“So in love! XOXO.” That’s what you caption the photo of your face smashed against mine before you post it to your feed. Your bright smile is tense, yet oblivious to the trepidation in my eyes.

We both know it’s a lie. 

Don’t we?

“I adore him,” you always gush to your friends on the phone. “Don’t know what I did without him.”

Um. Probably the same thing you’re doing now? Which is pouring another glass of that boxed wine and punching “still watching” on the remote. I’m sure you assumed I’d snuggle in your lap while you binged your shows. I find the deepest corner of your guest bedroom closet more suitable.

It’s only been a week but living together has been a terrible adjustment. How ironic, given the effort that went into matching us. The volunteer with her five-page questionnaire about your lifestyle, the lengthy meeting about my likes and needs. But it isn’t working. Our respective love languages might as well be written in different alphabets. 

“Physical touch.” That’s your holy grail, it seems, considering that you won’t leave me alone. I couldn’t care less about tummy rubs. “Giving gifts” is my amour langue but you screamed in horror when you found the decapitated mouse I deposited so tenderly in your slipper.

Your disgust spoke volumes.

So, I’ve decided to make this easy and simply depart. It won’t be difficult to slip out unnoticed. You’re always forgetting to shut the back door. Too bad the five-page questionnaire didn’t ask about that. Seriously, were you born in a barn? I mean, I was actually born in a barn and even I know how to close a glass slider. Well, I can envision the process, at least. Anyway, I can’t imagine what your utility bills must be like.

Consider this my farewell note. I won’t forget how hard you tried. Your upturned palm with a fish-flavored treat, squatting at the edge of the bed, trying to coax me out. I’m sorry I couldn’t pry myself from the shadows. 

I’ve got one paw out the door when you rise from the sofa. You shuffle through the kitchen and rummage through a plastic sack on the counter. 

That plastic-sack sound is always irresistible. In spite of myself, I hesitate.

“Snickerdoodle,” you say. “Let’s spend some quality playtime together.”

Quality time. More love-language nonsense. And Snickerdoodle! I refuse to respond to that ridiculous name. I slink toward liberation. The night air is cool, damp. Smells like freedom.

A tiny click.

A dot.

On the floor. Then the cupboard. It shivers on the backsplash before darting to the ceiling.

A primal yowl escapes from somewhere deep in my guts. Somehow, I’m back your kitchen, now, the smell of freedom a faint memory. My head swivels. I’m a puppet. I jump at the wall like a damn fool. My eyes are unable to leave. This. Dot.

You chuckle softly.

I fling myself across the floor, skidding on the tile as the speck streaks away, out of reach. In that moment, I realize two things: that I will spend my life trying to catch this glowing dot, and that I will never succeed.

Suddenly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Quality time, indeed.

I don’t know what kind of cult you’re running here, but I’m in. 


When Shelby Van Pelt isn’t feeding her flash-fiction addiction, she’s juggling cats while wrangling children. Watch for her debut novel, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES, featuring a sentient Giant Pacific Octopus, from Ecco/HarperCollins in Spring 2022. More at www.shelbyvanpelt.com and Twitter: @shelbyvanpelt.

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