Atop the recliner, she compacts herself into a rudimentary shape: a blob of vanilla ice cream splotched with sandy peanut butter islands and hot fudge volcanoes, twitching bunny nose tucked beneath a Swiffer duster tail. Soft snowball paws are huddled under a squishy, furry mound. She is more décor than creature, enviable in the childlike simplicity of her form. Each tranquil breath gives rise and fall to her warm dumpling body.

At night, she pushes open my cracked door with the flat of her head and perches, lithe and elegant, as a sentinel atop the chair. Her ivory fur is bathed in the night light’s aquatic glow. Pointed ears swivel at odd angles, sensing sounds in the shadows from their watchtowers above vacant marble eyes. Her silhouette is a wordless question.

She often approaches me with malachite eyes, seeking answers in my form as I lie scrolling on my phone. Is it movement that she searches for, or something more? I extend a hand to her, and she meets it with a chilly black nose that flutters as it searches the crevices of my fingers for the lingering aroma of ham or chicken. My slack fingers are forced apart as she presses her face against my palm, demanding love.

Sometimes I approach her while she rests, wheezing, on my bed. The primal programming that should urge her to remain alert has apparently screened me out, and she no longer sleeps with cheating eyes. I often wonder if this means she trusts me. When my hand meets her melted marshmallow body, she starts awake, burbling with surprise. She chirps at me. I lower my face, greeting her nose-to-nose. She gives me sandpaper kisses between my brows. In return, I kiss her forehead. Sometimes, I lick her back. Anything to bridge the gap – to speak her wordless language. Anything to communicate my love for her.

She is crafty. When I set down my controller to visit the refrigerator, my spot is taken upon return. Two olive eyes greet me with entitlement and defiance. She has wasted no time in assuming a loaf-like form and getting comfortable in the residual heat of my body. I have been usurped. Any attempt to reclaim my throne is met with violence. First, she sounds a sad, pitiable mewl as I give her an adamant push. Then, her ivory mittens clamp around my wrist. Like a fluffy bear trap, she sinks tiny fangs into my hand, gripping stubbornly and batting at my wounds with clawless mitts as I retract. I lift and cradle her. She gnaws at my knuckles with both paws on my wrist like a teething child on a bottle. I set her down outside my room and shut her out. She has made herself an enemy of the state.

She passes the hours in the hall, eyeing the dog from the top of the steps and curling up on the bathroom rug. When at last I emerge from my room, clutching my wallet and keys, I shut the door behind me to deprive her of her favorite napping spots. I return bearing pizza. If I am lucky, the flabby sphinx does not hold vigil over the staircase, and smuggling my dinner to safety is without hassle. It is never long before her mitts appear beneath the door, pawing like the arms of a famished prisoner through iron bars. I open the door to see her lying on her side, spread out like a rug. She acts like a thief who was in the process of picking the lock on a door when its owner flung it wide. It takes her a moment to process what has happened, but she soon springs onto all fours and trots into the room as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

She lingers while I dine until she works up the courage to place her paws and chin on the edge of my TV-dinner table, like a child trying to see what his mother is cutting on the tall kitchen counter. Unapologetically, she stretches a paw toward the edge of my plate. It is beyond me whether she imagines herself stealthy or her prerogative is simply so bold. I pull her off a gooey corner of cheese and sauce, dropping it on the floor for her to rend clean with her tongue. When she is finished, she resumes her place atop the recliner, leaping from floor to arm to headrest like a ninja in the night.

I press my face to hers. She gives me sandpaper kisses on my forehead. Again, I lick her back. Anything to bridge the gap – to speak her wordless language again and again. Anything to communicate my love for her.

She has been my companion for over nine years, has seen three sweethearts come and go. She is unlike the dog, who denounces each one until it warms up to them, at which point it clamors for their attention (irritating and pitiable in either stage). She extends an unobtrusive nose to all new faces, accepting head pats and plastic caps filled with water as they come. However, she is wise enough to remain unattached. She does not miss the ones who come into her life then leave. I often wonder if I am no different. I wish that I could see myself through those emerald eyes and take solace in the admiration I might find.

 

Greggory Sullivan is a senior English major with a creative writing minor. He was awarded Best Short Story for his submission to the 2017 issue of From the Fallout Shelter, and he’s a previous fiction editor.