A Fool, Albeit

As Matthew dressed, he glared at the errant cat, stroked the old one, and patted the fuzz ball with timing. He sighed over their repetitious, laborious breath, their firm, extended whiskers, and their fabric-like fur. Then he screamed. On the midterms, which he had at last graded, spread the undigested dregs left behind by the one among his companions who had thrown up.

Too many long minutes later, the young man sloughed his clothes. The cat’s mess was the least of his stressors. He meant to jump up and down, naked, in front of his lone window and in that way to defy social mores.

It made little sense to Matthew that third parties were necessary to settle real estate transactions among squatters or that corporate managers, of any sort, forever questioned why young teachers went through the mortgage application process repeatedly. What’s more, there were idiots out there who made those assistant bank mangers seem like Sunday School teachers. A case in point was the publisher who refused to increase travel allowances and who insisted that the vacation time Matthew used up for book signings was a perk.

Such doofuses treated Matthew, almost to a day, like a large, gangly version, of a teenager, in general, or like a malleable snuggle-uggims, more specifically. In their collective minds, the young instructor was just one more ride to their paychecks.

Nevia, initially, had protested that treatment. Hers was a world ordered by a single life experience, a fetus she had lost to a jungle of fibroids. Even cleaning latrines at an artists’ colony had failed to emancipate that woman from her frequent bathos. It never occurred to her that if her editors’ notions were to become as vertiginous bouts she would have to shed her paranoia about the nature of gatekeepers. Yet Nevia would as soon don a gorilla costume as she would fling herself, half-dressed, at an editor she might meet at a party.

Half of a decade earlier, Nevia had sprung Matthew from a meeting of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric. She had mistaken that academic conference for a Fur Meet. She had erred by only two hotel floors.

Rather than endure disappointment, Nevia had insisted that her new, brainy, buddy join her in a starlit jog around Central Park. The two escaped muggers and fled from overreaching, overenthusiastic souvenirs vendors. They had been unable, though, to run off from the wiles of a shaggy-haired horse-drawn carriage operator. Their subsequent ride and hangovers, though, more than compensated Matthew for his missed networking opportunities.

Some months later, an again synthetic fur-clad Nevia wagged her behind in Matthew’s face as he was packing up his lists of ancient epistemic solutions to contemporary questions. She insisted that he leave his moldy tomes behind and, instead, fill a suitcase with gizmos that might be adapted, during their cab ride, into a Victorian Era science fiction costume.

Before he had finished assembling his steam punk garb, though, Nevia had thrown him to their bed and had attempted to softly kiss and otherwise to tickle away all of the carefully wrapped scarves and muffs that had fortified wintertime Matthew. He nonetheless stalwartly unpacked his collections of stuffed tigers and elephants. The ancient Greeks, whom he adored, had been more masterful at wanton words than was the gal who was breathing into his ear. It was enough that he had skipped his academic conference. At least, he could still enjoy the Furries if only he could peel one of their lynxes off of his arm.

To wit, his relationship with Nevia survived just one year. During that span, Matthew met more leopards, hyenas, gazelles, wolves, and red foxes than he might at a zoo. On the other hand, Nevia had a habit of spending any of Matthew’s money, to which she had access, on Lotto and on pricy chocolates. Although she recouped a few hundred dollars on her gambling and although her bulimia compensated for her calories, she had proven to be a better beggar than lover. What’s more, in the end, she ran away with a film student specializing in documentaries about sewer covers. All of those months of lost savings and of tolerating bile-flavored bedroom gymnastics had been for naught.

As Matthew dried his coffee mug, a soft, but dedicated, butt bounced against his elbow, reminding him that the local rulers were roused and would be rambling if not soon fed. Meanwhile, one wanted Matthew to fling open the window so that she could bark at the squirrels. Another wanted him to make haste with the can opener so that she could sample the newest version of fins and feathers condensed into brownish-pink pellets. The third could be heard throwing up again in Matthew’s bedroom.

Ever the pleaser, Matthew even put out an extra litter box and bowl of water out in case he again fell asleep in his office. It had been proper to limit Nevia’s menagerie to a few scruffy cats.

Matthew showered off the globs of cat food which had landed on his legs during feeding time and thought about his plans for the semester break. Maybe he’d go hiking in Iceland. He sough no immediate companionship.

His standbys of effectiveness and efficiency had ceased to provide support against which he could brace during Nevia’s many maelstroms. Although it had been Matthew whom had leaned over, across the post office window, to whisper affirmations to her the week before she had left, it had remained Matthew who was splintered and Nevia who was still gallivanting.

He had no interest in emulating Fred, The Middle Ages poetry specialist down the hall, who enjoyed a continuous stream of kittens and of girl. As well, he had no interest in becoming like Ralph, the creative writing teacher with the jazzy website who was more interested in eating sugared cereal and banana slices, while composing tomes about space guns and lunar chicks, than going to the clubs to meet real females.

Matthew pushed soiled papers into his briefcase. One of the cats brought him a wiggly gift. Matthew screamed. Rats frightened him. Delighted, the cat threw the creature into the air and tossed it thus until its neck broke. Matthew gathered the leftovers with his dustpan and threw them in the incinerator chute.

Nevia’s friends, for the most part, had been persons of Middle Eastern descent who refused to eat any but the spiciest of foods. In addition, those sorts had no compunction about sleeping in Matthew’s bathtub, usually two at a time In the middle of the night, during their visits, Matthew peed into a coffee can.

If only he had kept the blue streak in his hair. A colleague was receiving the promotion Matthew deserved. That one time guest lecturer was being offered a permanent line and, more importantly, tenure. A recycled stay-at-home-mother, that woman was being lauded for her contributions to understanding popular culture’s prose. The department loved her; her trade publications garnered more money than did even the largest of humanities endowments. Her generosity with a small per cent of those funds had made her the department’s darling.

Matthew and Nevia’s breakup had been abrupt, had happened during a shared walk from a neighborhood bar to Matthew’s apartment. Nevia, who had noticed that her prints were missing from the display in a local store’s window, had lost her cool among that shop’s groceries, tossing ripe bananas and small tins of sardines at the store manager, and had screamed at Matthew when he dared to pick up the leaked fish and slippery peels she left behind.

For his part, the shopkeeper had shouted at the couple in an island tongue and demanded that Nevia make good on the damages. She threw a fifty pound bag of dog food through the store’s window in answer. Quickly, Matthew pulled an entire month’s pay out of his wallet and began pushing that money at the shop owner. Nevia, who radared in on Matthew’s neutralizing action, spun, showered the store owner him with ice cream sprinkles and walked out of Matthew’s life.

Later that night, the shopkeeper, well plied with lots of money, hosted Matthew for rounds of warm beer and fired grains. Had he not tried to run his tongue along Matthew’s neck, the two might have become friends.

Papers packed, Matthew reached for the door. He smelled cat piss, the sign of an indignant companion. He had forgotten to open the window. Returning to the kitchen, he heard more sounds of upchucking coming from the other room.

After that energized night, Matthew never directly heard from Nevia, again. It was the case, however, that her new boyfriend located Matthew, via Facebook, and offered the scholar a free, seasonal pass to the city zoo if only Matthew would accept a role in the other’s documentary about the eating habits of pythons.


KJ Hannah Greenberg
Abetted by her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs, KJ Hannah Greenberg tramps across literary themes and genres. Although she devotes her eclectic writing to lovers of slipstream fiction and to oboe players who never got past the second orchestral chair, she also writes for mothers who are too busy mopping carpets, diapering doll bottoms, and chopping beans to think clearly. her newest book, Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting, can be ordered at services [at] frenchcreekpress.