Barney, by David E.J. Berger
(every Tuesday, we’ll be republishing here on our website a piece of literature which we previously published on our Medium Channel, and that our readers loved. This week is a great short fiction piece by David EJ Berger – bio at the end.)
Hold on to your whiskers, folks, because today is the day. That’s right. These paws of mine are finally stepping out of this dump and into the unexplored wild! Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not some frightened, clawless housecat who’s finally worked up the gumption to enter the big, bad world. On the contrary. I’ve been the scourge of world’s varmints since I fit into my owner Kevin’s pant leg. A tomcat through and through. But since Kevin and I started living in this new place with his “fianceé” (gagging on a hairball as I say it) Carolyn, I’ve not been a pet but a PRISONER! Starting today, though, things are going back to the glory days of yore.
You see, long before Carolyn sidled into our lives like an unwanted stray, Kevin and I were doing just fine. Let me run you through a typical day of Kevin and Barney, “bachelors at large”:
3AM: Starved, I opened my eyes and started my day with my patented piercing bellows for food.
3AM — 5AM: Kevin knocked me repeatedly off the bed while he pretended to still be sleeping. What a kidder!
5AM: Kevin stumbled out of bed to feed me. A full can!
8AM: While Kevin prepared for work, I pranced for him. Really strutted my stuff. (M y mother always taught me if you’ve got the socks, use them.)
8:05AM: Cue Kevin’s bearded smile of appreciation. For me alone! Followed by some ample butt rubbing.
8:30AM: Kevin left for work. (L eaving the TV on!)
8:30AM — 5:30PM: I’d have the place to myself all day to just chiiiiillllll. A nap here. A nap there. A little tumbling. Some somersaults. Or just go to town on my scratchpost. Do whatever the fuck I wanted really. (One time I pissed on Kevin’s bed and I wasn’t even mad at him. I was just like, “Fuck it. The box is toooo faaarrr.”)
5:30PM: Kevin returned from work. Dinner time! Another full can! Hell yeah, Kev!
6:00pm: Poop. (Even to this day, I always make sure Kevin is home so he doesn’t miss it. Okay. Full disclosure. I need an audience.)
6:15pm — 9pm: Time to prowl! I headed straight for the door. Kevin opened it perfectly timed so I didn’t even break stride as I pounced into the courtyard and went to work. (Oh that wonderful, green courtyard! Being free to roam made me felt like a real tomcat. It was glorious! If I had a patch of that grass in front of me right now I’d eat it whole, I don’t care that it made me puke every time.)
11pm: Bedtime. Kevin and I. A bed to ourselves. (I’ m fighting back cat tears thinking about it.)
It was better than a bastard tomcat like me, who never got closer than third from hind tit, deserved. How did it all go so wrong? HER!
I didn’t like Carolyn from the moment we met. Kevin introduced me and she laughed.
She said, “Barney? Really?” And then this shrill chuckle escaped from the walking clavicle she calls a body.
Why is that so surprising? Barney is a great name! You know what’s surprising? That Kevin would date a woman with the same name as his dead step-grandmother, Carolyn!
Then she scratched me under my neck with her clammy hands. She said, “Growing up, our cats loved this.”
Well guess what, Carolyn? I’m not them! The indignity of these people who insist on rubbing other people’s cats as they do their own is so insulting. How about trying to get to know MY rub spots? (I’m a butt rub type of cat, thank you very much!)
Disturbingly, Kevin ENJOYED her presence. He had that bearded smile (my smile!) plastered across his face. I shook my whiskers in disbelief. This was bad. I feared she’d be a recurring visitor like a clever mouse you’d yet to catch and squeeze the life out of.
Unfortunately, I was right and Kevin and I’s life started to change.
First, it was the trips. The weekends used to be some quality me and Kev time. Hell, sometimes Kevin wouldn’t leave the couch at all. (Butt rubs for dayyyzzz!) And there was pizza boxes and leftover food bins to dig through everywhere. It was great! But Carolyn got it into Kevin’s head they needed to go to “wine country.” Kevin loves drinking so it was an easy sell.
Much to my dismay, “wine country” was a smashing success and led to “Palm Springs” and “Ojai” and “Joshua Tree.” Each time they’d leave me here with fuck all to do but eat the two days worth of food they’d crammed into my dish really fast and then puke it up on this stupid “jute” rug Carolyn got Kevin. When she gave it to him, she kept saying that word “jute” over and over.
“Doesn’t the jute look great?” she said. “I think jute is such a great material.” “The jute adds so much life to the room.” “Jute. Jute. Jute.”
I had no choice but to scratch her. Kevin was so pissed he got the water bottle. But I took my sprayings with my whiskers up because it was SO worth it.
Shortly after that, Carolyn made a peace offering. She bought me a hunk of white plastic that was supposed to resemble a mouse with a swinging neon tail. (About as unrealistic as it gets.)
She told Kevin it was “battery operated” and “cost $25.” She was assured I’d like it. And once again, Carolyn was wrong
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m a simple tomcat. I like shoe strings. Paper towel shreds. A flash light on the ground. Maybe she needs a “battery operated $25 toy” to make her happy, but not me. She didn’t get me at all and I realized she never would.
After that, more changes came fast and furious. (K evin and I’s favorite movies, by the way. Carolyn, on the other hand, likes “foreign” movies with “subtitles.” I’m a cat. I can’t fucking read, Carolyn! It’s like she wants me to get bored and lick my butthole in front of them.)
One day I cried really loud in confusion at the presence of this pink blob wandering around our place, but then I realized, “Holy shit, that’s Kevin!” I’d never seen him without his beard and I can see why. He looked terrible! But SHE liked it, of course.
Then, Kevin and I’s diets came under Carolyn’s scrutiny. So, his went from eighty percent ham sandwiches (with which I’d see some delicious windfall) to eighty percent greens based. (One time he fed me something called “kale” and it tasted so bad I wouldn’t even feed it to my runt brother. Who I hate.) And after Carolyn’s urging to take me to the dreaded vet “out of concern for my weight,” it was determined I should be reduced to only a can and a half per day. SADISTS!
Worst of all, Carolyn kept being around. No longer did I have the place to myself when Kevin was at work. She’d be there on her computer with the TV off. When bedtime came, Kevin and I had to share it with her. Every. Single. Night. Finally, I realized what I think I knew deep down already but didn’t want to admit: Kevin and I were now LIVING with this woman.
While I thought that was the worst day of my life, I was wrong. It came later. “Moving Day” they called it. The apartment was empty. I’m suddenly roused into my carrier. The reassurance that I was “not going to the vet” did little to calm my nerves. Something was up! And oh how right I was! Because then I was in this terrifying new place. Their “fixer upper” they called it. Gone was anything familiar including our couch, which I had worked tirelessly tearing the backside of in an oh-so-perfect way. In its place was a hulking new one I wasn’t allowed to lay a claw on. I was so upset I didn’t come out of the bedroom closet for a month.
Over time, I slowly granted them my company again. The place wasn’t so bad. Much bigger than Kevin and I’s place. There are two bedrooms! And an office! The kitchen has enough room for some expert level prancing while Kevin washes the dishes. But after while, one yearns for more. And I knew what I needed. I needed to go outside. To feel like a real cat again.
So one night after dinner and a poop, I galloped straight for the door. Only Kevin didn’t have it standing open as planned. In fact, he wouldn’t open it no matter how piercing I bellowed.
“It’s not safe out there, buddy,” Kevin said, blocking the door. “Outside is a ‘no go.’”
A “no go”? Please. Did he know who he was talking to? I ran that courtyard before! Birds, moths, mice? You name it. I killed it. Outside ain’t got shit on me!
Thinking Kevin had a minor lapse in judgement, I pressed the issue. I bellowed EXTREMELY piercingly loud every night. Only to be rejected time and time again.
“I’m so sorry, buddy,” Carolyn patronized after once. I scowled. This was her fault! I went and pissed on her precious “guest room comforter.”
I’ve laid low since then. Not because I gave up the issue. Far from it. In fact, I’ve simply been watching them. Studying them. Calculating the right opportunities like all skilled tomcats. And today is the day! It’s what they call “laundry day” and what I’ve seen time after time is Carolyn going out the backdoor with their laundry basket and leaving it wide open until she returns a few moments later. She always checks to make sure I’m napping before she does this, but hoho! I’m far from napping. I. See. Everything.
So here I sit, fake napping in the guest room. Patiently waiting. Carolyn pokes her head in the room and my eyes are closed so tight it’s as if I’m headed to that big litter box in the sky. In a flash, she’s gone and I’m up on my socks. One paw slowly in front of the other into the living room. I turn my head to the backdoor. It’s standing wide open as planned! I can taste the grass already!
I use all my might and hurl myself out of the house and onto the concrete. I haven’t gone this fast in months and fail to stick the landing, tumbling over a bit.
“Barney!” Carolyn screams. “Get back in the house!”
Shit. I’ve been spotted. No matter. It’s Carolyn. I don’t listen to her anyway.
I recover my balance and dash around the corner of the house.
“Barney!” I hear behind me.
Walking slowly along the house now, I’m taking it all in. Oh man, smell that air! And there’s so much dirt and trees and grass. Over there, I see some weird berry things I’m definitely going to have to try. Over there is an ant trail I’m going to absolutely destroy. I can’t believe they’re keeping me from this. Those DICKS! Oh and look across the street! There seems to be some sort of brutish animal roaming about. Maybe another tomcat, bandying about on his own, being a real cat like me? Focusing in, the animal seems to be a bit bigger than most tomcats. It swings its head and I see why. IT’S A FRIGGIN’ PITBULL! It locks eyes with me. (And I swear to Cat God I think it’s smiling.) The next thing I know this thing is all teeth and spit and growling through the fence gate. I rise up on my socks, arch my spine, shriek, and bolt to the back of the house.
“What’s going on?!” Carolyn says as I pass her. “Holy shit!” It only took a few more steps for her to answer her own question, but by that time I was in the bedroom closet. Safe and sound.
The next day, I’m in the closet once again, sulking. Hearing Carolyn recount my tale of terror with the pitbull to Kevin when he got home from work the night prior, I came off as a real “scaredy cat.” In all likelihood, it irrevocably damaged my case for outside access. Hey, maybe being a frumpy housecat isn’t so bad. It happens to us all at some point sooner or later, right? It’s inevitable. But my time was cut down so soon. I just hope they let me keep my claws. Ugh. If only I could go back to the days of Barney and Kevin, “bachelors at large.” Now, we’re a stupid “family,” as they call it.
“Barney,” Carolyn says, opening the closet door. “Come out here I want to show you something.”
Fuck it. What else am I doing? I slither out of the closet and sit next to her on the bed. She has a plastic bag with her.
“Clearly, you really want to go outside. But this place is not like Kevin’s old place. It’s not safe for you. As evidenced yesterday.”
She had to get that dig in there.
“Lucky for you, I solved the problem and you’ll be back in the fresh air in no time.” Finally, she’s making some sense! She can redeem herself for EVERYTHING right now if she comes through here. She reaches in the bag and pulls out a some type of leather rope. “It’s a leash!”
I stand there for a moment in disbelief. This woman… wants to walk me.
I lower my head onto my paws.
Carolyn, you really are THE FUCKING WORST.
David E.J. Berger is a television producer living in Los Angeles for such shows as CNN’s “United Shades of America,” Fuse’s “Fluffy Breaks Even,” and Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue.” He has been previously published in Section 8 magazine, Fiction on the Web, Dime Show Review, and Hapax. His Twitter is @carljunior.