"Bully" by Caitlyn Siehl

It starts on Friday night, when Robby turns his mom’s glittery pink bowling ball into a bong and gets so high that he takes the garbage out and comes back with a twenty-pound orange monster with fur and a wet, flat nose.

“Dude,” Robby mutters, stroking the thing’s coat, thinking about what would happen if they remade The Big Lebowski and kept everything exactly the same except that everyone wore dresses with no explanation. He pulls his body up from the couch and looks at the bowling ball, thin line of smoke seeping out of one of the three holes. His mom won this thing when he was 10 years old. He remembers the dim bowling alley, the twin dudes on her team who only high-fived when someone got a spare.

Just as he goes to reach for it, the fat orange blob of fur next to him swats at the ball with a hiss and sends it rolling off of the table, directly onto his big toe. The pain is so sharp that he doesn’t even scream, just clenches every part of his body and holds his breath. He stays like that for as long as he can, and then breathes out with a yell that sounds an awful lot like “fuckyouyoufuckingmotherfuckingcat.”

She just sits there, long ropy tail flicking disinterestedly, paws curled underneath her body. What a dick. He picks her up and limps out of the house, dropping her back off at the trash can to wait for her bus or whatever cats wait for while he calls his girlfriend, Maya, to take him to the hospital.

“Stupid cat. Bet you don’t  even know who The Beatles are,” he mumbles, somehow sure that this animal can understand him, because right after he says it, she jumps up and knocks the garbage can over, all the trash spilling out into the driveway. Once the damage is done, she sits directly to the side of it and licks her paws, tail still flicking. When she’s finished preening, she just stares at him, the most annoyingly vacant cat expression on her stupid cat face. He’s too scared to speak to her directly anymore, so he just flips her off, toe throbbing worse than before.

His big toe is broken. Not fractured, completely broken. The bowling ball smashed the bones. Maya drops him back off, leaves him with a peck on the cheek, then he limps towards the door, unsure if he’ll ever get used to the splint and how it spreads his toes apart like he’s getting a pedicure. He sees her out of the corner of his eye. She’s sitting by the front door, a dead bird hanging out of her mouth, and he briefly wonders if Satan himself sent her to watch over him and prepare him for the underworld. He decides to go in through the back door, careful to make sure that she doesn’t sneak back inside with him. After all, she probably belongs to someone. Maybe Voldemort, or something.

Still, when he closes the door, he feels something brush up against his leg, then run past him, going straight for the potted plant next to his brand new flat screen. They stare each other down as she slowly climbs into the plant, her big fat orange body pushing and bending the leaves beyond repair. He breaks the stare and goes to sit back down on the couch when he hears the distinct noise of water running, which is impossible because his mom and dad are away for their anniversary. When he looks back over at her, he understands the noise, and the smell of cat piss wafts into the room, just as unwelcome and horrible as the cat itself.

He calls her Beezlebub for the first few days, and then Cockroach, because no matter how many times he throws her out of the house, she keeps finding her way back in. He files reports, posts signs, puts a posting on Craigslist that says “come pick up your shitty cat.” It’s been a week and no one has called, but he has gotten one response on Craigslist asking him if he’s into feet. He gives up about two weeks in. Cockroach is a perfect angel when his parents get back. They even suggest keeping her. His dad lets her sleep on his chest while he watches 60 Minutes, and Mom likes to experiment with different Fancy Feast flavors for her, but when they’re gone, it’s chaos. So far, Robby has lost about six shirts to the demon cat, one pair of shoes, which are now her litter box, and half of his mind.

Just like all wars, though, the carnage eventually ends. Maya breaks up with him on a Friday and the world is so still from his bed. He hasn’t left it in two days, and doesn’t plan on it, not even when his dad knocks on the door, asking if Cockroach can come cheer him up.

“I’m pretty sure if she were even slightly bigger she’d kill me.”

Her orange figure slinks into the room, circles his bed like a hungry shark, and then it’s quiet again. He thinks she’s finally descended through the floor and back to Hell when he feels sudden pressure at the edge of his bed. He cranes his head and stares in disbelief as she stands on all fours and watches him. He’s genuinely worried that she’s planning an attack of some kind; mapping out the quickest way to destroy him. Instead, she moves slightly to the left and lies down, right on his broken toe. He’s about to kick her off the bed when he notices the calm swoosh of her tail, the half-lidded eyes, the soft purr that he can feel in his feet. He waits a few minutes, for any change, but she stays there, kneading his shinbone with her front paws.

 

“Truce?” he asks, laying his head to the side so that he can keep looking at her. She blinks once, softly.