And don’t forget the cat! She was shouting from the front door.
I won’t! He was mumbling to himself.
You always forget the cat!
And she was gone.
He’d been forgetting a lot of things recently. Numbers were disappearing. Keys, birthdays, the names of capital cities, all evaporating from his mind leaving him blank as an unaddressed envelope. A year now, since they let him go. Since he’d picked his clean-shaven jaw off the boardroom floor and started systematizing cupboards and watering rhododendrons for a living. If his wife would only watch where she was going, he wouldn’t have to worry about being under her feet. Angelica, was a prudent woman, conservative in her square heels and suits and though he loved her profoundly – those twinkling green eyes, that vivacious laugh – she had, over the years, become about as compassionate as a crab and looked at Harry’s depression as if looking through frosted glass; trying to discern some recognizable shape or movement but failing frustratingly, to understand him. He got it though. He didn’t understand himself either. Harry had had friends and invitations, but unlike the swallows, they stopped coming. He got that too. He got it all; but wanted none of it. He was benumbed and he always forgot the cat.
Today he would drive over early. His daughter, a sharp-featured always-on-call veterinarian, lived in a small duplex across town. Her cat, ‘scrubs’, was epileptic and needed a daily dose of Phenobarbital to control the seizures. Entering the flat, Harry called out a couple of times but there was no sign of scrubs. He noticed the bedroom door slightly ajar and stepped inside. He realized he hadn’t been in his daughter’s bedroom since she was fourteen years old. It was pink then and well-ordered. Here, he felt like a storm-chaser happening upon a small town devastated by a violent multi-state tornado. Clothes, towels, shoes, personal hygiene products were strewn about the room in the aftermath. In the middle of it, lying on a red kimono on the floor of the en-suite bathroom: scrubs, confused and overcome, waiting for a benzo to bring her back to life. Harry picked her up, brushing his hand against the smooth silk kimono and liking how it felt. He opened the container on the bedside locker and shook out a few pills. He put one as far back into the cat’s mouth as he could. Sitting on the edge of the bed he petted the tabby until she was able to stand up on her own. Harry went back to the bathroom. He picked up the kimono. It was delicate, soft and silky and seemed to sing as he rubbed it between his fingers. He held it to his cheek without thinking and stroked his face gently with it. His skin tingled. He felt different.
Is that you, scrubs? He heard the flap shut. He closed the bathroom door and began slowly unbuttoning his shirt. He left it on the side of the bath and put his arms into the kimono’s wide sleeves. It felt lustrous, momentarily cool, like someone blowing an even breath across his shoulders and down his spine. He wrapped himself up in it like a cocoon, imagining what silkworms feel like, feeding on mulberry leaves and spinning their silky nests, the finest threads in China. If angels exist, he thought, they are surely made of silk. He admired the elaborate cherry blossom pattern in the mirror, its deep red background, the fabric draping gracefully over his body. He watched himself. Really observed himself and for the first time in fifty-four years Harry recognized what he saw.
Looking in the mirror had always been so painful. It seemed to smear his sense of self, forcing a disassociation from his reflection, like he was being forced to see someone else. When shaving, putting in his contacts, brushing his teeth he’d mastered the art of blurring, of unfocussing his eyes somehow. But here, confronting the mirror in his daughter’s bathroom, wrapped in the radiant warp and weft of a bright and finely woven silk kimono, he could at long last look at himself without feeling ugly. In fact, he felt sexy, powerful. Not sexual but more excited, like he was a child again and he was being brought to see the circus, with all its marvel and mystery and anticipation.
There was a Dior lipstick on the shelf beneath the mirror urging him to pick it up. He leaned in and slightly suggesting a kiss, puckered his lips. He painted his cupids bow exactly as his wife did it. He used to enjoy watching her and she knew the effect it had on him. Harry kept going, covering up his beard shadow with some translucent powder. He blushed his cheeks and found some dried out eyeshadow at the bottom of his daughter’s make-up bag. He dropped the tube of mascara and reaching to retrieve it, thumped his head on the rim of the sink falling unconscious to the floor. He was still lying there when his daughter came home later that evening.
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