Harmon began by hugging his wife. And, ducking swipe of her claws.
“You know, that whole cat-woman movie was a lie. This is not fun. At all.” He then turned over each of her hands.
“But at least it’s soft fur. I’d make a great coat…” Carmen cried less. It was a start.
“So are we finally going to talk? I burned your clothes because–alright, I was being destructive and insane. But you went ahead with this open marriage thing without me. I wanted to think about it… no, I wanted to argue some more, but what am I supposed to do when you are already sleeping with someone else? We can’t have a discussion about that. Carmen, it was painful enough to learn that you were cheating, and it was worse when I saw how you tried to force the situation, to manipulate me.”
“Lo sé. Lo siento.”
“You could never be sorry enough. This has been killing me.” Harmon held tight but then abandoned her again. This time, he stayed near the bed. “Is all this bull-crap because I’m white?”
“Dios mío is not an answer. Flavio, that’s not a white guy? I’m assuming…” he let her fill in. Carmen cursed herself, she found she couldn’t lie again, and it would have been so easy here. “So then, all that I thought we had in common, the difference between us that I found thrilling, it’s a lie.”
“It’s not because Flavio’s familia es de México. It’s not that.” she sniffed and showed a sharp tooth when her lip curled. “Mira, it’s because we had to move down here all of a sudden and I thought I knew why but you wouldn’t come clean with me. So my head’s been full of sueños y pesadillas, cuál es el mejor cuando estoy viviendo contigo? No lo sé… It is not a good thing, ever, to fear your own husband. When I saw the gun you packed away, I was scared. When I saw you passing money to Sparks all those times, I was horrified–”
“You always knew about that? Oh God. Carmen, if you need the truth, then there’s something else. I can’t… I lost my job.”
“Is that your big secret, after all these, las tonterías? That is no excuse! You are no excuse of a man.”
“Hold it. You cheated on me. A married woman, run off to Miami for some freaking Spring Break thing, with the neighbor.”
“Whom you kissed.”
“Jesus, Carmen, you act like you’re still seventeen, sometimes!”
“It’s because Flavio looked like my Juan, there, lo he dicho.”
“De verdad? Really? So, you broke up our marriage because you wanted to sleep with a soap star.”
“Well you brandish guns in people’s faces.”
“I did it for you, so we’d have security, so you’d be happy!”
“Well I did mine because that stupid acting gig, as Cinderella, did not work out. It was depressing, the day I learned there is no such thing as a fairy tale princess. I just wanted to share my happiness with all those little girls, but I think I hurt them.”
“Wow, is that what made our lives fall apart? Yeah, you probably did scare them, acting like that.”
Harmon did not cross his arms forever, though. They sat together, he ordered room service in order to feel in control.
“Carmen, you shouldn’t beat yourself up, over the acting thing, I guess. It’s not like it was a real job… But if it were, I mean, if you think about it, you were taking it more seriously than anyone else could have, on that day.”
Half a smile from her.
“It’s sort of sweet that you felt it could be real. That’s just like you, to get caught up.” he bounced a slot token in one hand, “I don’t know about you, but I still believe in that happily ever after junk.”
“A lot of our LA friends used to get on me pretty bad, for saying that you swept me off of my feet. Remember? Men aren’t supposed to say that, apparently. I didn’t know.”
Afterward, they could eat together, at the least.
There was either too much talking to be done, or no amount of conversation could really resolve the Davises’ deep hurt. That same evening, Harmon and Carmen watched a movie, but then awakened to a hungry morning without coffee or real freedom from their problems. Retreating back downstairs for more gambling was not an option for Harmon. At present, that their meals could be put toward the room bill was helping. And, yes, he did also recall creepy, flamingo-church-lady.
It also occurred to Harmon that the old woman had changed on her own. He certainly didn’t bite her, like Buster (yeck, what had he been on?) or Carmen. Nor did the old woman didn’t look injured in any way, when they were sitting so close. There was a chance that her husband was some werewolf, like he often felt this past month… then, that Harmon could have ever imagined himself something like that–even while drunk, seemed truly silly. Somehow, worse than his wife acting like a crazed animal and then becoming one. What Carmen was going through was not some curse. Harmon decided it was how people really could get, what they really were beneath their skins when they lost their tempers or indulged pain for too long. Under the wrong kinds of pressure, a seemingly decent guy could become a murderer, a monster. Harmon felt himself so close to that more than a few times, behind the trigger. What if he’d finally pulled it on Bill, before leaving Orlando?
The state was too big to drive out of fast, in any direction from where Bill lived. Harmon would have dashed off into the swamps, maybe, laid low until he could sneak away. That wasn’t unlike going feral. It was not so different from Carmen wanting the star-struck life so badly that she came to Vegas only to sit up nights and swat cramped fingers against the window at so many pretty lights. Night after night. She knew there was cold, air-conditioned glass between what she wanted to chase out in the intense desert-heat of real, pulsating life, and the civilized creature she’d learned to become over a lifetime. But, even if she was a real woman, that didn’t matter. Carmen was depressed, terrified and tired of her human life filled with trials and decisions, constantly toughening up to take a little bit more. She desperately wanted to be a cat. Eat, sleep, forget and play. Only Carmen could decide for herself, in the end, whether to give up.
Harmon was afraid to open his mouth and say anything else that might tempt her. One such day, he lay next to his wife on the bed and folded hands over his full stomach. The one thing he felt proud of, that through credit or stolen money, or a tab–whatever, he could still feed and house both of them.
Carmen finished licking woman-sized paws to wash her face, twitched back an ear pensively, then announced to her husband that she was going to call Binny.
Harmon hastened to do the part that involved people-fingers. She insisted on at least attempting to hold the phone herself, after he dialed.
The girlfriends were pleasant, at first. Many women can be. Pacing across one another’s paths, trying on compliments, sharing pleasantries, and then those escalate into racing competitive, better life experiences…
“Why didn’t you tell me you were PREGNANT!” Carmen ended up screaming through the phone at Binny. “No me confías? Porqué no? Porqué! Soy la amiga más importante y delgada que tienes. No puedo creer que estas tratándome tan peor! De verdad! Quieres que permanecer tan gorda pasa toda la vida? Binny! Alo… Alo?”
Harmon got a little confidence from mini-bar vodka. “Nice try but, I think that… calling her fat for the millionth time pretty much cinched it.”
“You shut the hell up.” Carmen couldn’t even slam down the phone with no thumb or fingers. “It’s over. She’s won. I won’t ever have a baby. I told myself that I was tired of waiting for you be right again, or I wasn’t my perfect size yet. No, I was just being selfish. I lied to you, when we could have talked.” Then, Carmen stopped itching herself. The fur on her back began to recede. Harmon saw because he lay there, massaging what was left of her warm skin. “But if we ever get out of Vegas, we can’t go back to our home… and nunca más a Los Angeles. There’s no place else for us in this stupid country where we can live. The real reason why Binny left is because she hates us. She didn’t want to live anywhere near me, and no one else ever will. I’m such a bitch.” Her cynicism grayed over, again, just beneath Harmon’s fingertips.
Somehow, Harmon was not relieved to hear his wife say it. Now, the way they were, she was degrading herself. He tried to stay calm, through a surge of protective anger. “Hey, you can’t measure yourself like that, querida. Binny is… well, she’s just an average woman on the outside, just like you. And the inside is also hurt. Give your friend time. Or else, maybe we’ll go and make some tougher friends. Or, nicer ones… I dunno.”
Precious quiet. Her ears pointed. Carmen was thinking. But then, she screamed out of it–whatever self reflection now felt like to her. It ended in a feline yowling that infuriated her even more, to hear. She awkwardly fished her purse strap around her arm and headed for the door.
Harmon got there first, put arms around his wife’s waist and hugged her tight. “You can’t. People will see you, Carmencita. It isn’t safe.”
“But I want to go out. We’re in Vegas, I can’t take it anymore.” she meowed again and then another sour time. “Do you know how this feels? It burns, a woman’s got to trust her instinct. I can’t take it, the walls are pressing in, no puede respirar, tengo miedo, por favor, ayúdame. Por favor, no me molestes. No quiero ser contigo ninguno mas. No más. No puedo…” Carmen sank to the floor, and Harmon went with her. She shuddered and cried.
In two more days, Carmen could do nothing for herself but mourn. She had no hands to even bathe. Harmon did all those things for her. He even had to put her meals on the floor. She turned up her nose at him, really despised him after the first time, when he left napkins and utensils by the plate, out of habit, and she couldn’t use them. Finally, Carmen had trained Harmon to offer her dinner when he was exhausted with waiting, watching TV or done raging, and ready to hide under the covers and sleep it off. All so that she could eat when he couldn’t see her.
As her confidence waned, so did Carmen’s size. One day, she was as small as a housecat. Harmon was lucky when she came out of her hiding places, desperate for attention and sat near him on the couch so that he could pet her. Otherwise, it felt like he was holed up in the hotel room by himself, for no reason at all. Then, the casino and resort decided to be especially charming. Someone knocked hard on their door at five-o’clock in the morning, and slipped their bill under the door.
It was necessary to leave the room and go settle it, or else risk them sending special guard upstairs. Harmon had seen the real thing, once, tough guys wearing shades and crew cuts, re-fastening their black ties after tossing some drunken brawler directly onto the sidewalk. Worse than in the movies. Because, casinos could make their own rules. Spend your money and they love you. Waste their time or resources and there are several painful reminders ready, that casinos generate a great deal of a city’s revenue, which pays the police force, and so on… to Harmon, it felt near to the wrath of some angry god.
You made it all the way to Vegas, so you should know better. Especially, if you’d passed through Los Angeles and Orlando first.
Harmon locked the door when he went to go talk to rhinoceros bouncers, he supposed. But later, when he came back, all of their things, and Carmen, was gone. The room had been cleaned and worse.
When he returned to what they called Guest Services, a kindly offer was made to take prompt legal action against him, for still not having the money. Harmon sprinted. He decided, in a panic, that a casino with a regular supply of healthy lions did not need a tiny house cat. He hailed a cab as fast as he could manage outside, then ordered the driver to circle the block.
At night time, with so many loud people out on the strip and awful traffic, a little gray Carmen would be hard to find. Their fifth time passing an alleyway the cabby refused to turn into, and a shock of gray that was not rat-sized propelled Harmon from the car and into the shadows. Shadow against shadow, which was his wife?
He called Carmen’s name many times. He pleaded with her in his gringo Spanish. When they first met, she replied in a foul stream of English so unhealthy he became addicted, fast, and couldn’t be forced to leave her side. Now, she wasn’t even angry enough at him to fight anymore.
Or, had it been some wayward rat all along? How far could a cat get beyond a casino in the heat with so much terrible energy about? Harmon didn’t know. Harmon swiped arm across his eyes, like a boy, and realized he was not looking for anyone or anything real anymore at all.
The fountain show at the Bellaggio began. There was no way in hell he was going to stay and see it. The damned earth might as well have been spewing flame. And then, the cab driver, now headed to the airport, took them by the Mirage and that is exactly what Harmon saw.