“Jeanette?” She beckoned to me softly at seven on garbage day, seeking repentance on the only day she’d dare to wake me up an hour earlier than her routine yell at eight a.m. Tapered windows and fuzzy curtains around me, my eyes not fully awake, I reached around to feel for something. Some semblance of a person or an animal. Nikolai’s furry head was missing underneath my hand. The only indication I had of Suze’s existence was the memory of her calling my name a few seconds before, and the teeny molecules of her breath lingering in the air.
If I walked downstairs, I’d give in to Suze. The real-life, existing Suze. The Suze who, the night before, screamed at me until her face was covered in burst blood vessels and tears pooled in her collarbones. She accused me of not listening to her, and being disinterested in her interests, and of abandoning my cat.
My legs cascading downstairs would read as a treatise between us. Nikolai, the tiny pads of Nikolai’s paws, and my own fear of direct confrontation would follow me as I took the steps down. I refused. I’d bury my grave in that bed.
“Jeanette!” Suze’s urgency, the lick of tears on her voice, kept me firmly in place. I froze in the atmosphere of seven a.m. and the ramifications of the day ahead.
She wouldn’t call my name again. She had to leave for work at some point. Maybe we forgot to take the garbage out in the middle of our haste the night before and now the can would overflow into the next week and the driveway would stink of banana peels and leftover chili and sand and tampons. But Nikolai was missing beside me and I only smelled the stench of lavender and cardamom. He slept in the middle of us every night. Even he must’ve gave in to Suze’s incessant morning call, abandoning his morning cuddle.
“Jeanette.” Now, her words cracked. Her voice sounded like a sea of mucus, its waves trudging their way from the kitchen to the bedroom.
I turned to cuddle the pillow between me and the other side of the bed.
Before, months before, we joked over who would be East Berlin and who West. We divvied up Nikolai between the two halves of the bed. I argued Nikolai belonged to me in East Berlin. Suze argued that his right ear, the orange patch on his butt, and the tip of his tail belonged to the West. Her eyes were really wide that night we argued about rationing our cat. She watched a documentary on Germany that morning and for the rest of the day her eyes were teary. During the argument, the grey of her eyes were clouded over with tears, but somehow bright, and she marvelled every time I spoke in a Russian accent defending Nikolai’s rightful place in the East. Suze kept asking how I knew so much and I never even saw the documentary. I wiped a tear from her eye and decided Nikolai’s left ear could probably belong in the West, too. Neither of us knew what we were talking about, and I bullshitted all my knowledge of Berlin, but I wouldn’t forget the look on her face.
“Nikolai.” This one was softer. Her mucus didn’t travel up to me, it clumped in the kitchen. The bed felt too warm beneath me to roll out of it. Touching the bed, I absorbed every good memory between us. The weird history stuff, and the cuddling with Nikolai, and even the nights we kicked Nikolai out and tangled in his spot in the middle of the mattress. If I left the bed, I’d see her apoplectic face and remember the night before. Then I’d think of the Berlin night and overthink the tears in her eyes and her probable disappointment in me that I never watched the documentary with her. But Nikolai watched it. I gave him strict instructions to. His brown ear twitched when I told him he had to spend quality time with my new girlfriend. Then somehow I subjected him to Soviet mutilation.
That final “Nikolai” got me out from bed. My legs were smooth and graceful cascading downstairs, though I wasn’t met with a treatise or the stench of overdue garbage or banana peels or tampons. I walked into the kitchen, into Suze’s sad verbal mucus, into the stench of Nikolai’s blood and guts covering the laminate wood on the kitchen floor. Suze’s right hand held the remains of his tail and her left arm supported his smashed orange head.
“I guess we can finally split him up between us,” I said, in my shitty Russian accent.