It’s not just the feral cats, but they aren’t helping

1.

Sprawled on his bed, Ben resembles an unpacked tent waiting to be assembled. His roommate is somewhere in their apartment talking about a leaking pipe. Eric speaks loudly, dramatically, the way Ben might if a raging forest fire was hurtling towards him, perhaps. Eric’s voice grows louder. He senses Eric is standing in the doorway to his room but it’s impossible to tell from his supine position. Ben turns his neck slowly, very slowly, until he’s locking eyes with Eric who’s studying him strangely.

“I could just step further into your room if that’s more comfortable for you?”

“Sure.”

Eric’s wearing a bright blue turtleneck. It makes him look like a missing member of Wham!

“So we should text the landlord,” Eric says, his eyes dipping unashamedly to the cell phone resting in Ben’s hand.

“I can,” Ben offers, somewhat resentfully.

“Thanks.”

Eric doesn’t move for a while. Ben misses his earlier seclusion. He feels like a tonsil robbed of its privacy because the front tooth’s been knocked out. After Eric leaves he spends an unjustifiably long time imagining his life as a tonsil.

2.

On his way to Abby’s he makes a list of her negative qualities:

1.    Her name’s not an abbreviation. It should be short for Abigail.
2.    Her jingly-jangly jewelry.
3.    Her obvious crush on Eric.
4.    The feral cat situation.

Abby lives in a studio in Bed-Stuy. Her latest hobby is taming feral cats. She read about it online. Each week she cages a new one. The situation reminds Ben of a very bad, slightly addictive game show, except the contestants don’t clap or talk excitedly.

Gregory is on day two of the seven day program. He hisses and snarls. He paces back and forth.

“How many cats do you need to tame before your cause is complete?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hmm, it just feels very…”

“What?”

“Very Brooklyn.”

She begins tidying her room. Her necklace and bracelet jangle noisily. If we break up I will never miss that noise, Ben thinks to himself.

He senses she’s losing interest in him too, like a comedian who knows he’s one bad joke away from a heckling audience. Meanwhile Gregory watches him. They lock eyes and Gregory hisses unequivocally.

“You seem tense,” Abby says.

“I am. Can we make a list of our top four fears please?”

“Sure.”

Ben:

1.    Incurable illnesses, including STDs, cancer, heart failure, etc.
2.    Growing old and infirm, but also premature death.
3.    Feeling revulsion/detachment/ambivalence towards future offspring.
4.    Being killed by a wild animal seeking revenge for not respecting its constitutional right to freedom.

Abby:

1.    Confined spaces.
2.    Waxwork figures.
3.    Failure.
4.    Driving.

He’s transfixed by #2.

“Does that mean you don’t like mannequins either?”

She shrugs.

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know why you didn’t tell me this sooner.”

“You make it sound like herpes.”

3.

Eric has found a girlfriend. Her name is Monica. Eric overhears Ben telling Abby this and grows annoyed.

“No-one “finds” a girlfriend. They “meet” a girl and she “becomes” their girlfriend. You make it sound like I stumbled across her in a yard sale.”

Stumbling across someone in a yard sale is sort of preferable to meeting them online, Ben wants to say.

4.

They’re on a double date. Monica’s talking about her favorite book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

“That’s the kind of book you talk about in a job interview but it’s not actually your favorite,” Abby says. She’s on her third glass of red and getting confrontational. “I just feel like we should be talking about something more current.”

“Like what?”

Abby studies the ceiling as though she’s been contracted to plaster its peeling paintwork. Ben struggles to remember ever seeing reading material in her apartment.

Lean In,” she says eventually.

Ben knows she hasn’t read this.

“Oh I loved it too!”

“Shall we order?” Eric says.

Eric seems uncomfortable. He’s wearing a burgundy turtleneck.

“Do people ever say you look like Monica from Friends?” Abby asks from behind a laminated menu.

“Occasionally.”

“Identical and you have the same name. Weird, huh?”

“Wasn’t she everyone’s least favorite character though?”

Abby stares at the ceiling again.

“I wasn’t mad about Joey, personally,” Ben hears himself say.

5.

It’s Friday evening and Ben’s leaving work. His office is in Times Square. It’s heaving, overwhelming. There’s too much neon. The streets are frenetic. He passes throngs of tourists clutching oversized maps, navigating their way towards Wicked and Kinky Boots. He wonders if this is the problem. If he enjoyed musicals maybe he’d be happier?

He tries to imagine a better future. He attempts to block out the noise and people, the traffic and lights. He tries to grasp for something concrete, a gut instinct, a need or desire, and fails. Instead he ducks into Madame Tussauds. Abby’s fear has made him curious.

Ben stands in front of a life-size Whoopi Goldberg. She’s won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony, he learns.

Ever since Monica lent him The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he’s been prodding at his life: goals, relationships, finances, job.

“Computer programming ain’t where it’s at,” he informs Whoopi.

He wants to be inspired. He wants to experience more from life than a creeping malaise and a need to create lists.

Benjamin Franklin is up next. Of the Founding Fathers he’s the only signatory of all four documents that led to the founding of this country, Ben learns. The subliminal message from this excursion appears to be: What the hell have you achieved? And the answer is quite simple: Nothing yet.

But the possibilities are infinite. It’s unnerving. It’s delightful.

Nothing. Yet.

About Hannah Sloane

Hannah Sloane lives in New York and is originally from England. She has been published in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, fwriction, Monkeybicycle, SMITH Magazine, Housefire, and Hobo Pancakes. A complete list of her writing is on her website. She can also be found on Twitter.

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