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Clarence

Connor Ferguson

My cat eats souls. He spends all day out of the house, and when he comes back he leaves these opalescent turds that smell like chilies in the litter box. I don’t think these are the souls themselves, just what’s left of them after they’ve passed through Clarence.

Once, he puked something up on the carpet that looked like a face, but it kept shimmering in and out of focus until I scooped it up with a paper towel.

I’m not sure why I have this cat, or how I got him. He sort of came with the apartment, but it’s not as if he was just waiting in the empty living room when I moved in. He was just around for some reason, and then suddenly I found myself buying cat food and kitty litter and little mice stuffed with catnip. Cats have a tendency to do that to you, even the dullest and least psychopompous ones. They enslave you with their presence, never asking for anything overtly, just compelling you by sitting there. I started calling him Clarence because what a ridiculous name for a cat.

I followed Clarence one day, trying to keep a stealthy distance so he wouldn’t notice me. He walked around the neighborhood for hours, sniffing at sprays of weeds growing through the sidewalk, staring up into trees long after birds had flown off. I suspected he knew I was following him but he didn’t want to let on, and so he continued leading me around town, pantomiming ordinary cat activities.

Then he turned down an alley, where there was a homeless guy passed out against a fence. I stood at the mouth of the alley and watched Clarence approach the drunk with purpose and nimbly prance up his stomach. Clarence brought his face very close to the man’s stained beard. The cat’s body writhed and contracted like a worm. After a minute or so, he hopped off the drunk’s chest and slid through a tiny hole in the bottom of the fence. Up close, the guy was blatantly dead.

All cats like to pretend like they know something you don’t. Every time I look at Clarence, he seems to alternate between total indifference toward what he’s doing—as if it’s all just instinct—and a sagelike awareness of his metaphysical significance. I try to remind myself there’s a brain the size of a child’s fist behind those eyes.

Clarence’s turds are indestructible, or nearly so. They are surprisingly heavy and will crack ceramic tile if dropped. Even fresh out of him they are ice cold, almost painful to touch.

I don’t think Clarence kills people. I think they are already dead when he gets to them. I followed him once to a brownstone on the other side of town. There was an old black woman sitting on the stoop smoking, her eyes so swollen it seemed unlikely she could see. But she turned as Clarence swept silently past her into the building, regarding him as you might someone who has just told a rude but still funny joke. She turned back to me and released a cloud of smoke that hung impossibly like a dare. Clarence came back out quickly, and that was the first and only time I’ve seen a cat do a double take. He froze on the bottom step when he saw me, then just as suddenly trotted off down the street. A moment later, a coroner’s van arrived, and from down the block I watched the two men negotiate a body bag-laden gurney down the stairs around the old woman, who still sat there puffing away.

If the dense, pearly turds are just the remains of the soul, then what happens to the rest? He must absorb it somehow, and then he passes the waste. But how can there be waste in the soul? Is there some kind of filler, or a solution into which the actual soul itself is dissolved? If what Clarence absorbs is the stripped-down remains, does that make it the soul of the soul? How can that be? Is there a soul of the soul of the soul, like little Russian dolls or turtles all the way down? And what exactly is happening to my cat by absorbing souls? He eats regular food, too, and turns that into run-of-the-mill cat shit. What does he do with the soul of the soul?

I’ve started shutting my bedroom door at night. I might be imagining things, but Clarence seems to watch me with something like an existential hunger. He sits there lobbing the tip of his tail back and forth like a gasping fish. I don’t like the idea of him watching me while I sleep. Once I brought a woman home, and while she was rocking on top of me, I saw Clarence standing by the door watching us. If he had eyebrows, one would have been raised. After she left, I didn’t see Clarence all night. The woman didn’t return any of my calls.

I’m thinking about placing an ad for someone to come take Clarence away. Something nice and genuine-sounding about it breaking my heart that my situation keeps me from giving him the home he deserves right now. But I always stop myself, because I feel like regularly consuming the life force of strangers is the sort of quirk that should be disclosed in an ad. I’m also afraid he’d know I’m trying to get rid of him. Whenever I get serious about typing up some kind of ad, he somehow materializes wearing a look that is equal parts disappointment and warning. It’s not that I’m afraid of Clarence, just that I wonder if I’m really in charge here, if he isn’t the one who’s actually running things in our apartment. Then again, that might be better than the alternative.

 
 
 


Connor Ferguson’s writing has appeared in Hobart, The Rumpus, Gargoyle Magazine, Electric Literature, BULL, and other publications. He lives in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @csferguson.