She Has Moods
by C. Martinez
I came home from a lecture to find Jennifer with ragged, fresh-cut hair, the remains of which blanketed the bathroom floor. I swept it up and told her she looked pretty. The circles under her eyes and the parenthesis carving a frame around her lips made this a lie.
Maggie Flannery, a friend of mine, pulled me aside. “What is wrong with Jennifer?”
“She has moods,” I replied. This was the only way I could explain it. Every time her melancholia seemed distracting enough to have me contemplating a call to the doctor, she would perk right back up and all would be well.
Maggie squinted and pursed her thin lips. “I bet a cat would perk Jenny right up! You can have Stephen’s.”
I shook my head. The last time I’d visited, Stephen had been kissing that thing. “Why would Stephen want to do that?”
Maggie rolled her eyes, “I am sick of the hair all over the place, and if I even try getting near him, that damn thing is there between us.”
Jennifer thought it was the prettiest cat she’d ever seen. Nothing quite matched the amusement the sight of them both curled on the couch for a nap brought to me. That cat was so soft like a rabbit, and even though she’d her claws, she never unsheathed them. “If I’d known all along you were pining for a pet, I’d have just gotten you one!” I told her. “It would have spared me a lot of trouble worrying about you.”
Jennifer blinked her owl-wide eyes but did not respond.
The day came when I found the house empty. No Jennifer. No cat.
I found Jennifer on the rocks near the water. She wore a faded orange dress that I’d not seen her wear for some years. Her hair was wet, the chin length ends of it dripping onto her shoulders. The long raking wounds on her arms were so deep in places that the blood trickled and dripped.
Our eyes met, and cold, just frozen I felt all the way though, my hands trembled. I thought of Stephen’s haggard face. The only time I’d seen him since receiving the cat, he’d been recently divorced from Maggie.
“If you were sick of it you should have told me, I would have given her back to Stephen.”
Jennifer turned away. “Relax, the cat is fine.”
My gut twisted as she lifted the soaked, limp cat. Its eyes were pale green slits, and its bottom paws curled up at the toes as it dangled. It purred; limply given over to the horrors it had just gone through. Water poured from the long fur, trickling like from a faucet.
I snatched the trembling cat from her arms. It made a diminutive squeak that turned into an extended growl. I rolled the cat in my coat until only its soaked face peeped. I may as well have been holding a drowned owl. “Jennifer, this is inexcusable! I can’t begin to tell you how disappointing this is.”
My words, as weak in delivery as they were in choice, fell upon Jennifer like watery milk. A smile flickered over her lips and she looked across the water. Both of her pale hands cupped over her knees, blood trickling like thin lines of ink.
“When the water reflects the stars,” Jennifer said tonelessly, “it seems obscene. I mean, it’s a photograph of something that isn’t there, you know?”
I thought of the big, white cubicle buildings I’ve seen in movies, and of the sterile nurses with red lacquered nails and shining red lips, and of moldering tiled group showers, and of the asinine, but serious doctor with a Colbert voice and a clipboard. I wanted that at my fingertips, ready with a gurney and a cell. Then she’d have her fill of the damned stars night after night if she were lucky enough to have a window.
I phoned Stephen and told him to pick up his damn cat. The desperate glee in the man’s voice irritated me but he said he’d be here within the hour.
I towel dried the cat in the bathroom. She purred so strongly that I felt the vibrations all the way up to my elbows. “Good kitty!” I murmured, holding her in the crook of my arm. Then I caught our reflection, my lined face and thick, graying hair twirled on end and the cat’s draggled fur and pale green eyes.
I left the cat on our bed, grabbed some more towels, and went back outside.
Blue tinged was the skin around Jennifer’s lips and eyes, and I wondered if the blackish scabbing edging the wounds was a good or a bad thing. The ring and pinky fingers on her left hand were curled into the palm. The worst wound was a gouge in the corner of that wrist which still rhythmically wept pea-sized drops of blood.
“I just spent the last twenty minutes towel drying a cat who probably doesn’t give a shit who tends to her as long as she gets fed before sundown.”
Jennifer looked straight at me, her pupils like pin-pricks and her bottom lip trembling. “Anything that suffers appreciates comfort,” she muttered.
I stood up, unable to take her in my arms even to wrap her bleeding wrists in the towels. My hands trembled as I put the towels on her lap. She made no move for the towels. But her body slumped until one of her arms rolled off her lap to trickle blood onto the rocks.
Stephen was the one who finally tended her. I found it interesting seeing as his cat was nearly murdered by her but he gnawed on his bottom lip and swiftly tied the towels around her arms. Blood flowered into stains on his designer white button shirt and he glared at me with his small, dark eyes as he carried her past me into the house.
I scowled. “Am I the bad guy here?”
I am a 29 year old musician and writer with a passion for tea and anything odd wherever it can be found in life. I live in a Colorado suburb. My work has been recently accepted by 50 to 1, Short, Fast and Deadly, Lightning Flash Magazine, Technicolor Magazine and Six Sentences.
My inspiration for this story came as I looked at the image and thought about how often mental illness can go ignored in a marriage or family unit, and how often it has ended in tragedy involving water.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'A Beginner's Guide to Waves'