Unanswered by Juliet Cook
Every morning, she keens to an invisible cat
in the same storefront window. I’ve followed her
eyes. I’ve seen incense sticks, oils, old books, occult accessories.
As the bus turns the corner, she stares out one pane
into another; cries to a cat that doesn’t appear
to exist. She always sits sideways in the same seat;
always wears strange pink lipstick, stained
clothes, but describes the textures of many different coats
of cats she’s seen or known or touched. Luxurious
miaous, retracted claws inside soft gray padding.
Slinking tails, rough tongues, a purr that starts like a sensual humming
vibration becomes a full-throttle bus engine through yellow light.
She strikes up conversations with passengers nearby.
Sometimes they ignore her. Sometimes she guesses
what brands of cats they might own. Sometimes she talks to
nobody in particular—“I’ve seen Siamese cats, I’ve seen
tabby cats, I’ve seen short-haired and long-haired
calico cats, I’ve seen Persian cats, I’ve seen a Sphinx
cat.” The bus driver says she’s crazy.
When she starts to exit then veers back around
to search her vacant seat for invisible belongings,
other passengers clear their throats.
I hear a hiss when the door opens.
She leaves an unanswered litany of
cats in my head; kneading a hollow against my chest.
With its eyes still shut, I’d let it curl its soft-furred rhythm
through the slats of my ribcage. I’d listen
to its jewel-vowelled miaou until
her glassy gaze startles me with
pallid blue irises, dilated pupils.
I fear that when I board the bus she’ll guess
I own an alley cat with mottled coat,
lost marbles for eyes.
I stalk to the back
where normal passengers are
skimming the newspaper or peering out windows immutably.
I affix a neutral expression. I avert narrowed eyes
from creeping possibilities. She might pounce on me
with a hiss or an embarrassing kiss of sticky pink.
She might start keening to something invisible
already shedding its soft gray fur
and uncurling inside of me.