When my wife told me she was leaving me for the Koi pond guy across the street, I nearly spit out my coffee. “You mean, the effeminate guy with the James Dean haircut we both assumed was gay. That guy?”
“His name is Steve,” Poppy said icily.
“Guess I can’t call you the Koi pond slut then.” She always hated when I tried to be funny.
I got my just desserts. That guy, Steve, was a lawyer. A good one. She got everything. I got to keep the house with the underwater mortgage.
And the cat.
“Lucy would be bad for the fish,” Poppy told me. “Besides, I’d hate to leave you here all alone,” she said as she packed up the bone china my grandmother left me.
“So kind of you,” I said, “but I bought that cat for you. You two are perfect for each other. Like two peas in a pod.” I bent down to scratch the tawny cat’s ears and she bit my thumb. Hard. I wiped the blood on the stack of Irish linens Poppy had set out to pack.
“The cat loves the backyard here. Even if I took her, she’d be right back the next day.” Poppy moved to packing the lead crystal.
Under the table, I kicked Lucy, who purred loudly and wound around my feet.
“I’ve always been more of a dog person.”
“Whatever, Tom.” Poppy threw up her hands in exasperation. “I’m trying to do what’s best for you. I just want you to be happy.”
After a few beers at the bar—three, more or less—I returned to a dark, empty house. The dollar store aluminum lawn chair and the case of beer in my hands were the only things I owned.
And the damned cat.
Lucy greeted me, purring at my ankles.
“I hate you,” I said. She purred louder.
Out of habit mostly, I placed the lawn chair directly in front of the square-ish discolored spot on the wall where my television had hung.
“Here’s to a new life.” I chugged.
Lucy is a yodeler. After six beers, I was done with the yodeling.
“Do you miss her?” I crooned. Might have been more of a slur. “I’m going to take you to her.”
I scooped her up, drunk enough to ignore the scratching and hissing.
Planning to ring the doorbell and dump Lucy on whoever answered the door, I saw the Koi pond and had a better idea.
A stupid, drunken better idea.
“Lucy, see that fish? Tasty, huh?” I pointed to an exotic white spotted one.
Lucy flattened her ears and glared at me.
I hung her over the steep edge until her nose was almost in the water. “See it? Aw, you’re not even looking.”
Lucy’s teeth sunk deep into the fleshy pad near my thumb. Her jaw locked tight.
Just like a woman, I thought, pushing her head under the water.
When she let go, I stumbled home to find some sort of bandage.
In the middle of the night, I woke to thunder and furious scratching at the door.
Before I pushed myself up from the lawn chair, I added another layer of duct tape to the toilet paper bandage on my hand.
Groggy and stiff, I fumbled with locks until I finally flung the door open.
And there was that damned cat.
Outlined by a perfectly timed bolt of lightening, it looked like some dog’s favorite chew toy. Matted and wet, one ear cocked raggedly to the side. Its slack jaw spilled a puddle of drool.
“Lucy, ugh. You stink.” I started to slam the door, but her paw took the brunt.
As she pushed through the door, Lucy made a gravelly sound deep in her gullet. About as far from feline as I had ever heard from a cat.
I backed into the kitchen. On the way, my feet slipped over beer bottles.
From the floor, I watched as Lucy moved toward me like roadkill propped upright. Her legs shuffled stiffly across the tile floor. In her mouth, she carried a spotted Koi fish with its head chewed open.
The stench was overwhelming.
She paused beside me, regarding me with murky eyes. The gravelly sound rumbled again.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered.
She placed the fish in my lap. I didn’t know what a fish brain should look like, but the skull looked empty.
“Uh, thanks.” I tried not to inhale.
She made that gravelly sound again and then sniffed my head, before giving a test bite.
”Ow,” I pushed her off.
Lucy staggered to the back door and fell stiffly out the kitty flap.
Through the glass door, I saw Lucy lurch to her feet, continue her stagger through the yard and then flop over in the catnip patch despite the downpour.
“Whoa, what does Koi pond guy use in his water?” I muttered to myself.
The fish flipped in my lap and groaned, a noise I never expected from a fish. Something dripped out of the hole in its head.
While the fish swam circles on its side in the kitchen sink, occasionally attacking its own reflection in the steel, I packed two bags, one for the gym and one with the rest of the contents of my closet, just in case.
I turned on the radio to cover the whispery groans from the fish while I downed a breakfast beer. Not my usual modus operandi, but completely justified considering the circumstances.
Driving to the gym in the dark, I paused at the Koi pond to dump the fish back in. The other fish didn’t seem happy to have their missing friend back judging by the churning in the water. I hopped in the car and sped away. Why I didn’t flush the damn thing, I don’t know. I was too tired for clear thinking.
At the end of the day, I came home from work to see a cluster of police cars around the Koi pond guy’s house. They were lifting a body off the lawn. Its head came out of the pond with fish still attached to the scalp.
I left the car running in the driveway as I went to grab my things from the house. As I opened the door to leave, an officer was on my stoop.
“There’s been an accident.” The officer rocked up on his toes, with his hand resting on his sidearm. “Looks like your ex-wife may have slipped into the pond.”
Next to the body, one of the officers pulled a fish off Poppy’s head. With unusual aggression for a fish, it surged toward the policeman.
“We can’t say for certain. It’s still under investigation.”
“Damn shame. She really loved those fish,” I tsked.
The officer turned down his police radio, which had begun to squawk with frantic voices. “We suspect this was an accident. There are just some…unusual circumstances. May I?”
I opened the door wider to let him in.
The officers across the street were battling the fishes. I hoped I had enough gas.
The officer seemed to have forgotten why he came inside. “That’s some ugly… Is that a cat?”
Lucy was still at the back door making that gravelly noise. At her feet, lay a small pile of birds, all with chewed heads. One of the wings twitched.
“Um, yeah. A cat.” I picked up my suitcase and folded my lawn chair. “I’ve really got to run.”
The officer gaped at the empty house and the things in my hands. “You going somewhere?”
“Foreclosure. Moving back with my parents.” Or an island fortress. Anywhere far from other creatures—living or dead.
The policeman clicked his tongue sympathetically as he stepped out on the stoop. “Times are real tough.”
“And only going to get tougher.” I threw my stuff in the car and pealed out. The shots began across the street. The officers were shooting at smallish forms flopping in the grass.
I only hoped they had good aim.
Koi pond photo by David Monack [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons.