*Muses Note – This week we’re featuring one of our guest writers, J.M. Whitty. She’s a British-Canadian living in Switzerland, who writes post-apocalyptic and speculative fiction.*
The door opened and a rushing figure wrapped in a flurry of silk scarves marched across the room and plopped herself down next to her friend. A small colourful bird fluttered around her head, chirping and twittering as if to announce its arrival to the café patrons. Small dogs and other animals took notice of the bird and the lady, lifting their heads to have a sniff and check that everything was A-Okay. The people took no notice, as most polite people would do. Instead, they continued their business as normal. Some were reading their phones and tablets, some were chatting, and some were just thinking with their hands wrapped around mugs of hot coffee. A man was intensely typing on his laptop, with a large overbearing German Shepherd peering over his shoulder. He stopped and looked back at the dog as if he was checking it approved his work. It had no quarrel, so he continued writing at breakneck speed.
“Tell me everything,” said the lady with the bird as she began to peel off the layers and layers of delicate fabrics. The bird settled on the table and sniffed around, looking for cake crumbs. From below the table, something grumbled and stretched, shifting the colourful tablecloth ever so slightly.
The other woman sighed. “Louise, you have no idea.” She reached under the table and gave the creature a gentle stroke. It gave a sigh and a bit of a snore and seemed to settle back into a nap.
“That bad, eh?” She waved her hand to the barista and ordered a Chai Latte by yelling it across the room. The other patrons lifted their eyes slightly to subtly object to the disruption. Louise looked down at her friend and asked, “Do you want anything?”
“Not at the moment. I might drown my sorrows in a slice of cheesecake in a bit.” She sipped her coffee and Louise settled herself into her seat.
“I miss caffeine. So much. I would literally trade anything for a coffee right now. Did you know they added like twenty new foods to the already endless list of ‘things pregnant women can’t eat’? I had to Google ‘what can pregnant women order at a café’ like twenty times. Chai didn’t come up. So it’s probably fine.”
Dana laughed. “Yeah for today!” The barista brought the latte to the table as they erupted in the kind of laughter that only occurs in friends that have been friends for more time than they know. A bit reluctant to interrupt, he thrust his arm between them and practically dropped the drink in the centre of the table before hurrying away, clearly annoyed. This made the women laugh even more and drew the gazes of the other patrons who looked on disapprovingly from their various electric devices and obviously very important conversations.
“Seriously though, was your date really that bad?” Louise asked, stirring her latte.
“Yes. It was a disaster. As you know, I always try to be the second one there in case I need to bolt if he looks like a serial killer or something, so when I got there I scanned the room for the guy and didn’t see anyone even closely resembling his photos. Plus I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to spot a guy with a lynx, so I thought maybe I’d been stood up. It’s hard enough to find a someone with a Companion that is compatible with another large cat, but this was really the last straw.”
Louise leaned in. “And … what happened?”
“Well, I made the slightly stupid decision to walk through the bar because, you know, he could be in the back, and then a weird little dude with a very large, fuzzy house cat waved his arm and yelled my name.”
“A house cat? What?”
“Yep, a house cat.” She paused for a moment. “Turns out, he’s been living his entire life up to the age of thirty-three thinking the overgrown mongrel cat he has is a lynx. Then he was royally offended when I suggested otherwise.”
“Seriously? How did he not know?”
“I have no idea, and after this encounter, I really didn’t want to stick around to find out. What a weirdo.”
“No kidding. That’s messed up. What kind of cat was it?”
“It might have been a mix with a Maine Coon or something. I mean it was large and had the ear tufts and points, but it was clearly a cat. I just wonder who lied to him about it and kept up the ruse all these years. He must have a really special family.”
“Wow. Am I ever glad I don’t have to date anymore. I got lucky with my partner but my Companion isn’t so difficult to match.” The little bird perked up at the mention of it and then continued its search for nibbles. “Have you had any promising other suitors?”
“Ha, no. Want to see the app? You can get a feel for what it’s like.”
“Oh yes!” Dana pulled out her phone and handed it to Louise. She opened the app to the first profile.
Louise checked out the photos. “He’s cute. Companion too.” She scanned it and then started reading parts of it aloud. “Mid-thirties adventurous guy seeks companion-in-crime. Companion-in-crime?”
“Literally every second profile has that. It’s like these guys think they’re clever and unique by writing these overly recycled phrases. Even if they’re cute and otherwise sound great, that phrase makes me crazy. I swipe to the next one and there it is again! A girl just can’t win.”
Louise sipped her Chai and pondered for a moment.
Dana continued. “I mean, I’d overlook it if they had the right kind of Companion and sounded at least a little bit interesting apart from that stupid phrase. I stopped caring what they look like,” Dana said as she tipped the dregs of her coffee into her mouth.
“Big mistake. You need to find them attractive at the very least.” Louise flipped through a few more profiles. “You’re right. Companion-in-crime is everywhere.” She continued to search through the profiles, sending a few ‘winks’ here and there to some men she thought Dana would like. She looked up. “Hey, can you search by Companion?”
“Yes, actually, it’s not something I do often cause I think it makes for a lot of possible bias, but I’m certain guys find me that way. I get a lot of messages from creeps that have a fetish for wild cats. But it is pretty easy to spot those types.”
“Ew, that’s disgusting. Like what do they expect?”
“I don’t want to know.”
“But I do”. She started poking around the phone and Dana figured out rather quickly that Louise was about to do some NSFW googling.
“Hey! Give me that!” She grabbed the phone and cradled it close to her. “That is my work phone and you’re about to defile it!”
“I was just curious!”
“Yeah too much. I don’t need to know how weird these weirdoes actually are.”
“Well if you think that’s weird, wait till you see the latest book a lady in my Lamaze class gave me. It’s a real winner.” Louise reached into her purse and pulled out a copy of ‘Tiger Child: Crafting Your Child to Have the Companion for Success’. It had a baby in full tiger-stripe body paint on the cover.
Dana took the book in her hands and turned it over. She started to read the back.
Don’t settle for less than the perfect child and the perfect future. After 30 years of careful study, our researchers at the Ideal Companion Institute have found that the world’s most successful people are 85% likely to have a large wild cat as a Companion. Follow our 10-step program to unleash your child’s companion potential. We have narrowed the process down to nurturing five specific character traits to GUARANTEE your child will develop the ideal personality and achieve the SUCCESS of a WILDCAT.
Dana stopped reading there. “Is this for real?”
“Oh yeah. It’s all the rage. The moms in the class are reading it like crazy and they’re totally obsessed. It’s literally the only thing they talk about. Alice gave it to me ‘cause I was the only one who hadn’t read it.”
“And have you?”
Louise erupted in a hearty laugh. It startled the little bird. “No. I did flip through it but it was so ridiculous I couldn’t even make myself pretend to take it seriously.” She reached down and gently stroked the creature’s tiny head. It closed its eyes in enjoyment.
Dana flipped through some of the chapters. “There are a lot of charts and Venn-diagrams in here. And there are more quotes in bold than text on most pages.”
“Oh yes. It’s a real work of academic prowess.” They laughed in unison and ignored the few side-glances thrown their way. The barista’s cat walked across the counter to be closer to the two women and sat tall with its tail neatly tucked around its feet. It watched the little bird carefully.
Louise looked at the cat. “Hey. Do you think the parents of that guy with the fake lynx might have tried this method?”
Dana snickered. “If they did, maybe it’s an indication of how effective the method is.”
“Just rename the whole thing: ‘How to Raise A Weirdo’.”
“I don’t think people need books for that.” Dana stretched and a whiskery face peered out from under the table. She looked down at her Companion lynx and said, “I know, it’s time for cheesecake.”
Louise looked around. “Let’s get out of here.” She raised her voice slightly, “the cheesecake is better at the place on the corner, anyway.”
The barista and his cat turned their heads towards the women at the same time with nearly identical unimpressed expressions.
Dana grabbed her things and helped Louise with her layers. She left some money on the table for their drinks. As she walked past the cat, she left their tip at its feet, “that’s for you, tiger,” and they headed out the door in a fit of laughter.
About J.M. Whitty
Jenny is a British-Canadian currently making Switzerland her home. She’s written many stories for herself, but didn’t really consider making them public until she was invited to contribute to Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand. She’s a big-picture thinker (who hopes that comes across in her work), and she looks forward to refining her style. The authors that top her favourites list are Margaret Atwood and Joe Simpson. In her daily life, she is always searching for the best cup of coffee and can often be found lingering in cafés, knitting or scribbling in pocket-sized notebooks. You can also find her on Twitter @ladywhitty