The way I met Alice was that I broke up with my boyfriend last year and moved home to live with my parents. Actually, that’s the way I met Joe, and Joe was the way I met Alice. He was Alice’s boyfriend. My brother still lived at home when I moved back, because he didn’t go to college, and since my parents didn’t have to pay for my brother to go to college, they would take these extravagant vacations with all the money they saved up. When I met Joe, my parents were in Spain and my brother was having a party that lasted for a week, and Joe was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on Nintendo with the guy I was fucking, Curtis. We were all blasted.

Fast forward three months. I’m going through this rebellious phase after spending eight straight goody-two-shoes years, and Guy I’m Fucking becomes Guy I’m Living With. Curtis and I get a two-bedroom apartment because we could afford it, and everybody told me it would be good to have the extra space to get away from each other. They didn’t believe I could have liked him as much as I thought I did, and I guess I didn’t really.

I’m talking to my brother’s girlfriend on the phone one day and she tells me that this guy my brother knows just got kicked out of his mom’s house for being an asshole. Which guy, I ask her. She tells me Joe. Punch-Out guy, I say. She doesn’t know.

Later, I’m hanging out at my brother’s new apartment, and they’re partying, and some guy says that he knows Joe, and Joe is squatting in some gutted-out warehouse down in Baltimore. Probably a crack den or something. He says Joe got kicked out because he was getting fixes again.

I never knew anyone who squatted in a crack den and I never knew anyone who did heroin. Out of novelty, I tell Curtis the story, and his response is, It’s getting cold. He says, It’s not the time of year for someone to be living in a gutted-out warehouse in Baltimore. Then he gets all nostalgic, saying he didn’t really have any place to live when he met me and I saved him, and he starts talking about how we should save this guy Joe. We have a spare room, he says. Just two weeks, he says, until he can get back on his feet. Out of novelty, I agree.

So Joe comes to live with us, right in the extra space I was saving up because I was starting to not like Curtis so much. Joe’s all gracious, and because he’s not paying us any rent, he makes promises to clean our place—wash the dishes, vacuum the carpets, scrub the shower. Except he doesn’t. He brings his girlfriend over and she does it. That’s how I met Alice: this total stranger that used to come over and clean my place. Outside the whole maid services thing, which I felt weird about, I thought she was pretty cool, and I liked her a lot more than Joe, who would eat all our food in the middle of the night.

Like hell “two weeks.” Joe stuck around for a long ass time. Alice, too. And since there was only so much cleaning she could do, she spent the rest of the time fucking Joe. Loudly. Since I didn’t have to clean anymore and I wasn’t fucking Curtis anymore, I had a lot of time to be really pissed about the situation.

After a while, the whole two-bedroom thing changed from “we could afford it” to “I can’t afford it,” because this Guy I’m Not Fucking, Curtis, couldn’t hold down a job. Joe doesn’t want to be out on his ass again, so he finally picks up a job and starts throwing a little money our way. Then Joe starts bringing over this girl who’s not Alice and starts fucking her all the time. Then Alice stops coming over and the cleaning stops, then the money stops, and I start to think Curtis is sort of falling in love with the girl Joe’s fucking.

One day, I get a phone call from my brother’s girlfriend and she tells me, Guess who I just ran into? Alice, she says. Alice told her that Joe tried to sell her some Oxycodones and that she ought to tell me to check my stash. I check my stash and two bottles are gone. I tell Curtis and he gets all manly and kicks Joe out. I think he’s secretly sad, though, because he’s going to miss the girl Joe was fucking. Joe leaves and moves in with her.

Inspired by Curtis’s manly act, I get a little courageous myself and tell him I’m tired of his bullshit and to get the hell out. It actually wasn’t quite that easy, but that’s the end result, and who the hell cares how many fights we had in between, or the number of holes punched in the bathroom wall, or about that one time I was supposed to go to the movies with my brother’s girlfriend and she showed up and I was crying because Curtis had choked me up against a closet door. Curtis ended up moving in with Joe and that girl.

Now I have this two-bedroom apartment that I really can’t afford with a hole in the wall in the bathroom that I’ll have to fix before I move out. I have to get a new roommate. And guess who my brother’s girlfriend says needs a place because she’s living in Overlea and sick of having her apartment broken into? Alice.

I think that Alice’ll probably make a good roommate because she likes to clean. I ask her if she wants to move in. She says she’d love to, as long as I didn’t have a problem with her dancing. I kind of laugh as I picture her jazzercising in the living room, but then I realize what she means. I tell her it’s okay as long as she doesn’t pay me her half of the rent in ones.

When Alice moves in, she brings some furniture, two cats, and a portable stripper pole that she installs in her bedroom. She also brings some snakes. She uses the boa constrictor in her act. I start getting my gossip from Alice because gossip from a strip joint on the Block is a lot more interesting than gossip from Wawa. I also start dating a guy that doesn’t suck. He’s got a job and a car and an apartment and is not at all inclined to punch things. My apartment is always clean and I am never missing food when I go to pack my lunch in the mornings.

But then I start to notice things that I didn’t want to notice before. I notice just how much Alice smokes and how much the guys she brings home smoke. It’s not the time of year to be smoking outside, she tells me.

I notice that one of her snakes gets out of its tank. A lot. One morning, I found it in my shoe. She let the other snake die.

I notice that Alice takes Oxycodones, and realize that takes them because she and Joe used to do heroin together and these are the next best fix. She could get them for a buck a milligram at her job, and her boss sometimes paid her in pills. Telling my brother’s girlfriend the story was a spite thing.

I also notice that her cats are fucking. A lot.

Now, I’m fucking my guy, Alice is fucking her guys, so who I am to infringe on any creature’s God-given right to get some tail? But I have two major problems with Alice’s cats fucking. The first problem is that I’m of the Price-Is-Right school of thought and if you’re going to be a pet owner you’d goddamned better get them spayed or neutered. Alice’s boy cat, named Master Shake, isn’t fixed because he’s still too young. Alice’s girl cat, named Snatch, isn’t fixed because Alice just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. And that’s how come Snatch got pregnant the first time and gave birth to a litter of kittens—here comes the second problem—one of which was Master Shake.

Master Shake is fucking his mom.

When cats fuck it’s not like when humans fuck. They don’t fuck all the time like us; they only fuck when the girl cat is pretty much guaranteed to get knocked up. Alice, instead of taking them to get fixed, creates this unspoken schedule of assignments: since she works at night, she’ll pull the cats apart during the day when they start fucking. Since I work during the day, I’ll pull the cats apart during the evening. When no one’s home, we’ll put them in separate rooms. When we’re home, though, the mewling gets so god awful that we just can’t lock either of them up. It’s like the worst method of birth control ever: when you get the uncontrollable urge to fuck, just hope someone comes and pulls you off before it’s too late.

Frustrated, I start sending Alice little text messages throughout the day: “The cats are fucking again.” I leave post-its on the bathroom mirror: “Make appt. w/ vet yet?” Nothing changes. I start asking around if anyone wants a kitten, because I’ve stopped pulling the cats apart.

One day, Alice comes home and asks me if I know anything about Planned Parenthood. I know this isn’t really a question, because every girl who’s having sex knows something about Planned Parenthood. We know it’s the place that doesn’t ask questions. It’s the place that doesn’t pass judgment. It’s the place you have to get buzzed in at the door. I shrug and tell her they don’t do cats. I’m pregnant, she tells me.

I guess no one pulled her off.

By the time Alice gets around to making an appointment for herself, she no longer needs to make an appointment for Snatch, because Snatch looks like she ate a cantaloupe whole. I have two takers for kittens, but Snatch looks like she’s either going to have six kittens or one full-grown cat. It’s too early for Alice to be showing. She just looks sad.

I realize that Alice is probably in no mood to play midwife to her cats, so I read up on the internet and do some easy math and I figure out that Snatch is going to drop any minute. And if she doesn’t have a bed or a nest or something she’s going to do it right in my laundry. That concerns me because I’m not very domestic and I don’t know how to get kitty placenta out of polyester blends. Before I go to work, I leave Alice a note to that effect. I’ve tried not to bug her too much, tried to be understanding, but I’m getting really tired of taking care of her fucking cats.

When I get home that day, I go to open the front door to the apartment, but it catches on the welcome mat inside. Except that, when I peer around the edge of the door, it’s not the welcome mat blocking the door. There’s a kitten fetus laying there. Well, I guess you don’t call it a fetus once it’s born, but whatever it is, it’s laying there on the welcome mat, right in the middle of the “O” and I just fucking slammed into it with the door.

I squeeze my way in through the eight-inch opening I could make in the doorway. I see that Snatch is walking around the apartment all nonchalantly like it ain’t no thang, like she’s that chick at the prom who gave birth in the bathroom then went back out on the dance floor. I’m just staring at the thing on the welcome mat. It doesn’t look like a kitten. It looks like a gerbil. I’m worried one of my takers is going to renege on their offer once they see it. I hadn’t mentioned the whole inbreeding thing, but now I didn’t see how I could avoid the issue. At least it’s alive.

I need to move it. It can’t stay there right in everybody’s way. Am I allowed to? Is it like a baby bird—if you get your human scent on it, the mother will never be able to bond with it and it will die of starvation? Shit. Where the hell is Alice? She’s raised motherfucking kittens before.

I call my brother’s girlfriend and she knows what to do. She tells me to search the apartment for the other kittens. I hadn’t even thought of that. I could have found a baby cat in my shoe. Or maybe one day Alice would wonder why her snake wasn’t so hungry. So I search—and I don’t find a damn thing. There’s just the one deformed cat and his completely aloof mother. I guess the oedipal thing didn’t carry over.

Alice has been gone for days. I text her that the kitten got born.

I follow my brother’s girlfriend’s advice: I make a nest for Snatch and I put the baby in there. I don’t know if it’s a boy or girl—or, hell, if it’s even a cat—so I just call it “Mimi” because that’s the noise it makes. Mimi starts nursing on a regular basis, gets bigger, and Snatch seems motherly. Master Shake just wanders around the apartment mewling, lost without something to fuck.

When Alice finally returns, she tells me everything is fixed. For a while now, she’d been down to fucking just one guy, Rick, and he took her on The Day. They went to the one in Parkville, which is much nicer than the one on Howard Street, even though that one is convenient by light rail. Then she tells me it’s a good thing Rick got a bartending job because she isn’t going to be able to work for a while. You can’t take your clothes off in front of strangers if you’re bleeding all over the place, she says. She puts a bargain bulk package of sanitary napkins on the back of the toilet like a trophy. I don’t bother moving it to the cabinet below the sink because I just don’t care anymore.

Mimi grows up into a boy cat and I get him out of the apartment before he has a chance to start fucking his mom. I give him to my best friend, who names him Henry Rollins. I realize that the kitten wasn’t deformed; all kittens look like that.

Alice moves out, and I heard she got a place with Rick. I heard that girl Joe was fucking ended up marrying Curtis’ best friend. I heard Master Shake ran away and that Snatch still isn’t fixed.

In a way, none of us are.


Elly Zupko
Elly Zupko is a writer of short stories, poetry, and nearly-finished novels, based out of Baltimore, MD. Her fiction, essays, and journalism have been published in multiple venues, including Preface, the Baltimore Writers Project, and The Eloqent Atheist, among others. Her current major project is editing a novel she wrote for the Three-Day Novel Contest, entitled Love Letter. She is also an artist and crafter, and sells her soft sculpture and stuffed animals under the name Elly Zee.