My cat is taking drugs again. I’m pretty sure he’s getting them from this neighborhood boy named Alex, a mouth-breathing white kid with cornrows. Chopsticks, my cat, is a 6 year-old tabby I adopted from a kitten rescue program after my girlfriend broke up with me because I was sterile. Shooting blanks. She wanted kids real bad. She claimed we broke up for other reasons but I know it was my underachieving sperm that turned her attention elsewhere. So maybe out of spite I chose not to neuter my cat. Now I wonder if that decision has anything to do my pet’s growing addiction to pot and downers. Have you ever tried giving a cat a pill? Chopsticks has gotten good at swallowing them. I wonder if it’s too late to remove his nuts and if this would help curb his appetite for illegal substances, but it seems at least one of us should be fertile in this household. What confuses me is my girlfriend left me for a woman.
I’m eating cereal one afternoon when I spot Chopsticks trotting across the backyard, a baggie of dope dangling from his mouth. I jump out of my chair and open the sliding door. He bolts toward the empty lot by the high school. I try to follow but lose him pretty quickly. School is letting out and loud teenagers yell obscenities and start their cars. I realize I look like a creepy guy spying on them from an empty lot and go home. Chopsticks will show up sooner or later. He always does, even when wasted.
Later that evening I find him in a stupor on the back porch. Looks like he’s burned a couple of his whiskers on a bong. Beside him are the remnants of some rodent he eviscerated and left for me as an offering. His usual surgical precision is not in evidence in this specimen. I pick up my limp cat and bring him inside, depositing him on the couch. He starts mewing for treats.
“Not tonight, Chopsticks,” I say, “You’re on your own. I have band practice.”
I play guitar and co-write the songs for Cadmium. On the periodic table, cadmium is the heaviest metal of them all. We practice in our lead singer’s dad’s tire repair shop after it closes. It’s been a while since we’ve written any new songs, we seem to be in a rut, so we’ve just been playing our dozen favorites, eating snacks from the vending machine, then parting ways.
We haven’t performed in awhile either. When I show up for practice, all the other guys are there, tuning their instruments and searching the web for any mention of our band. Google tends to pull up a lot of university chemistry department Web sites.
“Hi, fellas,” I say, plugging my guitar into my amp.
Jeremy, our drummer, says, “How’d that moisturizer I gave you work out?”
“Good,” I say, “I notice a difference in my hands already.”
We get down to business. Mountains of chords and pentatonic lightning. An hour and a half later our singer Daniel puts his arm around me as we’re packing up and says, “You alright? You seem a little preoccupied.”
“It’s my cat,” I say, “He’s been taking drugs again.”
“That’s my cat’s name, yeah.”
“What’s he taking?”
“Pot and maybe meth. Mushrooms. I don’t know. He’s a mess.”
When I come home I find that Chopsticks has pulled a Salvador Dali art book off the shelf and is staring at the painting of a screaming skull. Inside the eye sockets and mouth of the skull are other screaming skulls, and inside those skulls are other screaming skulls, etc. It’s probably my least favorite of Dali’s work, and only someone zonked could really appreciate it. It has something to do with some kind of Spanish war. I also find that Chopsticks has overturned his water dish. I have work the next morning so I deposit my cat in his cat bed and fall asleep watching Nightline. My night is haunted by a dream in which I’ve become friends with an outdoors enthusiast whose hand has been injured in an accident. It’s up to me to perform surgery on his hand and it goes poorly. When he comes to, I have to tell him that I was unable to save any of his fingers, and when he unwraps the gauze, he sees that his stumpy palm is covered in a slimy, translucent goo.
“Welcome to your new hand,” I say in the dream, and we’re both crying in front of a TV news crew, it’s such an emotional moment. Then he starts to faint and slumps to the floor and I have to support him. That’s when I discover he’s now wearing a mascot uniform for a sports team called the Eagles. I wake up and discover Chopsticks has puked all over the living room floor. He looks haggard. I know that today while I’m at work he’s going to get fucked up. He’s going to use my arm chair as his scratching post again.
I work for the mail room of an online clothing and sporting goods store. All day I’m delivering these huge boxes of freebies to asshole merchandisers, big things of sweat shirts and volleyball nets. Their hallways are overflowing with the stuff. There’s a “duty free” room where they dump the crap they don’t want, which has basically supplied me with my wardrobe over the past six months. I scored a cool backpack in there.
I make the mistake of telling Abdul and Jacob, the other mail room guys, about my drug-addicted cat. I get no sympathy from them. Instead I get to hear about all the drugs their pets have done and how cool it is. Like the time Abdul’s iguana was tripping so hard it licked its own image in a mirror for six hours. I guess part of the reason I don’t get much sympathy from my coworkers is that the pets on drugs phenomenon has turned into something of a cliché these past couple months. Newsweek ran a big cover story on it, which I read one morning during breakfast, back when I was still in denial about Chopsticks’ change in behavior. I thought he was just going through a feline hormone thing related to the status of his gonads. The profile on Rufus the Corgi and his near-overdose woke me up and made me reassess the situation.
On my lunch break I call Marti, my ex. Her girlfriend answers. Her name is Joanne, goes by “Jo.” Marti and Jo, a same-sex couple, but not the same-sex you’d think by hearing their names. Jo eats something crunchy on her end of the line, like carrots.
“Look, Jo, I’m not making some freaky ex-boyfriend call. I just need some advice from Marti about Chopsticks.”
“Just hold them like you would a pencil,” Jo says.
“I’m talking about my cat.”
“You’re eating your cat?” Jo laughs.
“My cat needs help.”
“Marti thought you should lop the nads off that thing.”
“She thought that about more than just my cat,” I say, “Can you at least tell her I called?”
I return to my deliveries and pass a conference room where a vendor meeting is underway. There’s a man in there in an actual suit and tie, so he’s obviously not an employee. On the conference table are about 200 shoes. Looks like a shoe meeting. They’re all single shoes, no pairs. I realize I might be able to find a metaphor for my breakup with Marti out of this image, turn it into some heavy metal lyrics.
Back at my apartment, Chopsticks is all over me, purring like crazy, licking my hand, rubbing himself all over my legs. I’m half tempted to find Alex the neighborhood drug dealer and mess with his reality, but his mom is on the landscape committee of our homeowner’s association and I really need them to fix the irrigation in my front parking strip. I’m watching Prison Break when Marti calls.
“I’m forwarding you something about a support group I found online,” she says, “They meet at a community center on Rainier Avenue on Wednesday nights. You leave your pet at home and discuss its problems in a supportive environment.”
“I miss you, Marti.”
“Oh, please. Jo said this wasn’t going to be a psycho ex-boyfriend call.”
“I was reading the other day about these treatments where they put your sperm in a centrifuge.” Marti is quiet on her end of the line. Then, “There’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about. Jo and I are pregnant.”
Maybe I say something in reply, maybe not.
“What this means is I’m pregnant,” Marti continues,
“We found a good donor, a long-time friend of Jo’s.”
“I’m happy for you. That’s great,” I say. “Wow.” After that , the call becomes business-y and uncomfortable for both of us. When I hang up, I find that Chopsticks has yanked a hole in one of my favorite sweaters, the one that would have cost $150 if I had actually paid for it. I call her back.
“You’re going to regret ever leaving me, you fucking dyke,” I say. “I hope you fucking die an elongated death.”
Marti promptly hangs up on me, then calls right back. “Elongated? Don’t you mean prolonged?” she says and then hangs up again. I fall onto my bed and cry for a good five minutes. Chopsticks climbs up and snuggles against my hip bone. I pet him and he purrs. The phone rings and I expect or maybe even hope that it’s Marti again caring enough to bitch me out, but it’s Matt, the bassist for my band.
“Dude. We’re opening for The Stingray Who Killed Steve Irwin, Saturday night, at the Metro. They totally requested us as openers.”
“You OK? You sound like you’ve been crying.” I start crying again. “Dude,” I cry, “I just got off the phone with Marti. I miss her so much.”
“Oh, man. Want me to come over? Bring my Xbox? Microwave some popcorn?” Chopsticks climbs on my chest and vomits in my face. Ten minutes later Matt shows up at my door.
“What happened? I hear all this fucking pandemonium and then the phone goes dead. Holy shit, your chest. You look like fucking Iggy Pop.”
I look down and confirm that my chest is crisscrossed with gashes. I keep rubbing my face with my towel. I used soap, facial cleanser, and this weird apricot scrub Marti left me with, but still I can’t be confident I’ve rid myself of the revolting thing that just happened.
“I’m detoxing Chopsticks,” I say, “Cold turkey.
Just me and him in the laundry room all weekend with the door closed.”
“But our show.”
“Right. With The Stingray Who Killed Steve Irwin.”
“And dig this,” Matt says, “Bart Kotecki is going to be there.”
Bart Kotecki, the hottest metal producer in town? Now I seriously can’t stay at home and detox my cat. Matt plugs his Xbox into my TV. We play Halo and sometime around three in the morning. I decide work is really going to be unbearable if I don’t get at least a little sleep. And I’m right. The next day I’m a zombie pushing around that cart piled with undergarment deliveries.
At five on the dot I punch out and almost miss my stop on the bus home. I schlep my bag loaded with freebie socks into the house and I yell Chopsticks’ name, run the can opener, but he doesn’t come.
Fucking stoner. Probably passed out somewhere. When I get to the bathroom I find he isn’t passed out at all. He’s dead. OD’d in the bath tub.
“Chopsticks, I am so sorry I was such a lousy owner,” I say, and the words seem flat and unaffected. The little cat-sized syringe is still hanging out of his arm. Or front leg, whatever. I can’t remember ever seeing a hypodermic syringe that size before. Maybe you can get them at veterinarian supply stores, who knows? I wrap Chopsticks in a towel and take him to the backyard, where I begin one of the most played out suburban rituals: burying the animal in the flowerbed.
At the next band practice the guys notice I’m pretty morose and ask what’s up.
“My cat died,” I say, “Heroin overdose.” Matt puts his arm around me and presses his forehead against the side of my head.
“Use that sadness, dude. Put it into the music.”
Which is what I proceed to do, lending my solos an almost gothic air. We’re well prepared for the show with The Stingray That Killed Steve Irwin. After practice the guys all console me again, let me know they’re available if I need to talk. I don’t know what I’d do without Cadmium (the band).
When I get home there’s a voicemail from Marti, her voice wavering. She just tells me to call her as soon as I get the message, so I do. When I call she’s at a TCBY buying a frozen yogurt but says she needs to come over. Half an hour later she’s crying in my living room, telling me about her miscarriage.
“I lost my baby,” she cries.
“I lost my cat,” I cry back. Ten minutes later we’re fucking like wildcats.
“Oh my god, I so wish you had a pussy,” she says, letting me into her sideways. Our fucking reminds me of one of those commercials for a greatest hits compilation album, with positions instead of songs. We fuck reverse cowgirl for a snippet, then in this crazy way that must have an Indian name. Just when I think it’s the end, she says, “Wait, there’s more.” Then I come.
Ryan Boudinot is the author of two novels: Blueprints of the Afterlife, and Misconception. His most recent short-story collection The Octopus Rises is now available.