Pancake by Mary Thompson

The man who is unable to love has left his girl again, vanished like a feral feline.

‘I hate the way that Pancake stares,’ he said before he left, complaining about how the cat would glare at him with unblinking eyes. He told her how animals did not feel in the same way that humans did, and how his family in Jamaica kept them outside in the yard, and how they were cool with that as they were just animals after all.

 ‘Isn’t it hot over there though?’ she said. ‘Cats can’t live outside in England. We just don’t have the weather for it.’

‘Hmm,’ he’d said as they lay there in silence, listening to the squally rain and wind. He felt the shuddering Victorian brickwork and held his girl tighter, and the cat just stared and stared, like an owl that had lost its wings. He didn’t want to tell her but sometimes in that liminal space before sleep, he imagined himself as a cat. At the end of a dark day, he’d be black; on a winter’s evening, fluffy white, and sometimes when there was a particularly spectacular sunset, he’d be marmalade-coloured, just like P.

The next morning he was on his way home from hers, and he felt the hair before he reached the end of the road – a short, sharp pain in his backside. He yelped as it pushed its way into his skin. Would it be stripey, he wondered. Black or ginger? He tore off his clothes when he reached his flat, dumped them in the laundry basket and ran for the shower. He rubbed his skin under the piping hot water and pulled at the hair, which was already immersing itself deep within his skin. This time he found two, only a millimetre long. He contoured his body to reach them and yanked them out with tweezers.

Once he’d tried to tell his girl.

‘I’m scared,’ he said.

But she just tittered and ruffled his hair. The same way she stroked P, he noted.

‘Why do you think there are so many cats in your street?’ he asked.

‘You have a wild imagination, babe,’ she said.

When he’d extracted the hairs, he’d observed his bottom in the mirror. There were two tiny holes where the hairs used to be. They were gone for now, but he knew they’d be back. Maybe he should just give into the inevitable, he’d thought.