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I want to write a poem about my dying cat, but I also don’t want to be someone who writes poems about dying cats. Minster tells me not to worry about being what I am.

What am I? I ask.

Someone who’s about to write a poem about a dying cat, he says.

He’s standing half-naked in front of the air conditioner with his arms spread like Jesus, like he’s getting frisked. His black T-shirt’s laid flat under Sugar-Nips on the floor. In the sunlight I can see the white scars on Minster’s belly, crosshatched from when his ex used to cut him with a drawing compass. For a moment I consider being someone who writes about that instead. Or perhaps cuts are no less sentimental than cats.

Sometimes stuff happens on cold, stormy nights, Minster says.

I know.

So just say it, he says. Say it was a cold and stormy night if that’s what it was.

What are you trying to say? I say.

I’m saying write about the damn cat if that’s what’s true.

• • •

Sugar-Nips is a shorthaired British tortoiseshell. We adopted her when she was eleven. Now she’s thirteen, which is sixty-nine in human years. That’s the same age Saddam Hussein was when he died. I really, really hope Sugar-Nips lives longer than Saddam Hussein did, but she hasn’t been eating her food. She won’t even touch the salmon, or venison. Whenever she hears the can opener, she scurries under the couch and throws up on top of all the board games.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what if. Like what if death could be something tangible? Maybe I’d lather it in food and medicine, and watch Sugar-Nips come back to life as she dies, her entire existence revolving in and around itself until she’s both living and dying at once. Or perhaps we’re all already doing that.

The only thing I know for certain is my cat’s neck seems to be shrinking. I can almost wrap my fingers around it now, and I have very small hands.

Minster says my main problem is I haven’t lost enough, which is mostly untrue. I’ve lost plenty. I’ve lost the key to our apartment six times, for example. I’ve also lost a pair of mittens on the subway. I’ve lost my temper, my mother’s phone number. Junior year of high school I lost a volleyball match that could’ve taken my team to the semi-finals. I lost my father that day, too. Not literally, but figuratively. He stood and stomped off the bleachers, slammed the gymnasium door behind him. He was supposed to be my ride home. I never saw him again after that, in a lot of ways.

You’ve never lost someone you loved, says Minster, accusingly. He thinks death is a competition, but only because he knows he’s winning. He lost his uncle three years ago. He’s also lost four grandparents, a brother, and his high school sweetheart. Not figuratively, but literally. It’s strange how closely death can cling to some and not others. I can’t compete with that. It’s difficult to compare a person to a pair of mittens.

Minster spoons Sugar-Nips on the air mattress on the floor. Her golden-green eyes half closed as I take a photograph of my fingers wrapped almost all the way around her neck. I show Minster the photo, the fingers, the neck. I need him to understand the weight of what’s coming. This isn’t just a dying cat. It’s the first thing we’re going to lose together.

• • •

I work at a design firm called Passion Couture. I hate telling people where I work because I hate saying the word couture. I also hate passion.

I just tell people I’m the creative assistant at a design firm. It’s another name for someone who waters plants and wipes crumbs off the kitchen counter. Occasionally I’ll mount a poster, replace the mouthwash in the washrooms, but mostly just watering, crumb cleaning, making a difference.

I call Minster in the afternoon. I ask him if Sugar-Nips has been taking her pain killer.

No, he says.

Have you tried giving it to her?


She still won’t take it?


Okay, well. Well.

Well what, Kate?

Well, I don’t know. Can you keep trying?

Fine, he says. Don’t be mad at me.

Why would I be?

I gave myself a black eye today.

Minster. Why?

I don’t know. I’m sorry. I love you.


He hangs up the phone. He can be rather abrupt. If I was watering a plant right now, I’d probably kill it, out of anger, sadness, whatever, but I’m not watering a plant, I’m dusting the ping-pong table in The Imagination Room because that’s the kind of place this is. It’s the kind of place with ping-pong tables and Imagination Rooms, and in the fluorescent light of everything, it all adds up to be a bit much.

• • •

Sugar-Nips’s examination, including hospitalization and x-rays, cost $450.60. The medicine cost $62. I took the day off work, which cost me an extra $96. This evening Sugar-Nips had diarrhea on my pillow. It’s cost us $608.60 in total to get to where we are, $623.60 if you include the cost of a new pillowcase.

Minster tells me I can’t afford to quit my job, but it’s been done. I’ve always hated working there, and hatred grows when your cat’s got a mass in her belly—it grows like a mass in my own belly, ballooning until I find myself in the CEO’s office, slapping his desk with a dirty cloth and watching the dust envelop him.

Sugar-Nips sleeps on the black luggage beside the blue IKEA couch. She looks like one of those Ethiopian children on television, if only those children were a lot smaller, and had tails, and were cats. I sit on the floor beside her, put my hand on her left front paw, the beige one, my favourite. The grey fur around it, greying. A new shade of grey. A deader, darker kind. But that one paw’s remained the same beige, almost yellow, like the inside of an autumn red peach.

I tell Minster we can’t afford option one, which is surgery, which is not guaranteed to work and may even make things worse. I tell him option one is no longer an option.

• • •

Minster tells me to touch myself. I am. I am for a really, really long time because I know he likes watching. I’m on my back on the air mattress touching myself, but every time I open my eyes, he’s looking elsewhere. He’s looking everywhere but where I am.

You too, I tell him.


Touch yourself, too.

It’s dark, but I can see he’s soft, I can see his black eye, I can see he’s distracted by whatever’s not there. I tell him to touch himself, I want him. I tell him to fuck me.

Fruit flies, he whispers.


Fruit flies.

Fuck me, I say.

Do you see them?

I sit up and turn on the Christmas lights we have strung in a half-moon on the wall above our mattress. He stands, his pale, scarred body lit rainbow, his hands cupped over his genitals, blisters on his knuckles.

Do you see them? he repeats, but I don’t answer. I try not to encourage these things, the him-seeing-things kind of things. I ignore it. I tell him it’s late. I ask if he wants to carry Sugar-Nips into the bedroom so she can sleep between us tonight.

We have to put her down, he says.

I know, I say.

Remember when she was scared of the balloons? he says.

Yeah, I say.

I wish I hadn’t kept kicking them at her, he says.

• • •

Minster is gone by the time I wake up. I’m not entirely certain where to. He doesn’t have a normal job, like a butcher, or a junior sales associate. He’s a writer, which means he could be almost anywhere. He’s what my grandmother would call a free spirit, or a nonconformist, or a no-good lazy bum.

The air in the room is biting, a stench other than Sugar-Nips. It’s coming from a Tupperware container on the floor at the end of the mattress. The top of the container has been sealed with plastic wrap, pricked with tiny slits to let the stink escape. A half-inch of golden-brown liquid rests at the bottom. My tummy turns at first with a fear it might be Minster’s urine, but it’s not, it’s actually apple cider vinegar. I start to recognize the smell from the last time I made cranberry chutney. I turn to Sugar-Nips, her emaciated face and the ribs showing through fur, and I ask her, What’s your pappi up to now?

I find another container of apple cider vinegar on the back of the toilet, and about two-dozen more spread throughout the main living area and kitchen.

Fruit fly traps.

Sugar-Nips is still lying on the floor in the bedroom, her body spread to catch the coolness of the wood. I can tell she knows she’s dying, but I begin to wonder if she knows what dying is. I begin to wonder if I know.

When I was thirteen, my best friend Alex returned home from Hawaii with a puka shell necklace she’d bought for me at a hotel gift shop. She gave me the necklace on the first day of grade eight. I wore it every single day for that entire year, up until graduation. I was standing in the shower an hour before the ceremony when the necklace broke. I hadn’t even touched it or anything, but the band snapped as if it’d been smacked and all the tiny puka shells twirled down the drain.

Sometimes I think maybe that’s what dying is in a way. It’s graduation day. It’s something significant triggered to coincide with something else, something smaller that’s breaking in the world.

I call the clinic and arrange to have Sugar-Nips put down. She meows, as if to say thank you. Either that or bitch, don’t you be putting me down. I hang up the phone and wonder aloud, the way people do in movies sometimes. Sugar-Nips listens to me wonder.

• • •

I’m standing outside Passion Couture. I didn’t mean to be here, but I am. I’m standing outside the front door wearing pajama pants because I’m unemployed and unemployed people do such things. We wear pajama pants in public and stare pensively at places we used to work.

Eventually the front door clicks open and Ocean Burns comes strolling out. Ocean Burns is a girl I used to work with. She wears a straw hat, a brown vest and leather boots with pointed toes because she’s not only employed, but employed at a design firm, where people are often encouraged to dress like really, really fancy cowboys.

Kate, she says. Hi. What are you doing here?

I was just passing by, I say.

She pulls out a long, pretentious cigarette, and takes an equally showy drag.

Ocean Burns tells me, I totally heard what happened. God, girl, you’ve got balls.

I’m not entirely certain what Ocean Burns does at Passion Couture, other than that it requires a lot of ping-pong playing. One time she asked me to fetch her some coffee, though. I started barking, but she didn’t get it. She was like, Whoah, what the fuck are you doing? and I was like, Arf-arf-arf-arf.

I remember her mug had SKA MUSIC written down the handle. Other than that, the mug was blank. I brought it to the boardroom, the one with the glass table and swivel chairs, and placed the coffee in front of her. Ocean Burns was facing a projection screen set up at the end of the table, positioned behind the creative director. The word IDEAS was in all caps across the screen and there was a picture of a falcon eating a mouse underneath it. I think the carrion was supposed to represent IDEAS, and the falcon, people like Ocean Burns, but I’m not entirely certain because I’m not a creative type.

Someone said, Can we help you?

I looked at everyone looking at me from behind thick-rimmed glasses and lens-less glasses and even sunglasses, and I told them I had an IDEA.

The creative director was one of the ones wearing sunglasses. They were hexagonal and tinted violet. He also wore a striped scarf. It was summer. He said, Please share.

I had no idea what they’d been talking about, but I shared nonetheless. I told them I had an idea for a restaurant where the waiters massage you as you eat. They stand behind you and massage your shoulders. It’d be optional, of course.

Ocean Burns spoke first. She said, Ew. I would literally throw up if someone touched me while I’m trying to eat. That’s literally disgusting, Kate.

Standing outside Passion Couture and my bum’s all sweaty because it’s hot and I’m wearing these flannel pajama pants. I ask her to take a picture of me beside the PASSION COUTURE sign, for the memories. She holds my camera phone as if it’s infectious, like if she touches what I’ve touched then maybe she’ll turn into a girl in pajama pants, too.

I’m posing for her. I’m flipping off the sign.

I’m seriously not taking a picture of that, she says. She hands me back the phone. God, she says, I swear to God, Kate. Seriously. You’re so immature. You don’t got the passion it takes to work at Passion Couture.

• • •

The next morning I put on daytime clothes and meet my dad for lunch. He’s wearing a grey flannel suit and a pink tie, and he asks me how Passion Couture’s been, and I tell him couturific. He doesn’t ever ask about Minster.

My dad talks at length about the department store he manages, and the price of leather belts and men’s pants. He speaks in clichés that aren’t real clichés: Style’s an unseen leaf in a burning tree, he says. I never know what the hell he’s talking about. His lips move too fast, too frequently. He tells me my step-mom’s grown pudgy and is beginning to look rather dyke-like. I ask him what I’m supposed to do with that.

I don’t tell him about Sugar-Nips, that there’s a mass growing inside of her, that her belly feels like a furry sack of pool balls. He probably doesn’t even know I own a cat. All he knows for certain is I lost a volleyball match when I was sixteen, and now I’m twenty-five, and I live with a boy named Minster, who’s a moderately successful writer, who my dad once caught trying to burn himself on purpose over the fire at our cottage.

I ask to borrow my dad’s cell phone because mine is cheap and doesn’t get Internet. He hands it to me, and checks his watch. He points at the homeless woman across the street, the one strumming acoustic guitar and singing Joni Mitchell, and he says that’s where artists end up, they all end up singing in the sun. He says it like it’s a bad thing, singing in the sun, but the sun sounds good to me right now.

My dad asks me what I’m doing. I tell him I need to look up an address, which is a lie. What I really do is Google cliché finder and then type cat into the search engine. I’m not entirely certain why. Perhaps I’m looking for a way to sum up the situation, oversimplify what I’m feeling and tie it in a nice bow. A list of about twenty cat clichés appears on the screen and I’m scrolling through them. I look at my dad, but his face blurs through the water in my eyes.

He looks back at me like he finally sees me. He asks if I’m okay.

I tell him I’m as nervous as a long tailed cat in a living room full of rocking chairs.

He smirks, chuckles, calls me a weirdo and looks past my face to fixate on the woman across the street, singing in the sun.

You know what? he tells me. She ain’t even half bad.

• • •

I sit on a hill in Trinity Bellwoods park, under a black walnut tree in the shade. I pick the grass. That’s what my dad taught me as a child, to pick the grass slowly, pull it from the ground without tearing the blade. I love the feel of the end popping out, the white tip.

I pile the grass on the ground in front of my legs. Every strand is green fading into white, our favourite colours. Mine’s green, Minster’s is white. That should be the first red flag, when a boy tells you his favourite colour is white.

I call his mother, Sherri. She told me I could call whenever I want. She told me she knows how hard it can be sometimes, but it’s getting better, Minster’s always getting better. But it’s still something that’ll never go away. She told me to call whenever the getting better seems to stop for a moment. I decide this is that moment.

She answers the phone after one ring. Hello?

I need her to know her son’s not the only one. I’m sad too, I’m weird too, everything’s just as hard for me as it is for him. The pile of grass is growing as I tell Sherri I don’t want to see myself this way, the way I’ve been. I want to see myself different, making things, turning straight lines into cartoon lightening. I see myself as someone who may dye her hair blue one day. I see myself happy, and unafraid.

Sugar-Nips is dying, I say.

Oh dear, she says. I’m so sorry, Kate. Are you guys okay?

Maybe, I tell her. We’re okay, yeah. I don’t know where Minster is.

She doesn’t say anything for a really, really long time. Perhaps she’s waiting for me to add something, a just kidding to end the joke. I allow the silence to pile the grass even higher, until the ants have a green and white mountain to live under.

I need her to tell me Minster’s fine. He doesn’t need me.

Minster’s fine. He doesn’t need you. He’s better now—he’s always getting better. He’ll be there for you when you need him. It’s okay to cry now, Kate. It’s your turn. It’s your turn to cry. He’s there for you. Cry.

I stand up.

Sherri says it’s taken her a long time to know what to do, how to be. She says some of us spend our entire lives learning how to be good people. But I’m already there. She tells me not to worry, I’m already standing right here.

• • •

Minster arrives home past midnight. It’s been two days. He smells like alcohol. He tells me he’s been writing. He doesn’t have his notebook or laptop, but he tells me he’s been writing in his head. The fruit flies were too distracting. He says he needed to escape.

I want to tell him never again.

He asks if I want to do it. That’s how he says it, do it.

I’ve always wanted him to act more passionately in the bedroom, and I can tell he’s trying more and more. He’s kissing my lips, pulling my hair and panting beer breath into my face. He’s touching my throat, barely. He tells me I look sexy, though it’s dark and I’ve got hives on my belly. He rolls onto his back. I know he doesn’t like being on the bottom, because she used to do things to him under there. I make certain to be gentle, but he’s got a look on his face like he’s expecting me to swing a punch any second.

Do you want me to stop?

No, he says.

You sure?

They’re everywhere, he says.

What’s everywhere?

The flies.


Kate, he chokes. There are flies everywhere.

Please, I say.

He doesn’t say anything.

Love. Are you crying?


But he is. He covers his face with his hands and sobs into them.

He says he’s sorry, he’s so, so, so, so sorry.

Love, I say.

He says, I miss you.

He says, I should’ve known. 

He says, I’m so sorry. I should’ve known. I miss you so much.

I hold his head against my chest in the dark. I tell him it wasn’t his fault. He keeps saying he’s sorry, and his tears are cold, and his hair smells the same as the city. I wonder what we’d look like in the light, him naked, sobbing on top of me, his penis shriveled inside the condom and a dark circle swelling his right eye. None of it turns me off. It makes me hold him closer, tighter, like maybe if I just squeeze hard enough, it’ll bring everything and everyone he’s ever lost back to him.

• • •

I finally wrote a poem about a dying cat. I wrote it in my head in bed. The poem rhymes cat with fat, rat, spat, shat and bathmat. It’s a really, really bad poem, but I had to make it bad in order to make it memorable, my means to recall the lines come morning. That’s when I’ll make it better. I’ll have a pen and paper, and the sun, splitting the curtains and shining light on everything, so I can spot and white out the weaker parts.

• • •

Minster woke up early this morning so he’d have time to write before we take Sugar-Nips to the clinic. I ask what he’s working on, but all he ever says is a two-headed man. His answers are always elusive when he wants to shut me up.

I try to get Sugar-Nips to enter the travel cage, but she’s not budging. Perhaps she knows what’s coming and doesn’t believe we’re ready yet.

I lean close to her ear and whisper, I promise I’ll take good care of your pappi.

She stands, wobbles, steps, but not in the direction of the cage. She turns toward the coat rack, to where Minster’s set up one of the fruit fly traps. Sugar-Nips sniffs the trap, pressing her speckled nose against the punctured plastic wrap, and I see something inside. A small fruit fly bouncing between the apple cider vinegar and the plastic wrap enclosing it.

Minster! I say. Oh my god, Minster!

There’s the clickety-click of him finishing whatever line he’s on. Then silence.

What? he says.

There’s a fruit fly in one of your traps!


Yeah, I tell him.

Holy shit. Really?

Yes, love. Check the others.

Together we scour the apartment, checking the others, calling out what we find. One more over here! Three in this one! Over a dozen in the trap under the kitchen sink! And I purposely don’t look at Sugar-Nips the entire time. I want to give her enough minutes to make her way back to the travel cage and crawl inside, so by the time we’re finished counting flies, she’ll be ready, to go, to leave us, she’ll meow as if to say, my job here is done, as if to say, I love you. And I know it’s sentimental, love, more so than cuts and dying cats, but fuck it. That’s just how I want things to end.


Mark Jordan Manner's stories have appeared in Grain, EVENT, Riddle Fence, The Puritan, Prairie Fire, The Antigonish Review, and The Dalhousie Review. He is also the author of the comic zine You Are Someone Who Exists. He lives in Toronto.

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LF #064 © Mark Jordan Manner. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, June 2014.


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true love will 
find you in the end

by mark jordan manner