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Fiction #334
(published June 14, 2007)
Mike
by Ryan Priest
Mike sat lazily sprawled in his favorite chair watching Lysette put groceries away. She could see him across the room with his smug, self-satisfied grin.

"You could help." Lysette called. To this Mike gave an exaggerated yawn and settled himself down even further into his chair. Lysette flipped him off and Mike responded with only a dismissive blink of his eyes.

"Stupid cat." Lysette said as she looked into the ragged plastic shopping bags.

Tins of cat food. Mike liked variety so there were tins of fish and chicken with little colored labels telling you which is which. If he didn't like the morning's particular selection Mike would usually make his displeasure known by standing next to but refusing to eat his food. To which Lysette would dutifully throw the old puree out and open him a new can. Seemed like a waste but Mike was also opposed to eating refrigerated food. She'd try to reason with him, "Come on Mike, there are starving cats in China." but Mike didn't care about them. He cared about himself, his chair and that was about it.

So this is my adult life, playing maid servant to a cat who despises me. Lysette thought to herself.

In the other bags were boxes and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Then there were her TV dinners. She used to like to cook. She'd wanted to be a chef. She even had a couple thousand dollars in cooking wear that sat unused gathering dust next to Mike's tin towers of cat food. But now there was no one to cook for and cooking for herself only depressed her. Very few recipes are written for single servings.

She looked at the closed door just outside of the kitchen. Not one sound came from the room. No sound ever came out. Lysette sometimes had to remind herself that she wasn't crazy, that somebody was living behind that door. The white wooden door seemed to have a cold distance all its own.

Lysette turned from the door and met Mike's eyes on the other side of the house. His furry eyelids squinted ever so slightly above his wry smile. She knew why he was smiling too, the little bastard.

Then Mike scratched a few more holes in his chair, sharpening his claws. Lysette had picked that chair out but the second Mike had seen it he claimed it by covering it in his orange fur and the cat graffiti left by his constant sharpening.

Mike hopped down to the floor and sauntered over to the white door as casually as if he'd had an appointment. He rolled onto his side and began reaching his paw under the door while craning his head so that he could still smirk at Lysette. He was smiling because he was allowed into the room and she wasn't.

The door creaked open a bit. Mike would go in for a few hours and then the door would creek back open whenever he was finished doing whatever it was that he did in there.

Mike lifted his head haughtily and before entering he looked at Lysette and let out what she could swear was a giggle.

It was a lot of things. Loneliness, exhaustion, not to mention a bad day at work but coming as it did, when it did, Mike's laughter was the straw that broke Lysette's back. She stifled the beginning of a scream resigning herself to quiet tears. The hint of a yell must have been enough because for the first time in three weeks the door opened a little further. For the first time in three weeks she saw her husband.

Dave, now with a beard, rail thin, sleepless sunken eyes. Still he was her husband, Dr. David Carter. Dave looked at her then to Mike who walked inside.

Lysette wanted to say a thousand things, more she wanted to just run up and hug him. Dave slowly shut the door behind Mike's striped tail. Lysette pulled herself into a chair at the kitchen table and began to sob uncontrollably. She couldn't live like this .

Seven years ago she'd been an energetic newlywed married to a handsome, brilliant physicist. The first couple of years had been okay. They had friends and went to parties. Then David had begun missing the parties and stopped seeing friends altogether.

By the fourth year David had stopped contact with everyone except for work. Then he began to work from home. That's when it really became apparent that something was horribly off. He would stay up for days on end at his computer. He was changing too, becoming more introverted, speaking less and less and never, ever smiling.

He used to leave his study when Lysette would get home and ask her how her day had gone. She'd tell him getting little or nothing back by way of response.

They'd eat together and then lie in bed together watching television. Dave would always keep one eye on the clock and when Lysette decided to sleep he'd creep out of the bedroom and back into his study until four or five in the morning.

That's around the time they got Mike. Lysette had hoped he'd bring some life into the house. Both she and Dave had agreed not to have children long before they had married. The new kitten had sparked Dave up some. He'd play with Mike, wrestling, dangling string and communicating in a cutesy dialect. All day while Lysette stayed at work Dave and Mike would be at home playing.

Shortly after Lysette got a phone call from Dave's work. They said Dave hadn't been doing his job for two months and that he was fired. When she asked him about it he didn't seem concerned. He didn't even look up from Mike whom he'd sat, hair and all, on the kitchen counter.

"They're all idiots anyway. Not a free thinker among them." Dave said in his cutesy cat voice more to Mike than Lysette. "They're imbeciles, yes they are, yes they are."

"Dave, be serious, what are you going to do?"

"Mike and I are working on something. Bigger than anyone ever imagined. Philosophical stuff, Meaning of life sort of stuff. Yes we are...Oh yes we are..." And with that he'd scooped the baby Mike up and walked into his study for the first time shutting the door behind him.

For a while things seemed to be normal with Dave. Routinely if not grudgingly spending his evenings with Lysette. Soon she stopped telling him much about her day. Soon he stopped asking. Then he stopped even eating with her. Now all he ate was macaroni and cheese that he cooked himself. Every day after feeding Mike she'd leave a box of macaroni outside of Dave's study. If left without reminders he would forget to eat.

Six years in and Dave was now spending all of his time in his study coming out only to sleep or stretch his legs. One night Lysette was awoken by a large crash. Mike came bounding into the room and hid under the bed. Lysette had run out to check on Dave and found him kicking his computer to pieces.

"What are you doing?" She screamed.

"I don't need it. There's no truth in that, thing." He looked crazy and out of control.

"Dave, this has to stop."

"It's okay, I don't need the computer." Dave was pacing.

"No, I mean us." Lysette had been upset and the crash had scared her but Dave was off in another world. "Do you realize we haven't made love in two months?"

Then Dave had stopped and with voice devoid of all emotion said: "Then have an affair."

With the ambivalent detachment it had struck Lysette as the most vulgar thing she'd ever had spoken to her. They never brought the subject up again.

Now seven years married and this...

She wondered if she should have an affair or maybe even get a divorce. She'd made two visits to attorneys over it already. She couldn't go through with it though.

He'd warned her. Before they were ever married Dave had told her it wouldn't be easy being the wife of a genius. He had then given a list of great scientists and philosophers who'd had either poor luck or none at all with the opposite sex.

"I've seen how it can happen." he had worried. "A certain type of person, a certain type of mind just has to solve these puzzles but then they come across one that's just too great and they fixate on it. Then they can think of nothing else." And then he'd gone through a litany of famous minds who'd ended their days in insanity.

Lysette had never expected it to happen to Dave. She thought their passion would be enough. That and the fact that he was a genius. That amazed her, the way his mind worked but passion and admiration gives way to bills, disappointment and finally routine. Somewhere they lost the energy that kept them connected. Now she was crying alone at an unset dinner table and he was locked in a room preferring the company of a prima donna cat. No one sees something like this coming.

The sound of running water stopped, alerting Lysette to its ever having been on. She followed the soft footsteps of her husband from his bathroom to the door.

Then it began to open, first a crack, then all the way. Dave walked out, now clean shaven, and took the seat opposite Lysette.

"Liz, I'm sorry. But I'm done doing what I was doing. I'm done. I am sorry. I just lost perspective. I'll never leave you again."

Lysette stopped crying and wiped a spot of shaving cream off of Dave's face "What about your project?"

"I just gave up." He said with a sheepish smile trying to hide that first anguish of an accepted defeat.

She nodded.

"Let me get dressed and we'll go out to eat." Dave said walking into their bedroom. He hadn't left the house in months.

Lysette stood up and walked to the study, which had an open door for the first time in years. The room was empty save for a hot plate, which Dave used to cook his macaroni on. The room had one window and Mike was perched in it looking out at birds flying in the trees. Lysette opened the desk drawer and it was empty except for one photograph. She picked it up.

It was a picture they had taken a few years earlier. She remembered taking the picture. They'd set the camera on delay and Dave had grabbed Mike who obviously wasn't feeling very photogenic due to his twisting and fighting. Then the flash had gone off.

Lysette felt a swell of emotion looking at the picture. The two lovers smiling and Mike looking away from the camera disinterested as always. The Carters, David, Lysette and Michelangelo.

Dave popped into the doorway wearing a suit and smiling as if refreshed after a long hibernation. Liz was tempted to ask what he'd been working on for so long with only a photograph and a feline assistant. She decided it wasn't important. He was back now.

"You ready?"

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