Her husband is sitting at the kitchen table when the cat wanders in. It slinks around the edge of the room, an elegant eggshell white that perfectly matches the cabinetry. She looks at him and watches his eyes scan the animal over the top of the paper’s finance pages. He notices her watching him and his eyes flick to hers and his face softens into an easy smile.
A soft whoosh fills the morning air. She turns her attention back to the coffee machine and begins to swirl the glass jug around the steaming milk frother. Cappuccino, double shot, extra hot, plenty of froth.
“Busy day, Hunny?” she calls to him over the noise.
“Oh, the usual.”
She glances over her shoulder at him. He keeps his eyes on the paper. He wears a crisp dark suit and a furrowed brow full of concentration.
“You know.” Her voice is a tiptoe. “I’d hardly know what to say if someone asked me what you do.” She lets out a little ringing laugh, like breaking china.
“Hmm?” He looks up briefly, that easy smile. “Oh, it’s boring sweetheart.” His eyes return to his paper.
“Well…why don’t you try me?”
A few seconds pass. He licks his thumb then turns the page. She turns back to the machine.
Outside the window in front of her, two younger women bounce by. Matching outfits adhering to tight frames. She watches them. With each step they raise colorful little weights to their wagging chins.
“Oh,” he says. “We’re having Jack Leroy and his wife for dinner this Friday. Perhaps you can do that salmon dish.”
She clears her throat. “Sure. Sure Hunny.”
“But without that awful sauce you did last time.”
The milk stops frothing and the whooshing dies down and the silence in the kitchen teeters on a knife’s edge. She opens her mouth but then he says: “You could get your hair done for it. You know how great Jack’s wife always looks.”
She taps the glass jug on the bench top. Then she bangs it a few times. He looks up, uncurling the floppy top half of his paper with a quick flick.
Behind her she hears the cat’s claws clicking delicately on the polished tiles. A fluffy tail curls around one of her legs and she breaths in deeply, closing her eyes for a moment. She picks up a white mug and covers his swirling espresso shot in steaming foam.
The paper rustles as he folds the pages and puts them down. “The cat’s looking much better.”
Her back stiffens. She places the jug down. “Oh, really?” A sprinkle of cocoa. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“I have. A lot better.” His voice ascends an octave. “Aren’t you pretty kitty?”
She picks up the coffee and turns to see him raise his gaze from the cat up to her. Her legs, her waist, her chest, her face. His eyes wander lazily over her body. She pulls her shoulders back and walks over to the table.
“Thank you,” he says as she places the drink down. “It looks perfect.”
She sits down opposite him and arranges herself twice, first with legs folded one way, then the other, smoothing her white skirt down flat with hands of painted nails. She takes a piece of toast from the pile, places it on her plate and begins to butter it. He watches the silverware scrape back and forth. She puts the knife down slowly and he smiles as he raises the coffee cup to his mouth.
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you.” He takes a sip. “Now this is only a suggestion, but I think you’ve got the guest list for New Years all wrong.”
She watches him put the mug down and place a boiled egg on his plate. He cracks the top off with precision, digs the teaspoon into the white and golden flesh and wraps his mouth around it.
“I just think it’s important for you to understand,” he says thickly, waving the silver spoon in circles, “the way it works at these things. Your friends really didn’t fit in last year, did they?”
She holds her toast in her hand without taking a bite. He picks up his knife and begins to butter his own toast. The cat pads over and jumps onto an empty kitchen chair. She takes a deep breath and lets it out and says, “Well, my friends just didn’t know anyone here but this ye-”
“See?” He points his knife at the cat. “Haven’t you noticed? She looks so much nicer.”
She put her toast down and looks at the cat. A shaft of morning sun lights up its luxurious coat. It vibrates with a deep, oblivious purring. “Oh yes?”
He puts down the knife, takes a bite of toast and begins chewing. “I’ve had her on a meal plan, you know. Half her normal daily intake. I think half’s about right, don’t you? She was just getting too…big.” He turns back to the cat. “Too big for such a well-kept household, weren’t you kitty? So much prettier now, aren’t you?”
She looks down at her legs, smoothing her skirt again. “Do you…do you think it matters too much? I mean, if she’s healthy either way?”
He washes down his last mouthful with the rest of the coffee. “Well, she’s a kept kitty. I mean, she’d be out on the street without me. So it’s not really up to her, is it?”
He stands up, sighs and brushes the crumbs from his jacket. He picks up his empty plate, and her plate of freshly buttered toast, and takes them to the sink. Then he walks back to the table and gives her a polite peck on the cheek. “Have a good day sweetheart.”