I am placing my shoes, jackets and bag in the dining room. The dining room is a transfer station in my parents’ house for things that we don’t want ruined, as it is one of three rooms in the house blocked off from the cats. The cats, to which I am highly allergic. My parents have cordoned off that room not because we eat there (we don’t; we eat in the kitchen, where the cats jump on the counters anyway), but because of its service as a storehouse for things that haven’t yet been shoved in the basement (most of the time, another cat-free zone).
The other cat-free room is my bedroom. Or so I have been told. It turns out that this is no longer the case, despite my parents’ continued insistence that they don’t allow cats to enter my room. I will discover this as I am stretching in my room after going for a run. There will be dried cat piss on a number of book spines on the bottom shelf of the bookcase (and somehow, on the second shelf, too). It will have taken on an orangey-brown color.
But I haven’t discovered this yet; I am still in the dining room. I hang my jacket on a chair, and toss a sweatshirt over it. I am about to exit into the kitchen, when my father closes the door.
Don’t come out for a sec, he says from the other side of the class. I’m going to try to get Bob in.
Bob is a stray, or perhaps one could call him a half-stray cat that my father managed to get to come into the house after a very concerted effort. He lives exclusively in the house’s sunroom, on one of the couches, which is covered in towels now. The sunroom boasts a myriad of orchids that my father has hoarded and is cultivating for reasons that none of us have managed to grasp, and now, Bob, with his matted fur and knots, the feline equivalent of dreadlocks. He has not allowed my parents to remove the knots; they have been scratched several times in their attempts to do so.
So he lives apart from the other six cats, with his matted fur, in the sunroom, where I assume it smells like piss.
I am twenty eight years old. My father has closed me in the dining room while he tries to coax a half-stray cat into the house.
My father chirps Bob repeatedly.
I look at them both from behind the closed door. Bob, contemplative, my father, bent over, making kissing noises and calling the cat by name.
My mother comes down the stairs, and is about to enter the kitchen when my father, without looking up, waves behind him, telling her not to come into the kitchen.
I’m trying to get Bob in, he tells her. She goes to her office in the living room, or maybe she goes back upstairs.
Last Christmas, in one of his attempts to get Bob to come in, my sister, sitting close to the open door, shifted her weight, which, in my father’s mind, caused Bob to scurry off. This year, I was to blame. I made some noise or stood up from my chair and the cat ran away. So my father said, Well, he was going to come in until Jeff moved. I told him to shut the fuck up. That the goddamned cat would be just fine.
Last Christmas, however, it was my sister. He yelled at her, telling her that she scared Bob away, that all she’s done since being home has involved her playing those damn games on her iPad. My sister ran upstairs, crying. Her fiancé was close behind, and, after a few minutes, he asked for my mother to come upstairs, I suppose, to offer counsel, or, at the very least, bond around the evergreen subject of my father’s anger.
On her way upstairs, she said something to my father. Something to the effect of You can’t do that to her, or You can’t talk to her like that.
He responded: I want a divorce.
She said: So get a divorce.
He repeated: I’m so sick and tired of this. I want a divorce.
She said: So get a divorce.
I was lying on the ground in the other room, sitting by the fireplace which burned propane fuel on ceramic logs, reading The English Patient.
My father stood in the doorframe, and told me exactly what he told my mother.
I said, Okay, not looking up.
He would later tell me later that night that he was sick and tired of being unappreciated. I would tell him I was sorry and leave him alone in the kitchen.
A half stray cat that wouldn’t come in. Enough spark to light the tinder.
This year, I stay in the dining room. This year, my mother does not enter the kitchen.
The next day, as we eat lunch together on Christmas Eve, my father is once again trying to get Bob in. We are sitting around a television in the kitchen, watching the New York Jets and New York Giants play. This is apparently a big deal; these two teams only play against one another during the regular season once every four years.
My father opens the sliding door that leads from the kitchen to the outside deck. He sings Bob’s name repeatedly. My sister rolls her eyes and huffs in irritation. Her fiancé and I catch each other’s glance and grin.
That name is going to invade my nightmares, I say out loud.
Anytime my father says something encouraging, I think that Bob has entered the house. But I am wrong. The cat still sits on the deck, with no discernible intention to move towards the open door.
It is thirty four degrees out, and one of us mentions that it’s getting cold.
My mother, from where she sits, is in Bob’s line of sight. She removes herself, noting out loud, I’ll leave. She does, and my father continues to chirp.