Fiction

Herman

By: Harvey Huddleston

Joanne was such a conniver.  Elliot didn’t know that at the time because like they say in the Bronx, “buttah” wouldn’t melt in her mouth.  They’d just recently begun working together as legal assistants at a big firm with adjoining desks.  Everyday he’d hear about the problem her rescue group was having.  It had to do with a cat they were trying to rescue who lived behind a bakery in the Bronx.

She first told him that the cat was too fast.  Then it was that the cat wouldn’t go into the trap because it knew something was fishy.  Elliot suggested that maybe it liked jelly donuts but the look on Joanne’s face told him this was no laughing matter.  Then one day she came in with a new development.  The rescuers were just zeroing in on the cat and getting ready to nab it when a woman from the neighborhood swooped in and grabbed it up first.  Elliot asked how she’d done that since the rescuers hadn’t been able to.  But that part was never explained because then Joanne tells him there was an even bigger problem.

Since they’d already put so much effort into rescuing the cat, the group felt responsible for it so they’d confronted the woman to make sure it would have a good home.  But then the woman tells them that the cat was hers now and living in an empty apartment she owned to kill the mice there.  She tops it off by saying that if they didn’t like it they could all go take a flying leap at the moon.  Her father was a dentist.

That seemed like a sad ending to Elliot but the story didn’t end there.  Joanne said that the rescuers had gone back to the woman and told her that she should give them the cat so that they could find a real home for it.  They told her that it shouldn’t be living alone by itself in an empty apartment where its only purpose in life was to kill other animals.  The woman told them that it was none of their business so they went right back at her and said they were going to report her to the ASPCA for animal cruelty.  The woman then threatened to call the police on them if they didn’t leave her alone and quit bothering her.  Then some screaming ensued.

Over the next few weeks Elliot expected an update but Joanne didn’t say anything else about it.  He figured it was like any other bad situation when people are faced with something that can’t be fixed or helped.  They forget about it as everyone does sooner or later to go on with their lives.  Joanne didn’t bring it up and he didn’t either so, as far as he knew, that was the end of it.

*  *  *

Elliot’s brother had rented a vacation house in Florida for a family get together.  On his last day before leaving, Ellliot felt expansive, knowing that by that same time tomorrow he’d be splashing around in the warm waters of the gulf.  That was also the day Joanne came in with a major new development.  It seemed that one of her fellow rescuers, Lisa, had been contacted by the dentist’s daughter.  She told Lisa that feeding the cat had become such a problem that she’d started just cracking the door open and throwing the food inside.  So that went on until the smell got so bad she went inside to clean it up and that’s when the cat attacked her.  She told Lisa it tried to kill her.  Elliot said good and Joanne agreed with him but then — Elliot found this out later — Joanne came to that place in the story where it had been going all along.

Joanne’s voice took on a somber tone.  The woman said we can take the cat.

But that’s good, isn’t it?  Isn’t that what you wanted?

Yes but we need to find him a home first.   You see, everyone in the group already has too many cats.  The clinic will do all the medical work for free but then he needs somewhere to go.  Would you take him?  We have to get him away from that woman and this is our only chance.

Whoah, wait a minute.

You’ve had lots of cats before and I think you need another one.  You should see him.  He’s so cute.  Lisa took a picture.  Here, I’ll show you.

Joanne brought up a picture of the cat on her computer screen.  Black and white, nothing unusual except that Elliot could tell it was big.  But then something in the cat’s face caught his attention.  It was something in its eyes as it looked at the camera.  There was a question there.  Who are you and what do you want?  And, knowing the back story, Elliot could imagine the next question.  Are you here to make it worse for me?

Okay, I’ll make you a deal.  If you can get him away from that woman, I’ll take him next week when I get back from Florida.

Really?

Really.

You promise?

I promise.

Deal, buddy!  At that she high-fived Elliot.  Oh, this is so nice of you!

I’m a great guy.

For the rest of that day, Joanne was on the phone conferring with her compatriots but Elliot didn’t pay much attention.  His mind was already drifting off to the sparkling gulf coast that would be his world for the next week.

*  *  *

It was a normal beach house rental, shabby but big enough for the whole family.  Out on a sandbar, Elliot saw a shark, a baby one he assumed, swim by.  Jackie, his brother-in-law, told him about being a kid and how they’d stand him up on a tree stump to sing during their church picnics.  There on the beach they tried out some of his old favorites.  Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis.  Harmonizing on “You make me love you like a man insane,” his sister, Lynne, made them stop because she said it was embarrassing.  His mom sat under an umbrella with her visor and shades, watching the crystalline days pass as his sister-in-law, Sarah, brought down pitchers of margaritas for everyone.  It was a nice trip.

On his first day back all Elliot had on his mind was not screwing up.  But then Joanne gave him the news as soon as she sat down.

We’ve got him.

You got who?

Herman.

Who?

Herman, your cat.  He’s at the clinic now getting his medical work done. 

Wait…  What?

We rescued him last week and you said you’d take him.

… I did?

Yes, you did.  You promised.

Oh yeah…  I did… 

So he’ll be ready to leave the clinic on Saturday.  Aren’t you excited?

Well… sure….

Oh, he’s so cute.

Do you still have that picture?

She brought it up on her computer again and, looking a little closer this time, Elliot thought it could be worse as cats went.

When did you say he’d be out of the clinic?

Saturday.

So then… I guess I need to get some things.  Food maybe?

And a litter box.  Lisa and her boyfriend are going to bring him to your apartment so you have to give them directions.

I can do that. 

Then Elliot decided to try one last time jumping out of the way of this oncoming train.  Hey, Joanne, isn’t there someone else who might…  But then he saw by the look on her face to drop it.  It was time to face the fact that he now had a cat.

You say his name is Herman?

They gave him that name at the clinic.  Don’t you think it’s perfect?

Sure… okay… Herman.

You can change it if you want.

No, I like it.

Oh, you’re going to be so happy with him.  I just know you are.

Over the next few days Elliot cleaned up his apartment, castigating himself for the passive attitude that had led to him being a cat owner.  On the other hand, he liked Joanne and, given what she and her rescue group had been through, not to mention Herman, it was the least he could do.  He could also see a bright side to it.  Elliot had suspected that a mouse was living in his kitchen.  Actually, he was sure of it because of the hole he’d recently found in the bread wrapper on top of the fridge.  Not that he especially wanted the mouse dead but Herman being there would at least make him think twice before coming out.

Saturday came and Elliot was a little nervous.  These people would be checking out him and his apartment to make sure he was sane enough to have a cat.  He knew that was a major part of their job from Joanne’s stories about rescues and adoptions.  But then he also knew that Joanne had vouched for him and he’d have to come off pretty screwed up for them not to leave the cat, especially since they were bringing him there without having met him first.  Still, he didn’t like being judged.  Was he up to snuff?  Could he make the grade?  It made him feel about six years old but then the same old answer came back to him.  All he could do was try and act normal and let the pieces fall where they may.

They called from downstairs and were in their SUV across Bedford Avenue when he came down.  The boyfriend met him at the back hatch.  The metal cage was bigger than he’d expected, like one of those for a large dog instead of a cat.  He caught a glimpse of Herman inside, black and white but hazy in the exhaust from the cars and busses churning past.  The boyfriend lifted one end of the cage while Elliot lifted the other and they carried it across the avenue with the young woman following behind.

Are you Lisa?

I am.  It was kind of a rough trip.

How so?

But she didn’t answer and she didn’t introduce her boyfriend either.  In fact, as they carried the cage up the stairs, it struck him how flustered they both seemed.  Sure, they’d been fighting the traffic all the way from Manhattan to carry this homeless cat out to some stranger in Brooklyn but now they were here.  What’s the problem?  As he opened the door he worried about what they would think of his apartment but then there were other things to worry about.  They set the cage down on the living room floor and the boyfriend spoke up for the first time.

He had an accident on the way over.

Lisa quickly added, more to her boyfriend than to Elliot, he’s just nervous, that’s all.

Until then Elliot hadn’t noticed the brown streaks on Herman’s chest and arms.  He also looked bedraggled and wet like he’d pissed on himself.  Elliot wet some paper towels and Lisa opened the cage for him.  Reaching in, Elliot began to tenuously wipe him down.  Herman didn’t really let him but then he didn’t not let him either.  His eyes were so glazed over that Elliot guessed he was too much in shock to react to anything.  Lisa said it was nice that he was trying to clean him so Elliot figured he’d passed the test if the test was still in progress.  But then he’d also caught a note of hopelessness in her voice when she’d said it.

They waited for Herman to come out of the cage, all of them backing up to give him room.  And then he did come out, very slowly, taking one shaky step at a time.  Once out of the cage, Herman just stopped and stood there frozen, completely at the mercy now of whatever was coming next.  Elliot felt like things had gone pretty well up to that point, or as well as could be expected, aside from the accident, as the boyfriend had put it.  He wondered why they’d seemed humiliated by it.  It wasn’t their fault.  Herman was just scared and nervous.  Elliot guessed that he would have shit on himself too if he was Herman but he caught himself before saying it.  Lisa then handed him a paper.

This is his evaluation from the clinic.  All his tests were good.

Elliot scanned the sheet and stopped at the temperament section where something was scribbled in.

So it says here… if I can make it  out… “fractious?”

I think that just means he’s, you know, temperamental.

Hmm,  a little more than temperamental I think…  Contentious maybe?

Just a little grumpy at times.

Well, I guess that could describe anyone.

He thought Lisa might find some humor in that but she wanted to explain.

You have to remember.  This has been such an ordeal for him the last few weeks.

Oh, I know.  Of course it has.  Joanne told me all about it.  You’re part of her rescue group, right?

Yes.

So I know the whole story.  About him living behind the bakery in the Bronx and then that dentist’s daughter locking him up in an empty apartment.  Her throwing the food inside until she went in and he tried to kill her —

At that the boyfriend cut off Elliot with kind of a grunt to Lisa.  Uh, I think we need to be going.

Oh yeah, we do… we do…

Okay.  So then, thanks for bringing him.  They turned for the door but then turned back.  Elliot found himself filling in their words for them.  Ah yes, the cage, we can’t forget that now, can we?  Ha ha.

They maneuvered the cage out of the door and Elliot watched them disappear around the landing below.  They seemed even less happy with each other now than when they got there.  Their smiles had been strained and distracted like there was something between them they were trying to hide.  He wondered if they would finally let loose on each other back in the car.

Ellliot shut the door behind him, expecting to see Herman but he’d gone off somewhere.  Under the bed, he guessed.  There weren’t that many places to hide.  Good for him, he thought.  Let him just take it easy his first day.  He’ll come out when he’s ready.  The litter box was already full so Elliot filled one cat bowl with water and the other matching bowl with half a can of wet food.  Then he busied himself at the computer as if everything was normal and waited for Herman to come out so that they could introduce themselves without the distractions.

He wondered again if Lisa and her boyfriend had let each other have it once they were in the car.  But then the vague intimation came to him that whatever problem they’d been having had been left behind in his apartment.

*  *  *

It surprised Elliot Monday morning when one of the first things Joanne mentioned were the scratches on his arm.

Oh yeah, these.  We had a few problems.  Check out this one on my hand.

Oh no, did he do that too?

This one’s from his teeth.

Did you put anything on it?

Peroxide.

Use an antibiotic too.  That’s what I use when my cats nip me.  So what do you think made him do it?

I don’t know.  He’s on the floor looking at me so I put a chair next to the computer and he jumps up.  Then he crosses over to my lap.  So he’s sitting there and I pat him but then on the third pat he zaps me.  I’m thinking this is all new for him, my place and everything, so he just needs some time to acclimate.  So later on he crosses over again and again on the third pat out of nowhere, zap.  The next time I’m thinking I’ll be ready for it so here we go again, one, two, three —  I can’t even begin to describe how fast he is.  You don’t even see it and zap!  That’s when I decided I needed a plan.

What kind of plan?

Well, I’m not sure yet.  But he won’t be up on my lap anymore until I get one.

Has he been eating?

Oh yeah.  Fine.

So that’s one good thing.

What’s weird about the zaps is that he seems so friendly but then it just comes out of nowhere.  Is he just acting friendly to set me up for the zap or is he really friendly and he zaps me because he can’t help it?  It’s like something snaps in his head and he just does it without thinking.  Almost like a robot but quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.  I can’t figure out which it is.  What do you think?

You say he’s friendly?

He acts friendly… like we’re long lost buddies.  Best buddies in the world, in fact… but then zap.  I don’t know.  It’s a mystery.

Do you think it’ll get better?

Well it’ll get pretty miserable around there if it doesn’t.

Maybe he just needs time, like you said.

Maybe.  I hope so.

Me too.

I just need a plan.

That’s what you need, a plan.  But I’m sure you’ll figure it out.  I’m so happy you took him.  You know, not many people would have your patience with him.

Oh yeah?

Yeah.

… We’ll see.

*  *  *

Joanne didn’t know that the situation was a little worse than Elliot had let on.  He knew she was worried about Herman and he didn’t want to cause her any more worry than necessary.  At least, not until he could try out his plan and see if it worked.

Elliot had thought about it a lot.  The one thing he knew for sure was that Herman wanted to be patted but since he couldn’t be on his lap, Elliot made it a rule that he could only have pats in one place.  If Herman was on the couch then he could get two pats but not three.  Elliot wondered why that third pat was so dangerous.  He thought that maybe it took two pats for it to sink in that a human was actually touching him.  He reminded himself that Herman had never had contact with humans except for the vet or that dentist’s daughter.  Humans meant cruelty to him so the idea was to hurt them before they could hurt him.  Perfectly understandable given his past but it would take time to change.  If it could.  Elliot had the time but whether he had the patience like Joanne said, he wasn’t so sure.

So Herman wanted pats but then that brought up why he would even want them from humans who’d been nothing but bad news for him.  Was it just survival?  Had he found out that if he put up with humans and acted like he liked them, then they would give him food?  Or was there more to it than just a trade off?  Could it be that even after the abuse, he still wanted their companionship?  Did he want love from a human?  Was that even possible for him when all of his experience with humans had resulted in being hurt?  If that was true, then the situation was even more dire than Elliot first thought.  It meant that there were two opposing forces inside him warring against each other.  And there was no way Herman could know that one might lead to a long and happy life while the other to destruction.  So that’s how two pats on the couch came to be.  And, if that worked out, they might go for three.

            It went okay for a day or two, at least for Elliot.  He wasn’t getting zapped as much but then Herman began to catch on.  Having figured out that there wouldn’t be a third pat, he began jerking his head around at the second one.  Elliot was usually able to pull away in time but when he didn’t, the lines of blood beading up on his arm quickly ended the session.  By the third day Herman was skipping the first pat and taking his swipes as soon as Elliot got close.  The end of the plan wasn’t marked by an admission on Elliot’s part that it had failed.  It simply slipped into the past as other things about Herman began demanding attention.

Herman was showing a lot of interest in Elliot’s legs and feet after a shower or when he was getting ready for work.  Sometimes Herman just waved at him as he passed but then, at other times, he made contact with bare skin.  Elliot noticed that if he saw Herman waiting for him in crouch mode and Herman knew that he’d seen him, then Herman wouldn’t do anything.  It was when Elliot’s mind was off somewhere else that he got zapped.  It was like Herman was saying to either pay attention to him and be okay or ignore him at your own risk.  Elliot resented that now it felt like he was the one being trained.

Elliot tried to stay optimistic, hoping that it would get better but it didn’t.  Herman seemed to always be lurking around with violence on his mind.  Elliot would be at his computer when he would suddenly become aware of Herman poking at his leg or sitting on the couch behind him, just staring and planning his next attack.  Another especially unnerving thing was when Herman jumped up on the bed at night when he was trying to sleep.  Elliot hated that feeling of just lying there as a stationary target and he was having to shoo him off more and more often.

One morning as he rushed around, getting ready for work, Herman zapped his foot pretty bad, drawing enough blood so he had to sponge it up off the bathroom floor.  After that Elliot started wearing boots, even when he was naked.  It was around that time, in his bathrobe and boots, that the first hints began creeping into Elliot’s mind that he might have to find a way out of it.  That meant — and he didn’t want to think about it — getting rid of Herman.  The idea of it seemed so harsh and quick.  It hadn’t even been two weeks since he’d come to live with him but Elliot was coming to the realization that he might not have any choice.

He didn’t mention it to Joanne.  The main reason being that he didn’t want to be seen as a failure.  And it wouldn’t be only him.  She’d see it as her failure too and he didn’t want that for her either.  Another reason was that, given his growing desperation, it might be too easy once he got started to just throw in the towel, to tell her it had been a mistake and that if she couldn’t find somewhere else for Herman then he’d have to drop him off at a shelter.  Which in Herman’s case would surely mean dead cat walking.  He desperately didn’t want to give her that ultimatum.  And the last reason he didn’t say anything was because he was still trying to maintain hope that he wouldn’t have to.

            It wasn’t like Herman was a total disaster.  Elliot admired the dark gray blanket draped over his back, his creamy white shoulders and legs and the matching gray beret on top, dipping down below one eye while stopping above the other, making a perfect number one right in the center of his face.  That wasn’t to even mention his sheer vitality.  Elliot wondered at how he could be so big and quick after drinking filthy water from puddles and feasting on cream puffs in the Bronx.  It was hard to believe he’d emerged from that so physically impressive.  It was also strange that he didn’t have a single mark on him from fighting with other cats.  Not a chewed ear or scar anywhere.  He wondered if Herman had been such an alpha beast in that world that no other cat had ever landed a blow.

            There was also this idea of living with danger that Elliot wasn’t completely averse to.  Ever since he was a kid he’d been fascinated with lion tamers and the big cats.  The way the tamers would strut around the lion’s cage, knowing they could take his head off in a second with him the whole time in complete control.  Or the old bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den.  Sitting there calmly reading his book while the man-eaters lounged around him, bathed in God’s holy light.  He wanted so badly for it to work out but as the days passed he began to have more and more doubt that it would.

            He was asleep on the couch one day when he opened his eyes just in time to see Herman flying through the air at him after launching himself from the bedroom.  Elliot raised one leg and caught Herman in mid-leap with his foot.  He marvelled at his luck, waking up at just that moment to save himself but then he thought that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence, that the timing couldn’t have been that perfect.  Herman had to have been waiting for him to wake up before launching himself.  If so, then that meant Herman wasn’t trying to hurt him.  He’d just wanted to interact with him.  Almost like he was playing.  And if that was true, then maybe he had to rethink the situation.

Could it be possible that what he’d thought were attacks were just Herman trying to play?  Maybe those swipes with his claws weren’t meant to hurt him but were just playful jousts and spars.  Like any cat might do except that in Herman’s case he kept his claws out.  But maybe that wasn’t his fault either.  Maybe he didn’t know how to retract them.  Or he wasn’t able to for some reason.  And if Herman’s goal wasn’t Elliot’s demise, then maybe they could find a way to play together without it being so dangerous.

Elliot made a trip to Petland and loaded up on small balls, cardboard mice and catnip toys.  He also got one of those fishing rods with a cord and birdie attached to the end that you could sling around the room.  Back at the apartment, Herman studied the balls and mice and even snagged one before tossing it aside.  But then it was like it wasn’t there.  It was the same with the catnip toys which surprised Elliot.  He’d never known a cat to not like catnip.  But then there was some success with the birdie on the fishing line.  Herman liked the movement.  He actually chased it for a while until he stopped and looked at Elliot.  Elliot could’ve sworn his expression said do we really have to keep doing this pointless shit?

They played with the birdie a few more times but Herman’s interest flagged to the point that Elliot gave up on it too.  But he was encouraged.  For the first time they’d actually done something together besides regard each other warily.  A new admiration for Herman began to grow in Elliot.  Herman was different from any cat he’d ever known.  Hard to live with but at the same time so interesting.

            At work he downplayed the problem by telling Joanne that they were making progress and then changing the subject.  He’d torture her with an old Abba song, “There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando,” until she’d throw something at him to make him stop.  Back at the apartment he looked again at Herman’s evaluation form, searching for clues.  His age was estimated at two to three years.  It occurred to Elliot that maybe he hadn’t been born on the streets but had grown up in a home and then gotten lost somehow.  That would explain why he was so healthy and also his need for human contact.  Maybe his first memories of humans were good and it was only later that he learned to zap them.  But then Herman began doing something which shot Elliot’s anxiety level up to Defcon One.

*  *  *

He’d been up late at the computer and it was time for bed.  Seven would be rolling around too early as always.  He was just drifting off when there was a thump on the bed next to his head.  What the hell?  He began drifting off again when there was another thump and in the dark he heard Herman’s claws clicking on the hardwood floor.  He waited, listening for the tell-tale clicks but nothing so he began drifting off again.  Thump!  Holy shit!  He jumped out of bed yelling and heard Herman scurry off through the living room.  He couldn’t believe this was happening.

Elliot moved over next to the wall as far as he could, trying to sleep but now filled with a mounting dread.  It wasn’t so much that Herman could still nail him there but that he now had a new problem to deal with, one that he might not be able to fix.  There were at least five more thumps on the sheet where his face had been before Elliot finally drifted off.  He got up in the morning feeling like he hadn’t slept at all.

It was a new game Herman was playing.  Elliot knew that but this game was an especially destructive one.  If he couldn’t sleep then he couldn’t work and his job was already hard enough.  The problem was that he had to lie down to sleep and that single mattress was no more than two feet off the floor.  Herman could go at him there all night however he wanted and for as long as he got a kick out of it.  Elliot could move over next to the wall and maybe get some sleep but how long would it be before Herman started coming up on the bed to go at him.  He felt trapped and completely at Herman’s mercy for the first time since he’d come there.

Being asleep left his face exposed and he was helpless to protect it.  That was his real fear, that he’d wake up in horrible pain with half his face ripped off.  What then?  Plastic surgery?  Fighting with insurance companies who wouldn’t pay because he’d been negligent by sleeping around a wild animal?  Is that where it was heading?  No way could it be any worse.  There was no way he could let it get any worse.  He had to take action but what.  Hang a door?  Oh sure, as if that bedroom nook wasn’t already claustrophobic enough.  Walling off Herman would never work anyway.  He’d probably just scream all night or try clawing his way through it.  It’d be almost the same as what the dentist’s daughter had done to him and he knew how that had turned out.  All day he tried to come up with an answer but couldn’t and, as the sun went down, he found himself dreading the night.

Getting ready for bed, he’d already made up his mind.  This was it.  If Herman did it again then he’d just have to tell Joanne in the morning that it was over with.  Done.  There was something freeing about the decision once he’d made it.  Once the cat toys and bowls and litter box were gone, things would go back to how they used to be.  He could resume his life of indolence, punctuated by bursts of energy when needed.  Maybe he’d find a new book to read.  Something long and obscure.  Or maybe he’d just be there by himself again, alone but in complete control of his life.  The more he pondered that future, the more he found himself still searching for a way for Herman to stay.

Their adventure was almost over, at least his part in it.  Elliot told himself that Joanne had a lot of connections in the cat world.  Maybe she’d find a place for him with someone who specializes in difficult cats.  Or maybe there was a clinic set up for his type, a place where he could be taught how to get along.  Herman was smart.  He could learn.  But then Elliot knew he was fooling himself.  There wasn’t anyone on the planet who’d take Herman the way he was or be able to keep him if they did.  And a cat who couldn’t fit in anywhere wouldn’t be allowed to live.  There were just too many of them and so few places.  Maybe it was best to just take him down to the street now and tell Joanne that he ran out the door and was too quick to catch.  But then he rejected that idea as the most cowardly one of all.  The thought of Herman sneaking out of the shadows of some stoop for a rotten piece of garbage…   

He crawled into bed and waited.  Click, click, click.  Elliot didn’t move over next to the wall this time.  Come on Herman, just do what you have to.  Then like clockwork it came.  Thump.  Elliot yelled out at him, louder than he’d expected.  Then, in the silence, he again waited, this time planning to swat him.  As hard as he could.  Thump.  Elliot swung wildly in the dark, bashing his hand against the door jamb.  He fell back on the bed, the pain allowing him some respite as he waited again.  Thump.  But this time, Elliot was so thoroughly beaten he didn’t yell or move.  Before the clicks started again, he sat up in bed and turned on the light.

Sometimes people do things and they don’t know why.  It’s like they find themselves being led by something so deep inside that it may as well be someone else.  This was one of those times.  Elliot walked into the living room and found Herman.  Snatching him up by the scruff of his neck, he carried Herman into the bedroom at arm’s length and plopped him down on the foot of the bed.  Then, with as much conviction as he could muster, he said, stay!  Don’t move!  And Herman didn’t.

Elliot looked at him crouched there and a thought came to him.  What if he could stay in that place on the bed all night?  If Elliot knew he was there then he wouldn’t have to worry about him sneaking up on him.  And if he was down there at his feet, Elliot wouldn’t have to worry about his face either.  Elliot sat cross legged at the head of the bed, watching him.  Then he noticed that something had changed.  Herman’s crouch had relaxed so that now it was more like he was just sitting.  Then Herman looked at him and blinked and Elliot thought that he looked peaceful for the first time since he’d come to live with him.  Elliot was again ready to tell him to stay as forcefully as he could but since Herman wasn’t moving or looking like he was going to, Elliot decided to talk to him instead.

You know, you could stay up here on the bed with me all night if you want.  I’d love to have you here but I’m afraid you might hurt me.  So why don’t you consider staying right there where you are.  I’ll stay here and you can stay there and we’ll have a nice sleep together.  What do you think about that?  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Herman then slowly turned his head to Elliot and then slowly turned his gaze back to the wall.  Is that a yes?  Okay then, I’m going to turn out the light now and you can stay there.  I want you to stay there.  I want you to stay, period.  Can you do that?  You can?  Okay then, I’m going to turn out the light now.  It’s bedtime.

Elliot turned off the light and Herman didn’t move.  Then, in the dark and as delicately as he could, Elliot slid under the sheet.  Herman still didn’t move.  Elliot wondered if it was actually possible that he’d stay.  He lay under the sheet, not moving but not closing his eyes either.  Herman still didn’t move and somewhere in the stillness Elliot drifted off.  Jerking awake, he saw by the clock that it was only a few minutes later and he checked the foot of the bed.  Herman was gone and he thought, oh well, nice try, but just then Herman jumped back up on the bed.  Elliot pretended to be asleep and watched as Herman settled into the exact same spot he’d been in before.  Elliot thought, he likes it up here.  He likes being here with me. 

Complete exhaustion then overcame Elliot as it does for anyone after a long and hard battle.  Elliot fell into a coma-like sleep and didn’t wake up again until morning.  And when he did, Herman was still there.

*  *  *

That day at work Joanne commented on Elliot’s good mood.

I think we had a breakthrough.

Really?

Elliot then told her the story, even the part about how desperate he’d been and that he thought he might have to give up on Herman.  He then told her how happy and calm Herman had seemed that morning, so much so that he didn’t even wear his boots in the bathroom. 

That’s so nice.  I was really starting to worry.

I know you were but I think last night was maybe the turning point.

High five, buddy.

High five to you.

Hey, did you know that when a cat sleeps with you that means he’s your friend?

Is that true?

Oh yeah.  Best friend.  That’s a cat fact.

Then I guess the other side of it has to be true too.  I mean, if a cat is hardwired to not sleep with someone unless they’re his friend, then if someone doesn’t let the cat sleep with them, the cat has to assume that that person doesn’t want to be his friend.  Doesn’t that make sense?

… I think so.

Good.  So high five to you again.

I knew you could do it.

But you were worried.

I was.

You didn’t show it much.

But you knew I was.  I had to be.

Why?

… I’d better get back to work.  But I’ll tell you sometime.

It’s a secret?

Yeah… but it’s not important anyway.  I’m just so happy for you and Herman.

One more high five?

You got it, buddy.

And they let it go at that.  It wasn’t until a year later that Joanne told Elliot what she’d kept from him that day.  The story was that when Herman had first gone to the clinic, he’d gotten his name from the staff after attacking everyone there.  It had taken three assistants wearing their big gloves all the way to the shoulder to hold him down while the vet worked on him.  They called him Herman for Herman Munster and no one thought he’d ever find a home.

But by the time Joanne told him this, Elliot already suspected it.  Over the last year he’d become involved with her rescue group and went on Sundays to Amsterdam and 73rd to help out with the cats and dogs.  Different rescuers were always there and whenever Elliot met one for the first time, they already knew of him as the guy who’d given Herman a home.

When Joanne told him how she’d duped him, Elliot thought that maybe he should be mad at her but he wasn’t.  She’d just done what she had to do to rescue animals and find them a home.  And besides, he had Herman.

###

Harvey Huddleston is a playwright living in New York City.  His fiction has been published in Otoliths, Literary Yard, The Eunoia Review and CC&D Magazine

Categories: Fiction

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