Camille Bromley spent her childhood in Bloomington, IL and her subsequent life until now in such locals as Japan, France, and Senegal. She is currently enjoying her homecoming.
We had all seated ourselves at the table after a lengthy aperitif, and Cristina was uncorking a bottle of red. Her red glassware was out, and she had always relished the look of red wine in red glassware, or white wine in white glassware, or prune juice in black, one would venture. The Chagall in Paris placemats, though kitschy, featured prominently in the table setting. The music had run out and Sophie licked a cheese straw from between two mauve-tipped fingers and went to revive it. The unlikely convergence of five separate respiratory cycles made it such that everyone’s cigarette exhalations occurred at the same moment and a brief silence took place, allowing an uncommonly loud and displeasing caterwauling from downstairs to rise to the occasion.
It was a mélange of ferocious animalistic screams with bursts of human sounds conveying either uncontrollable terror or ecstatic sex. A woman’s squeal sounded once, high and thin. We rose from our chairs with wine glasses in hand, heads cocked in inquisition, swallowing delicately so as not to obscure with fluid ingurgitations and the contractions of our esophagi the ungodly screeches that issued from the three open casement windows along the east side of the room, where Fanny had quite beautifully arranged purple and white orchids in hanging vases.
Cristina observed with concern that that must be Johnny and Sela, shall we go and see? There were murmurs that all six of us appearing at the door might appear nosy, but our common aversion to receiving things second-hand also extended to gossip, wherever possible. We followed Mickey in Indian procession as he descended the narrow stairwell, the screams and squalls resounding even more unpleasantly in the open concrete passage. Next to the door a tattered and stained Barbarella poster greeted us asymmetrically. A roller skate in a sunken woven basket was abandoned on the left with some undershirts evidently serving as rags for company. The yowling from within came now in choked, uneven bouts.
We knocked, making use of the pineapple-shaped brass knocker provided. A woman’s gasps approached and the door opened on a face tightened with panic and framed unhandsomely with grayish black curls. Sela’s hands went up near her mouth and clenched as she breathed in and unclenched as she breathed out. “It’s Queenie,” she whispered, scratches encircling her forearms. “She just went berserk.” The door widened on a mise en scène bringing to mind both Poe and certain paper towel advertisements, perhaps Brawny, or Downy, or Bounty. A shredded pumpkin-themed lap quilt was bundled ragged on the floor. There were spots of an unpleasantly organic substance near one corner at the edge of a mass of uncoiled yarn, and more of the same lost in the shag of a vintage rug. Water from an overturned metal bowl crept out from under the checker tile counter. The apartment was redolent of incense and lasagna or some form of pasta casserole, and there was quite a decent bottle of brandy on the table, unopened, with a liter of orange soda and pair of juice glasses. A lampshade was torn and askew, though whether a result of the chaos just occurred was unclear.
Johnny stood tall and powerful in a lavender dress shirt, white boxer briefs that one wouldn’t wish to examine too closely, and striped athletic socks. The writhing, hairless body of a Canadian Sphinx was imprisoned in his grip. The cat hissed and spat weakly, faltering in her struggle, paws raking the air with flagging malevolence. Her eyes bulged with what was possibly a demonic gleam and unholy wailing and sputtering escaped from between her yellowed teeth. It was not an especially attractive scene. Johnny’s massive carpenter-ready hands moved to the Sphinx’s neck and tightened, the knuckles white and sharp, giving a few pulses and holding. The animal’s skin rolled up, obscuring her perverse features with hideous oily folds, like the ones on the back of a bald fat man’s neck. Her claws outstretched to their fullest extent, either pushed by evil intentions or pressure of the foul matter within. When she was sufficiently strangled, Johnny laid the dead cat gently on the scratched and unwaxed hardwood floor and flexed his fingers. “Boy is that hard on your joints!” he said. The cat’s head rolled down at an uncommon angle. Rolls of naked skin redistributed themselves in slow ripples down the breast and forelegs.
Several of our party had insensitively forgotten to close their mouths, and no one knew quite how to respond. Sophie, who never wore a bra, hugged her arms close to her chest and shivered. Cristina remembered, her hand to her nose, how Queenie was so fond of catching squirrels out in the park and adorning her welcome mat with their ruined corpses, after having eaten the brains out. An awkward silence descended. Johnny scratched his neck and looked at us. “Gosh, sorry you had to see that!” He cracked his knuckles. “The bitch just went crazy! Attacked us, you know . . . we couldn’t have
handled it any other way.” Sela was stertorous from shock and dismay, as if it was she who had been strangled. Beads of fresh blood dotted her forearms in between darker coagulated dashes. “Goddamn cat. Didn’t know they could just get psycho on you like that. Wasn’t in the instruction manual! Ha! Just kidding.”
Held on the spot, we were we at our best efforts to express even somewhat scattered condolences, for the injuries they had received as well as for the loss of such a rare and expensive pet, and inquired as to if Sela or Johnny needed additional assistance or comfort. Would they like to join our evening upstairs? There was enough milanesas for all. They thanked us, but they had made plenty of lasagna. Much too much for two, in fact. They wished us a good night, and sorry again for the freaky cat thing. We ascended to find the Chagall placemats unchanged, and dinner a bit past due, but no one had been successful at keeping an appetite. Mickey wondered if it would be appropriate to perhaps send a sympathy card after a short interval. Charlie, Sophie’s beloved childhood tabby, meowed for his turkey chunks and she moved swiftly to accommodate. Cristina, as always, had the composure to open up another bottle of red, and put out a dish of pistachio nuts, roasted and shelled.