshly-born. I satisfied her need by coiling up to her, nestling my soft chin in the back of her knee. I was so indulgent and light and she was so heavy, wringing with tears. Eventually, after I had rumbled enough fuzzy melodies, my charm worked. The funny pong which had dominated Her Apartment faded, and a neutral linen scent swathed across the room, like silence falling on a gunshot. She fell asleep without giving thought to where I had come from, and who I was.
Soon, She became addicted to the lightness of my fall and the scrub of my tongue. She fed me and stroked me, and in return I gave her what she so desired, especially when others were unwilling to do so. Hours of my attention would make her full. Then I would return to my resting spot above the kitchen cabinet and watch the town unfold before me, listening to the succulent utterances billowing in the sea-cooled wind. There’s only so much something like me can give a woman like She, however. Soon enough I became the muse to her plotting, rather than the solution to her woes. One night she invited her friends over to come gawp, giggle, gaggle, grab and gossip in my presence. Through no intent of my own Her Apartment was infused with satisfied fulfilment. For the first time since my watching, the place was filled with creatures similar to herself. Fragile things, with ulterior motives and fake eyelashes. Her Girlfriend retreated to the bedroom. The brief festering whiff of her depression was blocked out by the party energy manifesting before me. She danced and swigged alongside her once-old, now-new friends until the early morning hours. From my cabinet overlook, all I could see was movement, all I could hear was giggling and the heavy swoosh of plastic hair, all I could smell was that funny pong. In the morning, when sugary cocktail tongues had stopped wagging and left Her Apartment, I joined She, once again on the couch. A lonely person’s plaything. This is what I had become.
She has two others with whom she associates, Her Mother and Her Brother. I could smell them in her thoughts before I knew exactly who they were. At first I couldn’t decipher the flavours of her feelings toward them. Sometimes it was longing, lingering and stale. Often it was hostility, overbearing and salt-sprayed. Rarely did I detect the syrupy plum perfume of affection, and when I did, I normally noticed it in Her Girlfriend too. Maybe a coincidence. I remember the first time I met Her Brother. My arrival had presented She with opportunity once more. You need to come see, she demanded down the phone. I heard him driving up the A19, fidgeting and muttering in his car. As his presence grew closer, a familiar scent tickled my nose. It was She, or the odour I now associated with She, only less intense. It was pity, not the self-inflicted kind (the funny pong I now recognised) but general pity for the world around him, subdued with apathy. Only a hint of anticipation at seeing me. He didn’t gawp or giggle. He just stood with his hands in his pockets, rounded stomach ruining his stick like figure, smiling and nodding. What’s it called then? He tried to sound upbeat but couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm. I could feel his thoughts turning from niceness to impatient. His tapping foot was already aiming at the door. I can’t remember the name She had given me, because I was too occupied with Her Brother. Instinctively I poured over to him, sticking my face within the silhouette of his own, studying. Perhaps he needed me more than She, but I couldn’t rest on that conclusion just yet. Her Mother remained home. As he left he announced he was heading to Her Mother’s Flat. His utterance entered my head and clashed with a distant phone call: Yeah he’s coming over after he’s been round there. I know yeah. Yeah. Well she hasn’t crossed the door once in the past month. Yeah I’ve finished with her to be honest. Anyway I’ll get off, I need to find that letter to give him. Another parking fine. Yeah I know. Right, I’ll let you get away. As he left I was dazed, seized upon by guilt. Her Brother’s anticipatory odour was starting to rot. I saw him walking up the path to Her Mother’s Flat, felt his dread and anxiety sink to the back of my neck. He was a go-between. He was vulnerable. I knew I would see him again.
Her Brother should be about half an hour. He was on his way to see Her Mother before She called. She was curled up on the floor beside an upturned chair. I could hear his muffled voice vibrating against her cheek. He said hello nearly five times. She just curled tighter and cried louder. I could smell her breath from up here above the kitchen cabinet. I could almost see it, an alcohol infused veil. Eventually he hung up. Her Girlfriend entered from the bedroom, eyes still red and puffy. They resumed shouting, pulling down curtain poles, flipping tables, punching walls and kicking electronics. I stayed in my corner above the kitchen cabinet, and let my distressed fur brush the ceiling.
Her Brother was quick to tell Her Mother about the phone call he had just received. I think she’s drunk, he said. She’ll be more than drunk, Her Mother replied. It’s ten in the morning, he protested, faking confusion. He asked Her Mother if she thought he should go up and check on her, in case she did something stupid. Her Mother told him to go if he wants to, and that she was finished with it. He didn’t want to go, but he felt it a duty. I heard him mutter as he exited Her Mother’s and headed back to the car. I heard his car door squeak and slam. I heard his engine splutter and rev. That was about fifteen minutes ago.
The doorbell has just rang and I can taste his regret at having come here. Her Girlfriend keeps asking who it is, rapping on the entrance. She, The Floor Curler, knows instantly. Her Brother hasn’t noticed my presence yet, he is transfixed on She, a heap of sadness in the middle of a muddled room. She is quietly proud of this image, a work of art, almost. She cries and cries and tells Her Brother how she can’t cope anymore. She tells him of how Her Mother has abandoned her, abandoned him as well. He disagrees. I’ve just been over there, he tells her. She probably isn’t impressed that you’re drunk and god knows what else this early on a Sunday morning. He wants to be angry, I can feel it burning deep, but all he can conjure right now is shame. It has a funny stench that radiates throughout the apartment, coming from him, but her also. It’s a strange, vinegary smell, very close to how Her Mother smells when exchanging false pleasantries over the phone with She. Every now and then he will pick up a chair then stand and watch her performance for a minute or so. He must be tired because he keeps yawning. He’s just sat on the kitchen worktop. Now is my cue to act.
Her Brother left about an hour ago. The room is straight now, and She has graduated from Floor Curler to Couch Curler. She seems slightly more content. I played my part well, right up until the last minute. I started off by gently pushing my nose through his half clenched fist. After he had registered who I was, he opened his hand and ran his fingers down my back, slightly grabbing at my tail. I hummed a silky tune, purred, pawed, pounced. I squirmed silently and patted the air in front of him. I climbed his shoulders and fluffed his nose. My sticky tongue scrubbed his knuckles. I stretched and whispered until every ounce of his admiration was brought to the surface. It was going well. But then. Then I tip-toed too close to the edge of the kitchen worktop and slipped, in an act opposing my adorable concert. I stretched out a claw as I fell and opened his finger. Blood had raised to the surface by the time I hit the floor. This could have jeopardised the ritual that was playing out before us all. I could hear Floor Curler cursing, see her scowling, even though her face remained buried in the carpet, and her sound remained a croaked wretched and sullen. It hurt Her Brother. Each movement of his hand through the stale apartment air tingled and zapped with pain. Luckily for She, however, he neglected his soreness and continued to focus on hers. She and Her Brother spent the next half an hour calmly talking on the couch. He spoke kind words whilst his stomach plummeted. He cringed internally, and praised outwardly. Very soon, She was full. Not much longer after that, and he had left, blood drying between his knuckles.
Her Brother has a date later on but before he goes he will have an argument with Her Mother. Her Mother’s breath will be dragon hot, ablaze with dissatisfaction. Subtle hints of jealousy enter my nostrils. Her Brother’s frustration will cease simmering and quickly turn into a violent bubble. How dare she? How dare She? Both of these women seem hell bent on ending each other through me. His thoughts thud against my back like a kidney punch. I’m always the alright one. The sane one. I’ve never drank myself stupid for a week straight. I’ve never threatened to commit suicide. It’s all about you! He will eventually shout. Words will rise and jab his throat. Thoughts will die on his quivering lips. Her Brother will leave Her Mother’s apartment and cry in his car. Each tear will ease a different part of the day’s events. Some drops will be for his sister, flavouring of briny bleakness. Some will be for his mother, additives of bitter bewilderment. He will continue to feel like this until he arrives at the restaurant, where he will temporarily wash those feelings down with a hard drink.
I can feel the alcohol line my mouth and warm my nose. Barrel flavoured, pungent and bittersweet. You’ve got some blood on your hand, Her Brother’s Date will say. Oh, sorry about that. Bloody cat, he’ll tell her. Her Brother’s Date hates cats, which I suppose I don’t blame her for. She thinks they know too much, which is true. She seems more like a horse person, slightly dim and imprudent. That looks like it hurts, does it? Horse Girl will ask. Yeah kind of. See this is why I can’t have cats. They seem all cute and nice and then something like that happens. Horse Girl’s words will fall limply out of her wine numbed mouth. It’s not mine, he’ll tell her. No no no, it’s my sisters. I can’t help feeling sorry for it living up there next to all that distress. Yeah it scratches every now and then but really I think it’s a pleasant animal. I hope so anyway. Maybe it meant to hurt me. My kitchen cabinet corner grows warm as he says this. Across the room, She and Her Girlfriend cuddle in front of a cracked television screen. She is satisfied with the day’s work. That night Her Brother will try and block out the day’s happenings and fuck Horse Girl. When he fails, he will cry once again. The bed sheets will collect musty smells of under arms, mouth innards and upper thighs. A funny pong will rest on his pillow. He can’t smell it, but I can. I know what it is. I’ll see him again soon.