by Kevin McCaughey
He needed a happy ending in the worst way.
Anusha was late to my apartment. She came in soaked, harried. Storms had drenched the north of Poland the last four days, a fine Baltic September. “Oh, God,” she said. She worked herself out of her coat.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It was cat,” she said. Rain had mashed her artificially blond hair to her forehead. “It happened on street.” She toed off her shoes and shrank a couple inches.
I tailed her two steps into the tiny bathroom where she teased up her bangs.
“It was cat,” she said, by way of the mirror. Her eyes were silver and gray, a hue you could only find deep in a mine or an asteroid, and then only with luck. “And was one car before my car.”
“Stop,” I said. “I will not hear any cat-death stories.”
Three months earlier I’d met Anusha at a summer language course in Sweden. It was easy to fall in love, two foreigners in a third, neutral country, without the ghosts of familiarity. “I feel very free,” she’d said, again and again.
I followed her across the Baltic to Gdansk and took an apartment. I was still free. Anusha was not. She taught school kids for forty dollars a week, tutored dyslexics afterwards, cooked and worried for parents and grandparents, paid bills, and fended off suitors. Times were touchy. I started to wonder what I was doing in Poland, without a job, with a girlfriend who would rush in to see me for forty minutes in the evenings.
We needed happy endings more than ever, not the demise of a soft animal in a rainstorm.
“I don’t want to hear. Okay, Anusha?”
Anusha refreshed her lipstick in two strokes—full, solid, very red—a professional job.
“Listen,” she said. She turned and pushed past me into the main room, a room so small each piece of furniture seemed to have scratched out its own territory. She collapsed on the fold-up couch, let her arms flop to either side of her, and she put on a very Polish expression, one that said the burden of life was nearly impossible.
“It was cat near road. That first car went through water, like little lake, and big water…” She tried to mime what happened, flicking her fingers.
“Yes. Water splash that cat. That cat stood on side of street, and water splash him. Very hard. And cat fell, and doesn’t move. I stop my car. I arrived to this cat. Cat didn’t move, and I am thinking cat was died. But no. Like sleeping.”
“The splash knocked him out? Unconscious?”
“Yes. Shock. And wet.”
“The splash did this? Water?”
“Yes. Splash and water.”
“The cat just fell down, unconscious?”
“Yes, Kevish. Cat was unconscious.”
“Of course it was,” I said.
She could see I wasn’t totally buying into the story. “That was big splash which shock him very much, Kevish!” she said, in a tone that suggested I had a poor understanding of both the laws of physics and feline psychology.
“Okay. So what did you do?”
“I took some sweater and I made him dry and warm, and soon he was improve. Then I made him free.”
I stood looking at her. She leaned her head back, and puffed the air with a sigh, exhausted, trodden upon. Rain slapped at the windows. Her lipstick, struck just right by the ceiling light, glimmered.
“You know,” I said, “when you come up with an absurd story like this, a normal man thinks you’re having an affair.”
“Normal man think what?”
“Normal man thinks you are with another man.”
“Normal man, maybe. But you, Kevilenko? You think I am with other man?”
I made it appear as if I was thinking it over. I wasn’t really. I was thinking this: There are precious few people in our world who will get out of their cars when it doesn’t profit them to do so. There are fewer who’ll do it in a pouring rain, and fewer still who’ll get out of their cars in a pouring rain to revive a splashed cat.
Yet one of those few was a Gdansk grade school teacher with perfect lipstick. And she was in my apartment.
“Anusha, saver of splashed cats,” I said.
“You think story is liar?”
I put one knee on the couch. I thought, in fact, that I was fortunate.
I did not wonder what I was doing jobless in a northern Polish city.
“Well, Kevish. You think that I am with other man?”
“Who cares?” I said. “As long as the cat is okay.”
“Cat is okay,” she said.
And we messed up her lipstick.
Kevin McCaughey is a writer who lives in Saratoga, CA. This story won the Silver Award for Love Story in the First Annual Solas Awards.
About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.