By Jenny Kalahar
Pets are the world’s least judgmental comforters, and the most steadfast of friends through good times and bad. They will stand by you if you lose a job or a loved one, and will be ready with a purr or tail wag just when you need it most.
Old Joe never liked his wife’s favorite music:
horns blaring like ducks being strangled
odd beats and wild drum solos.
He never liked shopping trips to the mall
where he sat on one of the hard plastic benches
near the blue-water fountain
his short-sleeved arms folded against his thin chest.
And old Joe never liked his wife’s cat
that orange cat who took up too much room on the bed
who licked himself embarrassingly
when the paper boy came to collect
who raised high his long, skinny tail
to twine it like a clinging vine around Joe’s legs
when he was trying to fix a bowl of cereal
or cook coffee on the stove.
Old Joe never liked mowing the lawn
even after they’d bought a riding mower
down at the Sears store.
The hot sun felt hotter than it did when he was a boy
mowing lawns for spending money—
money that he’d spent on books
that his mother never knew a thing about.
Old Joe never liked the endless soap operas and game shows
his wife listened to all day on their TV set on the back porch
where she ironed clothes
wrote long letters to the paper, or to friends
and where she talked to the cat
far more often than she talked to him.
He never got friendly with the neighbor ladies
but that was okay
they merely waved weakly at him
releasing him so that he was free to leave
as Martha stood in the driveway talking women’s talk.
He would step inside their cool house alone
to sit on his worn, brown tweedy chair
with his long legs stretched out.
He would unfold the newspaper slowly
so that the news wouldn’t rush at him too quickly
and then check if Martha’s latest letter to the editor
had been printed
all while he studiously ignored the cat.
Old Joe hates it that Martha left him in her sleep
one too-quiet night.
He hates that she’d left him all alone
with no one to take shopping.
He hates how quiet the cool house feels
without jazz, without that overexcited hum of game show noise
And without the drone of soap opera chatter
from the back porch.
How strange the house smells without spray starch in the air
or the aroma of grilled cheese at lunchtime, and tomato soup.
Old Joe hates that the neighbor ladies
pay him a little more attention now
although they still mostly only wave to him when he returns from grocery shopping
or when he walks to the street for the mail or the Daily Times.
Joe still reads the letters to the editor
but now with a low note of fear in his heart
afraid that they’ll print words from Martha’s ghost
afraid, too, that he’ll get a call from someone
who misses her wry political humor
in letters she isn’t writing anymore.
Old Joe sleeps later than he used to
mows the lawn less often
buys frozen dinners once he’d figured out how to microwave.
He hates changing the sheets on the bed by himself
and hates throwing out half a pot of coffee when it gets stale.
One afternoon when storm clouds
made the cool house even chiller
the orange cat leaped onto Joe’s lap
as he sat on that worn, tweedy chair
determinately taking possession of the newspaper.
The cat rubbed his forehead under Old Joe’s chin
purring against the man’s thin chest.
Joe released his grip on the paper.
He released his grip on a lot of the hollow loneliness
he’d been carrying around day and night in both arms.
With a sigh no louder than the far distant thunder
old Joe decided to hug something comforting to himself at last
and that long, orange, skinny tail
wrapped itself around Joe’s heart right back
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power, This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.
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