It is Laurie’s cross to bear, this cat that’s found a home in her abdomen. From its nature it must be a Bengal. It is frighteningly active at night. Laurie will be at a Meditation of Surveillance seminar, and she’ll feel it lunge at her stomach wall. Or she’ll be in the kitchen getting some of Susan’s aspic, and she’ll feel it clawing under her heart.
At first, she told herself she shouldn’t worry. She has bigger problems. She’s got her seminars. Her colloquia. Also: Susan’s been bursting into flames again.
While Susan’s a good sport about it—once when her arm caught fire in Whole Foods, she laughed and said, “Hurry, babe, grab one of those steaks and throw it on me!”—it really breaks Laurie’s heart. Susan laughing as she gets smaller, darker. Her fingers, from a burn at yoga last Wednesday, look like scorched wine corks.
“You just keep loving me and I’ll keep loving you,” Susan says.
“I do love you,” Laurie says. “I’m just worried.”
The abdomen cat doesn’t seem worried. It moves down to Laurie’s stomach and purrs against her navel. She feels like it must be immune to all the suffering of the world. She is beginning to hate it for that.
* * *
They’re at a Magical Relief from Narcissistic Desire seminar, and Susan is The Invisible Man. Laurie did the bandages herself.
Laurie watches a man at the podium as he pulls a giant mucosal baseball from his mouth and it bounces across the stage. “Seen it all before,” Susan says. “Come back when you barf a bowling ball.”
Laurie feels the cat dart past her hip. Down into her leg.
Susan starts to scream. Another burn, Laurie figures.
“Laurie,” Susan says. “We were wrong! Look! It’s nothing but a tabby.”
Laurie looks down to see the cat’s face emerging from her kneecap.
* * *
There are shameful moments when she squeezes the sides of her knee the way she would squeeze a pimple, trying to birth the cat in one go. But the cat never budges when she squeezes it; it only meows more insistently.
“Maybe it’s existential,” Susan suggests. “If we give it a name, maybe it’ll break free.”
A name. A name. She needs to give it a name she can coo soothingly at it. Nothing seems right. She grieves for the way things were. The marriage of her guts to the tiny animal.
* * *
By August, Susan has burned away to the size of a child. When they go to Whole Foods, Laurie puts her in her cart. With her burnt fingers, Susan grabs their peanut butter, their quinoa. Her eyes are gone now, so sometimes she grabs the wrong thing. Laurie lets it go. It is part of her love, this sacrifice. The cat—she has named him Iago—watches mutely.
* * *
Iago eats and eats. He is everything that Susan isn’t.
Their bodies form a bond that can’t be broken because it cannot be understood. It is he who nourishes her when she leaves a seminar confused. Bonsai Trees for the Technocrat ending abruptly when a woman sculpting a tree on a screen snaps the tree in half. The crowd’s inrush of breath haunts Laurie—until she is home with Iago, feeding him kippers on the porch.
Laurie folds her leg in such a way that Iago is looking up at her. His gaze is steely. She shakes her head when she sees the question in his eyes. It is not a choice she can make. But Iago continues to stare.
* * *
They go in to tell Susan what they have planned, but they are spared. There is only some ash on the sofa. Iago meows once, plaintively, and then she feels him coming out.
Laurie can’t abide it. Her sense of things is tied to him. “Iago,” she coos. “Stay. Trust me; I’ll be better.”
But he doesn’t listen. They go around the living room, pushing and pulling, as the sofa smolders behind them.
Laurie has no chance to mourn. Not yet. The mourning will come in the weeks that follow. Time sponged of its life, its color.
For now, Iago comes free in a jolt and lands at her feet. She looks at the hole in her leg. Iago is making for the fire escape. Later, when she is alone, when she has healed enough to think of herself and only herself, she will call into the hole, asking to be delivered another.