Short Stories

Story Index

Entropy and the Cat

He had said: "Just leave me alone."
    And then smashed some more of her plates and cups and ornaments, hastening their ultimate end in entropy. Afterwards, dustpan and brush in hand, he'd had to sweep up the shattered china. Now the room looked tidy again. Everything in the right place. Order. Negentropy. The information was there.
    If only the sensation of endless twilight around him would stop, a feeling that promised emotional and physical entropy. Smashing the crockery had not helped. It had been pointless. Or – perhaps not. It was a primal scream, screamed in the only way his civilized veneer would allow. (Otherwise, imagine the neighbours talking: "There goes Jones again, sounding off like a wolf. What's wrong with the man?") So – he smashed crockery instead. He thought this sounded less manic than the occasional scream. He thought that a scream would burst through every door and window in the street, causing neighbours to turn their heads and exclaim: "Jones again! Is he going mad?"
    First it had been a pencil. Then that plate. The whole dinner service now had noticeably fewer pieces. A scream came into his head, but quieter now. He looked at the phone. And looked away again.
    The cat slinked in through the cat-flap, mewing plaintively. Jones shouted at it: "More food, I suppose, you obese old glutton." That felt good, he noticed. A nice feeling of release. He might shout at the cat more often, especially when it walked over his head, dribbling and purring, at six o'clock in the morning, sharpening its claws on the bedclothes, the pillows, his lips, his face. As Jones scraped the cat's food from the tin into the bowl, the cat wheedled and rubbed its way about and between his legs. "Do piss off, flea-bag," Jones moaned. The cat continued its rubbing and wheedling. Jones put the bowl on the floor. The cat darted across to it, and chewed and purred simultaneously, ignoring Jones, as Jones knew it would for the rest of the evening. Self sufficient little bastard. He grinned spitefully at the cat. He walked across and gave it a quick rub on the back of the head. The cat turned and glared at him. Jones glared back: the little fat fish-eater was becoming too neurotic.
    The phone rang.
    Slowly Jones made his way toward it, every muscle tense. Time slowed. Could he reach the phone before becoming a fossil? His hand reached out, lifted the receiver. He mumbled the number. It was that voice again: the wife. Or more precisely, the soon-to-be-ex-wife.
    "Hello," said Jones tartly. "You again."
    "I'm coming to pick up some more of my stuff. Now that we're finished I thought..." She sighed vaguely. "I thought..."
    "Oh yeh, sure go on, take the bloody wallpaper while you're here. Never did like it."
    "No need for sarcasm. We agreed all this the last time I phoned. Amicably." She emphasised the last word.
    "Yeh. I know. Sure. Fair enough." Jones remembered the crockery that control had afterwards cost.
    "You sound bitter. Are you alright?"
    "Yes, yes, I'm fine. Why shouldn't I be? Don't worry. When are you coming?" Jones immediately repressed the image of his wife in bed with another man that the last phrase brought automatically to mind.
    "Tomorrow. Will you be in?"
    "Yes. All day."
    "And can I take the cat?"
    The cat. The little mewling whingebag. That he had tended for the last three months.
    "Yeh. Bye. See you tomorrow," Jones said abruptly, crashing the receiver clumsily back into the cradle. He began to breathe heavily, felt momentairly light-headed. He tightly gripped the arms of the chair to prevent him toppling into the twilight. What had six years been reduced to? A petty haggle over bed linen, teapots, cutlery, crockery (what there was left of it) and all the rest of the paraphernalia collected while they were together. And now the bloody cat. Of course she could take it. It was hers. Take everything, if it removed the constant small reminders of her presence – or rather, absence.
    If the rooms were completely bare, he could stamp his presence on the house. Colour the walls as he wanted. Furnish it as he wanted. No half measures brought about by compromise. Ah fuck it. He'd never keep the house anyway. Half of it was hers. She'd need the money to buy again. He'd forgotten that. He was going to be homeless in whatever length of time it took to sort these things out. Everything would change. How long did it take to get divorced?
    He never could handle change. Never could handle anything more than a simple yes or no answer and now pressures were building and ... abruptly, he smashed his hand through the glass door of the cabinet next to him. Glass fell about his feet. He pulled his hand out and looked at it. Blood poured from his knuckles and fingers, the back of his hand, his wrist; the sharp edges had barely missed the artery. "I wasn't meant for all this change," Jones said to himself. I wanted an easy life. I'm not one for playing fast and loose. Just simple security. Peace and quiet. That's all I want. He stood up, began to wander from room to room, noting this and that, sitting down, standing again, walking to another room, back again, the same refrain dully echoing: peace ... security ... happiness.
    After half an hour he sat down, sat still, stared at his feet.
    Time passed.
    Then he started. Shook his head. Looked about him with wide eyes. He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to squeeze out the tiredness and tension. His face felt wet. Wet? He looked at his hands. The right hand was almost completely red with blood. His shirt cuff was red. He unbuttoned the cuff, looked at his arm. Dry and wet blood tattooed his wrist and arm. He looked at the floor. A trail of blood looped and circled around the room, ravelling tight, then loose, then trailed out of the door. When did I thought Jones, when ... what? He looked at his arm again. He felt faint. He stood up slowly, went to the toilet, and was sick. A few minutes later, pale and bloody, he returned, following a trail of blood back into the lounge. There was the shattered glass cabinet. When? He looked at the shattered, daggered glass, then his arm.
    He felt dizzy. He looked at his watch. That was the time? I've lost an hour? Strength flowed in weak waves through his body.
    Suddenly: I could run into the street run to the junction take any road run and run. I could get into the car start the engine drive and drive ... He took half a pace to the door. Stopped. Moaned quietly, gripped the lacerated arm from which blood still dripped, still traced paths along his arms and across the floors. He leaned against the wall, his forehead and arms pressing against the cool wallpaper. The pain. He looked at his arm, and could see a new line of blood coursing towards his elbow. A part of his mind spat out Hospital! But that involved volition, a decision. And he felt that decisions were pointless, the outcome unprepared for, meaningless. He remembered once saying:

I can't stop you. I love you. I love you dearly. But I don't possess you. I get jealous sexually sometimes. But not over the possession of you. And he might be better for you than me, might be better than me. So I can't stop you, even though I'm scared; I would be aware that I had perhaps ruined the rest of your life. It's all up to you. You've got to work out whether this is what you want, whether he is nicer than me or not, whether this - is just a fling, whether there's something wrong with us that we need to sort out. So I can't stop you.

    I can't stop you… he thought, his head against the cool, cool wall. And look where that had got him. He had been so cool, so liberal, not realising how weak, how dependent, how tied to her he was. Now she had decided, he was better for her, not that there was anything wrong with Jones, oh no. She'd said, "you're probably the nicest person I ever met, it's not your fault, its just me really. I still care for you, but... but we should separate, you know, not for me, for you ..." Later came the pain and the grief. Remembering the body language, hearing her words, realising then how truly far apart they had become. It's all very well being liberal, and nice, and human, but afterwards you still feel spurned.
    Spurned. Rejected. Unwanted. Three words from his vocabulary he had never expected to use to describe himself.
    I feel so fucking lonely.
    He stopped moaning. The babble inside his head stopped. He listened to the sounds of the house. There were none. Not a sound, anywhere. Even the blood dripped softly, noiselessly, onto the carpet. The twilight, his constant companion, had the consistency of cotton wool. Through it came nothing. No sounds, no sights, no smells. Only he and his pain existed. Everything inside him was being pulled apart and squeezed together simultaneously. He was frightened at the thought of living alone, in all this silence. A black hole opened up in his side, out of which flowed: nothing. I'm an emotional mess. Then he thought: all these feelings in my body – anger, grief, fright – were just physiological reactions to a mental state. He could control them, couldn't he? Even love, which seemed to involve the whole being, was just chemicals, neurones, muscles and skin reacting to an abstract concept (and abstract concepts were only ordered chemicals and electrical reactions, and order, chemistry and electricity were only abstract concepts ... ) Why talk about love only in stereotypes? Why didn't anybody talk about the neurones, or the chemicals? Love, let's talk about it. Talk to me about it. Can't. Best to keep all these abstract entirely personal feelings to oneself.
    Small confused insights could not help Jones. How do you come to terms with something so abstract? So rooted in primal responses?
    Yet - it was all brain stuff. And so.
    And so.
    Jones, dizzy, slid down the wall a little, but his strength held. Things are changing. Things change. How best to make the most of all this change? Here was where things must begin to change. In him. In his surroundings.
    His chest still felt tight. I'm so tense. Still his arm bled and burned with pain. Sighing, he pushed himself away from the wall. A big brown mark stained the wallpaper where his arm had been. He liked the pattern. "Not bad," he thought, noting its colour and shape. He pushed his bloody arm against the wall in another place. It looked good. He tried again. Yes - interesting. Redesign his surroundings. That was a good place to start. Personalise the house. His knees buckled slightly, but with grim resolve he continued marking the walls, until there was a dark brown pattern zigzagging its way around the room. He stood back, admired his work. Then, exhausted, his legs gave way, and he gently began to fall; first onto his knees, and then face forward. His mind blanked for a while. Then he lifted his head. Looked at the wall. Yes. Much better. Weakly he stood up. What else could he redesign? He looked about him. All that furniture. All that pine bloody furniture. He had never wanted it, never, compromise again, always the middle path with two and one was always weaker and it was him when they furnished the house and now it appeared to be him again why don't I just go and slap her about a bit tell her to stop being so fucking stupid I need her and he saw the pattern on the wall the zigzagging brown pattern and thought I made that my own creation and he staggered and fell forward onto his face felt the nose bruise felt it break saw the blackness spiralling into

When Jones came round he first noticed the soft cool feel of the carpet beneath his cheek. He felt dizzy and nauseous. He moved his head and felt the sticky wetness. He lifted himself slightly. Saw the brown stain where his head had been. Felt the dull pain in his nose. He forced himself upright; the stiff pile of the carpet peeled scabs from his arm where blood had congealed. Standing, he wobbled, staggered into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water, drank it swiftly. He shook his head, trying to shake the dull pain away. Where was she when you needed her? The memory of her nagged at him, stabbed at him, sharp little pricks to his gut. He smashed the glass against the wall. Damn damned woman. Leaving him with the pain, the house, these constant reminders of what had been.
    Suddenly, he began to cry. Huge sobs shook him. The sound terrified him. He put his hands to his face and sobbed and moaned and shook. From somewhere deep within, sounds were wrenched out, and at that deep place existed someone whom Jones had never heard before, someone who emitted strange animal mewlings and cries. He trembled, and cried, and cried out. Could a human being really sound like this? Tear blind he staggered to the hall.
    His eyes ran. Snot filled his nostrils and throat. His body shook uncontrollably. Barely able to move his right arm, he pulled a hanky from his pocket, squeezed it over his streaming nose. Then yelled in pain and nearly fainted as nerves, squeezed against shattered bone, sent messages of complaint across synapses, back to his whirling brain. He opened his eyes. Saw himself in the hall mirror. An awkward nose. One bloody bruised cheek. The upper lip, chin and the other cheek caked in dried blood. Abruptly he screamed, smashed his already ruined hand into the glass. The image shattered and fell from the frame. He returned to the lounge. Looked at the walls. Heard something say go on go on redecorate the place that's what you were going to do. He looked around. More of that bloody pine furniture. The pine table. The circular pine table. Resolve, and a sense of purpose, straightened his sagging body, drove his muscles out into the garden shed. He came back with the power saw, plugged it in and started it.
    Curled up on the sofa, the cat opened one eye, looked at him circumspectly, pricked his ears to the noise, but sat otherwise unconcerned. The table fell in half and Jones, who had been leaning heavily upon it, sprawled and staggered. Even the sawdust made the carpet look better. I always was a spit and sawdust man.
    He looked at the rest of the furniture. Sawing all the furniture in half was the neatest, easiest and most childish way of resolving all property disputes. Finally the sofa was sawn through and the cat realised it was time to move. As the sofa collapsed, Jones fell, saw in hand, to the floor, onto his face. His nose crushed again, and he screamed and sobbed. He could feel blood and snot welling in his nose.
    The cat sidled up to the bruised and bloody Jones, wheedled and rubbed itself against his head. "Fuck off." The cat responded to the sound of Jones' voice by rubbing itself harder, and purring. Jones wanted to push the cat away. But the saw was in his left hand (... my left?) and the right was numb, felt useless. Piss off. You're hers. I don't want anything to do with you. "Go feed yourself," he managed to say.
    She smiled in his mind.
    What a lovely cat...
    Who's my lovely?

    Her hands stroked the soft fur. The cat still purred and rubbed itself against Jones' head. Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off. Fuck off. Finally Jones reached out with the nearly stiff and lifeless right hand and by an effort of will grabbed its scruff. Still it purred. In the way that only cats can, it reached out and licked Jones face. Its tongue scratched and abraded his skin; its whiskers tickled. "You really are fucking annoying me. Will you stop it please," he asked, gently, through tears. Her voice came through the noises in his head.
    Leave my cat alone
    You're always getting at me through my cat
    And can I take the cat?

    Of course. But he would miss it. She wouldn't. She'd have him. The cat sighed, then began to purr and lick Jones' face again. Jones still had a tight grip on its scruff. Before the cat had time to move, the saw was switched on again, the first teeth cutting through its skull. Blood spurted; brain and bone were flung tangentially from the spinning blade. There was only time for one frightened squeal from the cat, a second in which to dig its claws into Jones' arm, trying to find purchase for flight.