This is What Happens in Ohio
by Annie Bilancini
We watch the cat clean its hindquarters meticulously. Licking with brisk strokes, it etches neat lines of wet fur into its inner thigh. Fresh grids forming as the tongue channels dry fur in new directions. It’s a feline inclination we find thrillingly indecent because cat sex organs are still sex organs. We look away, turn to the TV and will ourselves to think about the complexity there. Onscreen a woman smiles with tooth and jaw. From his easy chair our father shakes his head, sips his beer, says to us, The world has gone to hell. Resistance is fertile. We begin to correct him. Then we stop. The cat, seizing a moment of unmistakable opportunity, opens its mouth to speak.
I offered to cat-sit for friends while they spent a year working in France. It was somewhat of an impulse decision, one I still can't really explain to this day. As a kid I had a pretty wretched cat allergy, and had never really felt comfortable around them anyway. I grew up with dogs and felt, yes, I get this, I get these animals. They're "heart on their sleeve" beasts, and I felt close to them. Cats, however, they're harder to pin down, and yet, there I was in my apartment with my dog and this new grey cat that spent most of the day licking her fur into submission. And the dog and I would just sort of watch her all licking and mystery. It made me feel sort of dense sharing space with such an inscrutable creature because, like I said, I just didn't really get what cats were all about at first. I believed in the idea that there were dog people and there were cat people. I believed in that kind of dichotomy. I clung to it and slept peacefully dreaming sit dog dreams.
This story took shape after I started getting really secretly paranoid about the emotional sea change happening in the microcosm of my apartment. I really liked that little kitty. I even liked when I woke up in the morning and she was sitting on my chest staring at me with what appeared to be profoundly unholy intent. I finally had to admit to myself that between these morning adventures and Netflix, life was a complex and exciting whorl of possibility. I wasn't just a dogs-only person anymore, and this realization positively destroyed my sense of self for a good four hours.
Annie Bilancini is pursuing her Master's in Fiction at Miami University of Ohio. You can find more of her flash work in Kinfolk Magazine.