The first thoughts of consciousness flickered through his mind in a blur. The first was that it was strange to hear purring because he did not own a cat. He was incredibly alone in his empty house. No pets, no other people. The only person he truly loved was gone.
And yet, there was purring. Harris opened his eyes and his head rolled to face the left side of the bed. It was her side. It should have been empty. But instead, it was occupied by a fluffy speckled cat. A cat that was purring madly, and appeared to be smiling in a somewhat smug manner.
You can't get rid of me that easily.
In Harris's head, that was what the cat was saying. But why was the cat there? How was the cat there? What in God's name was going on with him?
"You are not real," Harris told the cat, grabbing a sweater off the floor and pulling it over his messy bed head. He stepped into a pair of jeans from the closet and did not look at the cat. In order to prove to himself that this "cat" was indeed a figment of his imagination, he closed the bedroom door on his way out and strode down the stairs, through the den, into the kitchen.
With a stony, rational face, Harris placed two slices of wheat bread in the toaster and grabbed butter from the refrigerator. As he waited, he leaned coolly against the counter and stared out the window into the morning fog. Outside it was cool and damp. Harris turned and opened the window. Crickets were chirping.
The sound struck him as oddly peaceful. He wanted to soak it in and remember it. Eyes gently closing, Harris absorbed the sounds of early morning, his head resting against the smooth surface of the cabinet. Harris wanted to let go. Already her death had tortured him for weeks, he needed just a moment to feel something other than sorrow. A moment to—
But before Harris could finish the thought the toast sprang out of the toaster with a clamor and made him jump. So much for calming himself down. Harris buttered the toast and took a bite. Something was missing.
Jam, he decided. Today was a day that required jam. The refrigerator, bare as it was, was able to supply Harris with the jar of raspberry jam he was craving. He grabbed a knife and spread it thickly on the toast, over the butter and relished in the taste. Nothing in the world was quite like raspberry jam that you made with someone you loved…
The taste was her. She was what was missing. It was nothing that could be replaced, nothing he could find in the taste of preserves, or in the moist feeling of fog, or in the sound of cricket song. She wasn’t there. She was gone. Harris leaned against the wall and melted down it, tears springing from eye he thought had run dry days ago. But life apparently went on to spite him; he could still cry. The toast fell out of his hand and splattered on the floor. He didn’t care.
Harris sobbed silently, convincing himself that there was no cure for this lovely, yearning disease. Only getting her back would solve his problems. And the chances of that happening were… zero.
A quiet lapping sound met Harris’s ears when he accidentally tuned into reality. He choked out another sob. Not only was he alone, but he was completely nuts. How many cats would there be now? Two? Three? Five hundred speckled tabby cats filling the kitchen with a roar of purrs?
Harris decided to face his insanity and glanced towards the sound of a tiny cat’s tongue licking up butter and jam. To his surprise, there was one cat. Harris had mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, he was not surrounded by an army of speckled tabbies. On the other hand, there was still that one stupid cat. It stopped for a moment, licked it’s whiskers as it looked at Harris, and resumed eating with a purr reverberating in its chest once more.
Harris sighed. He was a loony. A loony with an imaginary cat. He wondered if he could find enough money for an impromptu session with his psychiatrist. The cat would have been mildly creepy if she wasn’t so pleasant. Wait a second Harris thought. It suddenly occurred to him that he had shut the bedroom door. However, the same cat was definitely present right next to him on the kitchen floor, cleaning up his fallen toast and the surrounding spray of jam.
Harris slowly rose to his feet and padded over to the phone, his eyes never leaving the cat. With trembling fingers, he dialed the psychiatrist.
"Hello?" asked the woman on the phone.
"It's me, Harris," he breathed anxiously.
“Oh, hello Harris. Is everything alright?” she asked in an annoyingly unconcerned voice.
“No. Everything is not alright. Everything is wrong. I’m losing my mind. The cat, it, she, came home, followed me, and the roads and she was there. On the porch and then she went away when I yelled at her last night but this morning I woke up and she was in my bed and I told her she wasn’t real but she didn’t go away because she came downstairs even though the door was closed and she’s sitting here on the floor in front of me. She thinks it’s a joke, it’s all in her plan. It’s a game. The cats are going to drive me crazy, I’ll go to the asylum—”
The entire time he rambled, Mary shushed him and asked him to calm down, but Harris refused to stop until she had finally hung up. The click was there and the psychiatrist was gone. Harris pushed redial. She answered on the first ring and asked sternly, “Are you ready to give me an intelligible explanation of what’s going on?”
“Yes,” he decided with a sharp exhale.
“Why don’t you come chat with me in my office?” Mary suggested.
“Yes,” Harris agreed, nodding his head to reassure himself.
“I’ll be there in five minutes,” Mary chirped.
“Yes,” Harris repeated. He hung up the phone and made his way to the front door. His last glance back did not help his state of mind. The cat, sitting in the middle of the black and white tiles, was licking her paws serenely. Harris shook his head and slammed the door behind him.