When I woke up this morning, I found Martha dead in her cage.
I’m sorry I killed your birds.
My therapist says I need to elaborate. I also realized you probably think Martha died the day George did. Well she didn’t. I snuck her out in a Tupperware container. And since I’m confessing, I also took George. He’s currently in the freezer behind my mother’s Lean Cuisines. Sorry again.
I should have known things weren’t right when Avery’s cat just showed up in our apartment. But in my defense, I had replaced my antidepressants with boxed wine, so my axons weren’t firing at full capacity—but I’m sure you knew that. When I saw that cat just sitting in our living room, perched on the back of the lazy boy, nonchalantly tonguing it’s burnt orange paw all while practically mauling your two grey-headed lovebirds with its pea green eyes, I felt something. Something dropped into the pit of my stomach, burning the back of my throat all the way down.
My first instinct was to call for you, my eyes never leaving that cat. But as per usual you had gone out for a run without me. Like a night stretching a sword out for battle, I grabbed a newspaper from the bin near the door and put myself between that cat and your birds.
I batted at the cat gently, and it just sort of looked at me, unimpressed. It probably found me stupid. Sometimes when I think back on that moment, I think it might have been right.
And when I told that cat to get off, and raised the paper above my head to smack it away, I swear that cat rolled its eyes at me. Then it lumbered down onto the chair’s cushion and had itself an extended drawn out stretch like it owned the place. It had learned such manners from its owner no doubt, I can see that now. At the time I didn’t really know our neighbor Avery that well, other than the cat belonged to her. I had seen her walking down the hall with that poor, fat thing crammed into a harness. What kind of person takes their cat for a walk?
So I did what anyone would do and I took the blanket off the back of the couch. Leaned down and scooped the cat right up like a swaddled infant. It squirmed against me only for a moment before giving up. Then I took the stairs up to Avery’s floor and knocked on the door, a firm but polite knock. It took longer than I would have liked for her to answer, so after another minute I knocked harder.
When she finally answered the door, she only opened it a sliver. Through the crack I could she was clad in an oversized t-shirt, no pants. Her curly hair hung around her small body like a golden cape. When her eyes traveled from my face to the ball of orange fluff meowing in my arms, her green eyes went round with surprise.
“Melanie.” Even in that state, I could tell she was forcing a smile. “…I see you found Charles.”
I opened my mouth and then closed it. And we both just kind of stood there for a moment in silence, I looked at Avery and she looked at Charles.
“He was in my apartment.”
This information didn’t faze her, and without opening the door any further she reached out a freckled arm towards me and I passed her the cat.
Then we stood there again, this time her looking at me, and me looking at Charles.
“I didn’t even know he was gone.” She said finally. “How bizarre.”
And then the conversation ended, I think. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember. All the words and faces blur together. But all I do know is that that cat was in our apartment.
I’m sorry your mother died during your sophomore year of college. I’m sorry, that she took too much oxycodone and didn’t wake up one Sunday afternoon. I’m sorry I stopped taking fluoxetine to appease your aversion to any and all prescription drugs.
You wanted a family. You wanted to have the white picket fence, brick house, kids on a tire swing in the backyard. You wanted a happy wife. You wanted a wife that could be happy without the crutch of antidepressants.
I can’t stand the thought of losing another important woman in my life, you had said once. At the time I heard a plea. Now I realize it was most likely a threat. I wish I could have realized that sooner.
Surprisingly it hurts more to think about the good times. And though I’m sure you’d disagree the good times for me were when we still lived in the city. In that shoe box apartment, so small my queen-sized bed just about touched the kitchen sink. At the time I thought you were happy.
“At least I won’t have to go far for a midnight snack.” You said, half-naked, tangled in my comforter. You propped yourself up on your shoulder so you could lean down and kiss the side of my face. When you fell back on the bed your mop of tawny hair spread across the grey pillowcase like sunshine. When I held your hand and rubbed my fingers across your knuckles I noticed the skin just under your thumb nail faded from purple to pink, just like a sunset.
Most days I only got out of bed because of you shuffling around our kitchen. Your heavy footsteps much like the metered tick of a bomb close to detonation. One morning in particular—before the cat incident but after I had stopped taking my medication—you stomped so hard I thought you might crash right into the apartment below us. And when I opened our bedroom door, you paused with a scoop of ground coffee in hand, hovering over a filter as if considering my presence, but you didn’t turn around.
I knew you were irritated at me for getting drunk at your work colleagues dinner party. That you had no sympathy for my pounding head, or nausea bubbling in my stomach. I should have admitted that I hadn’t just taken too many sips of Moscato. I should have told you I hated moving back to your hometown, I hated your friends, and I hated that my degree in graphic design practically meant nothing in Western New York.
But instead, I just said. “Make me some?” And I took a stool at kitchen island.
To my surprise you took down two porcelain mugs from the cupboard, clinking them against the linoleum masquerading as marble. I twisted my engagement ring, watching the almond-shaped diamond slip easily around my thin finger, and waited for you to say something. But you stayed silent, palms pressed into the edge of the counter, face staring into the wooden cupboard as if looking out a window.
In your defense, that was the problem, I should have stopped waiting for you to say something. In your defense, I should have told you I was unhappy. But let’s be honest Caleb, I’m not sure you would have listened.
Do you remember when we first met? You had drunk way too much at the homecoming tailgate and threw up on your then girlfriend Jenny Holden. She got so mad at you that she left you in the student parking lot near the football field.
After the game, someone roped me into driving you home because everyone else lived on campus, and I was the only one sober enough to drive you to that beat-up house you chose over a dorm room.
Your whole tough guy act fell away. Even behind your backwards cap and beer-stained t-shirt, I could see you were a sweetheart. All the way home you screamed at the top of your lungs to every song that came on the radio. Even Britney Spears. And before I knew it I was singing along too.
I’m sure you have trouble understanding why I acted the way I did. So I’m going to try my best to explain it to you. The morning after the cat debacle. The morning after you insisted the cat had been a liquor induced hallucination. The morning after you made me feel crazy. The morning after you accused me of drinking again. I went about my usual routine of sorting through all the secretarial and drive-through-customer-service openings on the computer.
And during my search, I got to thinking: if a cat could just waltz into our apartment, who’s to say some murderer or psychopath couldn’t? Not to mention the cat had escaped Avery’s apartment with little to no effort. Was the whole building at risk?
And now looking back I’m sure the whiskey I had mixed into my morning coffee could have influenced these thoughts. Or maybe it was my anxiety. I’m still not sure.
I’ll have you know that I did try to calm myself down by playing solitaire on the computer. But this is what I need you to understand. No matter how many digital cards I clicked on, all I could think about was if someone got in, if something terrible happened and how it would be all my fault. I know you thought my anxiety was just a joke. But believe me when I tell you those thoughts felt real.
For some reason, that’s what pushed me to send that email to the landlord. The one that said: Just so you know, Avery’s cat got into my apartment yesterday. I thought I lived in a secure building. So sad! Please forward this to the other tenants.
I’m sure you know that wasn’t good enough considering you returned that evening from work with that printed email I had stapled to the shared bulletin board in the lobby. I could tell you were mad by the way you tossed it on the dining table in front of me. The way you just sort of looked at me, your lips pressed together so hard that they nearly disappeared into your face. I had figured you were just mad at me for making myself seem crazy, for showing our whole building what a manic drunk I was. And even now, knowing what I know, I still think that was part of it.
Ps. I didn’t just leave that email on the bulletin board, I made copies and slipped one into every mailbox in the building.
Sometimes I wish you could have seen the look on Avery’s face the day I stopped her in the stairwell. I had been headed down to the laundry room, and she must have just gotten home from work. When she saw me standing on the landing above her, holding a laundry basket, her eyes got so big I thought her head might split in two. I figured it had something to do with the email I had given everyone. She thought I hated her. But I didn’t. I just didn’t feel safe in our apartment anymore.
She said something like good evening, and rolled her shoulders back, and tried to look anywhere but at me as she climbed the stairs. In that moment all I could think about was you. Making you believe me about the cat in our apartment. You had drilled it into my head that it hadn’t happened and despite your talent of gas-lighting me, I knew the cat had actually been there.
This is the only time I’ve forgiven myself for drinking because if I hadn’t had a few swigs of liquor with my morning cereal, I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to stop her.
However, I probably shouldn’t have just reached out and grabbed her scarf.
When I touched her, she spun on the stairs, almost tumbling down to the next landing. Her hand slapped against her scarf as if I had tried to strangle her with it. She probably thought I might try.
“I-I need to talk to you,” I said. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
She took a deep breath and ran her hands down the front of her coat. And when she looked at me, her eyes didn’t look scared anymore, she just kind of looked sad.
“Melanie.” Her voice hitched a little, which again in the moment I mistook for fear. I knew the email thing had been a little crazy. “I’m–”
I waved my hand in front of her face, and she snapped her mouth shut.
“Let me talk,” I said. “This is a strange question. I hope I’m not coming off crazy. Caleb said I’m acting crazy.”
She shook her head slightly, her eyes shifting from my face to her shoes.
“Can I borrow Charles?” I decided it was better to just throw it out there.
Her golden head snapped to attention, her eyebrows knitting together, all confused like. I had had the idea for a split second. I had decided the only way for you to believe me about the cat, was for you to find the cat yourself. I’ll admit now this wasn’t my brightest idea. That I should have handled it differently. But for some reason, that’s all I could think of, and before I could stop myself everything came pouring out.
“I know it sounds weird but, Caleb doesn’t believe me that he was in our apartment, so I just thought maybe if he found him, he would believe me, and of course I’m just bringing him in this time, but he won’t know that, and I know it’s wrong to lie, but I have good reason. I can feel–”
This time she interrupted me. She reached up and touched my forearm and stared into my face for a moment before continuing.
“It’s not a problem.”
Sometimes I like to think Avery is actually a good person. I know in that moment I was sure she was.
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the spaghetti Bolognese you used to make me. For a split second my bedroom smells like garlic bread. I think maybe because it was one of the last meals you ever cooked for me.
I knew something was off when you came home with a bottle of red wine. You didn’t like alcohol in the house, especially after you had found my stash in the back of the closet. Maybe you felt guilty, I’m still not sure. I can’t remember if this night happened before or after the cat incident. I guess it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you pulled away from me when my lips grazed the side of your neck. You said something about needing to focus on the cooking. Now that I think back, it doesn’t take much concentration to boil some noodles in hot water.
When I was younger my mother used to tell me a watched pot never boils. Sometimes I think about that too.
I’m sure you could put this together without me telling you, but Avery brought the cat over while you were at work. Even now it confuses me as to why she did it. Why she brought me her cat. For all she knew at the time I could have poisoned it out of spite. Then again maybe she didn’t care what happened to it. I suppose considering the circumstances I could make the argument that she didn’t care about a lot of things. Like I said, I never got to know her. I set the cat up on the couch with the intention of you just coming home and finding him. But you have to know Avery dropped him off at 9:00 am., and you didn’t get home until around 4:30 pm. I had a long time to wait. So I did what I normally did when I had to wait alone in our apartment.
On our third anniversary, you made me wear a blindfold from the restaurant back to our apartment. I thought it was silly, but I went along with it because I could tell how excited you were. You had already proposed to me a half-a-year before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.
When we got home, and you took off the blindfold, a large structure covered in a black drape stood in the middle of the apartment. I looked at you puzzled.
And when you pulled back the drape two little birds peered back at me. I had never seen you smile so hard.
I think you said something about how lovebirds mate for life.
But maybe that was just my wishful thinking.
When I woke to you screeching in the living room, I still felt tipsy, and the idea of you finally believing me only made me feel drunker. I couldn’t wait to see your face. My therapist told me that’s unhealthy. You shouldn’t want to spite the people you love.
When I found you on your knees, hunched over the now broken metal birdcage. When I saw the cat hissing in the corner of the living room, a tuft of orange hair-raising off his arched back, I felt sick to my stomach.
You held George in your hands. Martha cowered in the corner of the overturned cage. I’m sorry, even now I feel bad bringing this up. I know how much you loved those birds.
You don’t know that after you took the cat back up to Avery’s apartment I stumbled up the stairs after you when I said I would bury George in the apartment complex’s courtyard. You don’t know that I stood outside her door, with full intent on apologizing to you, even to her.
It’s all a blur. I heard a lot of things. A lot of things I try to forget. In your whispers I found the intimacy we had lost months ago. And even though I couldn’t see you, I could imagine, that just on the other side of door you wrapped your long arms around her, pulling her close, rubbing your chin against her soft hair. But that wasn’t what hurt the most.
The slap in the face came when you said:
Don’t cry. Everything will be okay.
How could you so easily give her compassion? I had written off your cold demeanor, convincing myself that you had empathy for my situation, you just didn’t know how to show it. And there you were, giving something to another woman that I had continuously asked for: understanding. And that’s what hurt the most.
I’m sure you figured out from the last letter that I lied when I said my mother was sick and I had to fly back to California to be with her. Even after you betrayed me, I still couldn’t muster up the strength to tell you how I felt. Even after you gave me every reason to be unhappy, I still shielded you from my true feelings. At the time I thought that was what love was. I was ready to be miserable for the rest of my life just to love you.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done this. I wrote most of these letters with the intention of never sending them to you. My therapist recommended I write them in order to heal. Well, I’m not fully healed. Sometimes I think I never will be, but that’s okay.
I’m happy again and I’m not sorry.
Ps. You also may have noticed this before you got to this letter, but George and Martha are in the cooler bag inside this box. I felt like you should have them. Maybe the flower girl can toss their feathers like petals down the aisle for your wedding I’m assuming you’re planning with Avery. Or you could get them stuffed, hang them over your fireplace. It would be a great talking point, especially if anyone ever comes over and asks you about how you met Avery.
Pps. I’m taking fluoxetine again.
Rachel Bullock is currently a student at the University of New Hampshire working towards an MFA in Fiction. She wouldn’t limit her style to one specific genre, but certainly loves writing strong female characters, and story lines that are somewhat fantastical. She has previously been published in The Great Lakes Review, and Gandy Dancer for poetry, and visual art.