nudging the bedroom door open, flash of yellow eyes followed by head droop, meow, why aren’t you petting me? On your lap as you stare down winter gloom settling in, a yearly insult, an endless fog-snow-ice machine, another battle royal coming. Truly nosing under your palm, bat ears between your fingers like the African violet that moved out with everything you loved.

on the table in the morning, jumping down to escort you to his overturned bowl. Truly scampering when you rattle the sleeping pills, treats always rattling, his and yours. Against your thighs as you kneel at the toilet with fingers down your throat, six-pound ripple of muscle saying I’m still here! I’m still here!

black-and-white blur down the hall at full gallop, pouncing from behind the ratty couch you’ve had since your last bachelorhood, tagging your knee with both paws (you’re it!), getaway claws tearing through the carpet. Truly knocking bottlecaps, earrings, and peanuts around the half-emptied house, under the couch, the fridge, into dust bunny piles. Sniffing your pissed jeans after another bender.

at four a.m. yowling for tap water, saying you’re alive! We’re alive! Truly at your feet as you hang the belt from the chin-up bar, snow piling silently in the street, Truly leaping, pawing and climbing, scratching and biting the leather, hanging by fangs and claws until you take it down, put it away.

purring through the worst movies, the ones your ex-friends won’t shut up about online. Asleep in perfect kitty-coil, or swiping at your bald spot from atop the fridge. Truly spilling takeout drinks, extracting the straws and proudly carrying them like wrestled pythons.

Truly screams open the window! and once you do, it’s spring again, the pall lifted, trees budding, chemtrails laddering the sky, battles raging elsewhere in a world forever tilted toward darkness. Truly pleased in the open window, warm wind making you sneeze. Truly in sphinx pose, triumphant.

Max Hipp’s work has appeared most recently SmokeLong Quarterly, Lost Balloon, and 7×7. He is a teacher, writer, and musician.