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General Whisker Paws
cat on roof

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.

One sip should be enough. One long sip should fill the burning hole in my stomach. But then after the first sip the hole gets bigger and burns harder. I need another.

Pretty soon the beer is a joke, like trying to put out a brush fire with the leftover ice in a glass. I need something stronger. An emergency bottle.

The burning is almost gone but I can't see straight. I trade one for the other. The door is knocking. Or someone is knocking on the door. She is blurry but I know this is the reporter. I'm speaking but what am I saying? She has traveled 200 miles and Alyssa isn't even home.

This morning Alyssa packed. She was glowing. She is a star in my black blanket, she burns right through. She says it is only for one night. She says things like this often. It is only one night, it was only one time, it is only two hundred dollars. The emphasis on only makes it hard to argue. Only. If only. I don't feel guilty.

Alyssa is leaving to be reunited with General Whiskers Paws, the cat I got for her birthday. The cat who climbs to the highest shelf to launch an airstrike on my head every morning. The cat who tore up the sleeve of my leather jacket, the cat who pushes me off my pillow with tiny scratches, the cat who has always somehow known I would prefer a dog.

I was not allowed to call the cat the cat. It is General Whisker Paws or nothing. I was not allowed to reprimand the cat, make the cat feel unwanted, unloved. I was not to be upset when she greeted the cat first. Most importantly, I was not to stop looking for the cat after it went missing.

After six months I stopped looking and created the adventures of General Whisker Paws. I imagined he made it through the spring months of Chicago by eating leftovers from expensive restaurants. He contemplated coming home but the freedom was addictive. The rumors of other towns, other smells and other open air breezes kept him moving. When the weather got warmer he headed north to the lakes around Michigan where he ate interesting fish and camped with new friends. Maybe a trip south would come in the winter. Maybe the coasts had something to offer.

I underestimated the cat. The details of his march east will always be cloudy but the call came six months later. He had made it seven hundred miles to Brooklyn. From what we've been told he either trotted along and avoided speeding cars and predators or someone picked him up along the way and ignored his collar. He was found outside of a studio where ten dollars buys you three beers and the opportunity to sketch a nude model. Art supplies not included.

Alyssa would need to fly there. She couldn't take any chances. The local news was elated. The national news was running out of news. "The Today Show" had questions. A reporter would be here soon.

A reporter is here now. I am telling her how the moon is thick and I miss the way the weight of a pay phone felt in my hand, against my ear – the way the buttons felt when you pushed them in, cold and warm and full of texture. I miss Alyssa and I'm sorry she isn't here. I'm sorry I let the cat out but it was only so he could be free.