Part 2: Good Night, My Kitten
Ushio fundamentally had no need for an alarm clock. No matter what time he fell asleep, he would always wake up around the same time. Well, more like he was woken up. His fluffy living alarm clock would climb up onto his chest and push his paws into his face. Like stamping paw prints onto him.
“Yes, yes, morning~ Thank you.”
When Ushio tickled the cat under his chin, he would gnaw on his finger and demand, Hurry up and gimme food! Ushio made his own breakfast and poured out some kibble into a cat bowl. Light glinted in the calculating eyes, growing wide open as soon as he heard the sound of the food.
It wasn’t good for discipline, but Ushio would place the bowl on the table, and they would eat together with the cat in his lap. Ushio had to work around the cat with his plate and utensils, and it felt all stiff sitting with his legs closed, but this was how his cat wanted to eat so what could he do? His cat was a bit of a glutton, always interested in human food, but when Ushio would warn him, “No, you can’t,” he would obey him more or less. Sometimes Ushio would give him a little bit of bonito flakes or cheese to keep him from acting out.
“Okay, time to eat~”
Sounds of crunching accompanied the view of the breakfast table as the back of the little head greedily devoured his food next to a mug of coffee and a plate of toast.
Crumbs had slipped between Ushio’s fingers and fell on the top of the cat’s head.
“I got it off, I got it off. Oh, it’s supposed to rain this afternoon.”
Ushio talked to his cat as he watched the weather forecast, and the cat answered with a brief, “Meow.”
“I also have a meeting here at two. People from the production company are coming over.”
“Oh yeah, I have a package from Amazon arriving this morning. Sign and accept it for me, okay?”
“I know, I know, there’s no way you can do it~”
Ushio cleared the table, cleaned, and did the laundry—taking care of the chores around the house. When he turned on the vacuum cleaner, the cat escaped into the bathroom and wouldn’t come out. He seemed to really hate the sound. Ushio was curious how he would react if he were to get a Roomba.
After the chores, Ushio went downstairs to work. The cat would sleep in his lap, sleep at his feet, sleep on the desk, or sleep on top of his keyboard. Whichever he did, he was always in the way. If Ushio tried to force him to move, he would sulk and roll back and forth on the floor endlessly. Eventually he would lie spread out on the floor and fall asleep. When he woke up, he would sometimes go upstairs and watch TV. He would use his front paws to push and handle the remote, and then he would sit in front of the screen and meow in the pauses between the people talking. Ushio had no idea how much the cat understood, but when he had enough, he would always remember to turn the TV off.
At 2 pm, the guests arrived as planned, and the cat met them at the door, his tail raised straight in the air.
“Omigod, so cute! Is he a boy? He’s so well-behaved~! And looks so smart too.”
“Yeah, there are times I feel like we might actually be holding a conversation.”
“Really? Hello there~”
“Oh, he really replied! He’s so cute!”
When people were over, he would act all prim and proper, but the moment they left, he would groom himself furiously, angry and kicking at the sofa cushions. Maybe he hated being petted or the smell of people’s perfume, but the cat generally didn’t like humans as a whole. And yet, whenever there were people around, he would act all friendly around them. He was really strange. Maybe he understood what his duty was as a cat.
“Oi, I never said you had to entertain them, you know. If you don’t like it, you could just stay upstairs.”
“Meoww, meooow, meoww.”
“Ahh, don’t sharpen your claws there, you’ll ruin it.”
Ushio did some more work, and they ate dinner together. When Ushio spent the full day at home, he would match the cat’s schedule and have two meals for the day. He would drink coffee and snack on cookies and things in between.
Ushio left the dishes for tomorrow morning and went back to his work. His cat wasn’t there next to him, but Ushio could feel the small living presence behind him at his back. No matter how focused on his work Ushio became, that was the one thing that never vanished—and it never bothered Ushio.
It was late at night when Ushio finally finished up the project he had been working on for the past month. All that was left was minor adjustments and final checks from the client.
“Kei, come here.”
The cat sounded like a toy as he rushed over with light little steps and jumped onto Ushio. Ushio stroked his chin, his temples, and his back—soothing his own eyes and hands that had been handling hard materials all day.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”
The cat silently plopped his head onto the desk, gazing at the computer monitor. Ushio played the video for him that he had just finished. Prior to delivering his projects, the one he would show his work to before anyone else in the world was always this cat. It was strange, but whenever Ushio stayed up until morning, pushing through the final stretch, the cat would never go to sleep. He wouldn’t meow; he wouldn’t bother Ushio. He just waited quietly for him at a distance where they could still feel each other there—until Ushio was done.
Ushio never looked at the expression he was making, watching the back of the cat’s head backlit by the monitor. Sometimes, his ears would twitch. He was sure the colors and light reflected in the round cat eyes moving around in circles had to be beautiful.
Ushio climbed into bed when the sky started getting light out. The cat curled up next to him, sneaking in from behind the pillow, his body soft and warm.
Maybe the cat was extremely sleepy, but his response was cut off and quiet. Ushio heard the whistles of light breathing like a broken recorder.
Ushio tried imagining what the cat would be like if he were human. He felt like their lives wouldn’t be very different from what it was now.
Lick, lick, lick, lick. The tongue would come and lick him relentlessly on the cheek every morning, and Kei thought about grating wasabi or ginger with it one of these days.
“…Stop it. What if you ruin my skin, huh?”
Kei pushed the face roughly out of the way and got out of bed. As he ate a cracked raw egg over rice for breakfast, he called out “Oi” at the cat eating from a bowl at his feet.
“You went out again yesterday, didn’t you? I told you to stop breaking out of the apartment.”
When Kei went out to go to work, the cat would also go out of the apartment. Kei made sure to close and lock the doors, but the cat would always undo the sash lock on the kitchen window, open it, and leave. Kei had no way of knowing where he could have wandered off to, but by the time Kei returned home, the cat would be back and the window would be closed. However, the cat couldn’t turn the lock back, so it was always unlocked. It was just a small window for light and ventilation, so there were no security problems to worry about though. Maybe he should install a security camera next time.
“I’m gonna put iron bars up one of these days.”
The cat swayed his tail at Kei as if he were replying to him. Go ahead, go ahead, he seemed to say, and it pissed Kei off. His cat never meowed. Maybe that was what he felt like, or maybe he was born unable to meow. Sometimes he would make rumbling sounds from his throat though.
However, even without the use of his voice, his cat was plenty eloquent, using the movement of his tail, his facial expressions, and gestures to tell Kei his feelings and demands. Most of the time, he treated Kei as if he were an idiot—that was the feeling that Kei got. After getting back from work annoyed and irritated, Kei would curse and rant to himself at home, and the cat would jump onto the back of the sofa and place his front paws on his shoulder. Kei felt like the cat was reining him in and saying, Now, now, calm down. Sometimes Kei seriously thought about finding him an animal talent agency and have him earn some money while he was at it, but he feared that the cat would probably feign ignorance in front of the cameras and cause him all sorts of embarrassment instead.
At the network, Kei was making useless small talk when the conversation turned to cats. Kei commented, “I have a cat,” and the person latched onto the topic.
“Oh, I have a cat too~ I just love her~ Whenever I get super busy, she’ll come to me wanting attention. I do get a little fed up sometimes, but it’s just so nice and soothing whenever she’s with me, and she’s just so cute.”
“They are, aren’t they.”
Kei smiled and made agreeable comments where it was appropriate, but he thought that she was completely wrong. His cat wasn’t cute, he didn’t come looking for attention, and it never felt nice and soothing at all. It was the opposite in fact.
Kei returned home, and sure enough, the window lock was undone. The cat seemed to say, Hey, as he wound himself between Kei’s legs, his little body cool to the touch.
“You little rascal—…”
Kei drew a bath. He sat in the bathtub reading the script for tomorrow’s assignment, using the cover of the bathtub as a desk. That was when the folding door pushed open, and the cat jumped up towards Kei.
The cat said nothing. He just spread himself out on the bathtub cover making himself at home. Kei was annoyed, and he splashed a little water at the cat. The cat just carefully shook the water off and used his front paws to turn the water control lever down to 35°C before bounding out of the bathroom.1
What’s that all about, you crafty little hellcat?
When Kei got into bed, a lump of fur crept around by his feet. Eventually he crawled up from under the covers and poked his face out by the pillow. Whenever he did that, his eyes always seemed to say, Hey, I’m here.
When Kei returned home from work, he was always relieved to see that his cat was there, and then he would want to curse himself out. Why should he care if this damn cat was here or not?
It was easy enough to replace the window lock to something that couldn’t be opened, but even if he did that, this cat would probably out of nowhere just disappear. If Kei were to seriously try to confine him, he would probably never come back.
Kei grabbed the back of his neck and warned him.
“I’m the one giving you a home here, okay? I give you water and keep you fed. If you wander around outside, you could be hit by a car, attacked by nasty stray cats, or even get sick. Do you understand?”
A warm but rough tongue licked his cheek.
Dammit, I told you to stop that.
“…You’re just a little creature who can’t live without me, you know.”
Lick, lick, lick, lick. Maybe he was saying, Yes, yes, okay. Or, That’s what you think. He really pissed Kei off.
Kei tried imagining what this cat would be like if he were human. He would probably annoy and piss him off more than he did now, so Kei thought he was probably better off as a cat.