THIRTY-NINE, 2.0

With the blinds half-open this time of day, the sun offered a hint of happiness to Chester while he wagged his tail in anticipation. He was happy to have a warm home in which to live, but wished, during every minute of loneliness, he could experience the world as it appeared to be.

Twice a day he would stand by the door as his owner, the human called “Gene”, left home and then returned home. At those times, Chester breathed an air filled with scents that twisted his imagination to wondrous places. There were hints of flowery magnificence that offered him images of open country and green pastures. There were the offensive olfactory invasions that only showed him a howling beast with large teeth, seething to chomp at his hindquarters.

Occasionally a waft of another cat would find its way through the door, and Chester would end up running from end-to-end of the apartment, excited with no explanation. He both loved and hated when that smell came through the door. On the one hand, he imagined a beautiful feline with fur sleek and clean, and a wink and a smile to greet him. On the other hand, if he didn’t see this feline within seconds his mind would race wild with jealousy and inexplicable frustration.

Still, the sound of the door opening in the morning, more than anything else, scared him because who knew if Gene would return? Not as though Gene stayed away forever, he always came home. But Chester had a nagging suspicion that, one day, he’d be left on his own without food, without water, and without the possibility of those glorious scents.

And why? For what? What was so special about “the Outside” for Gene to decide to up and leave every single day?

Chester made it his mission to find out, so he watched Gene come home, night after night, and enter the apartment. And shut the door behind him. And always leave the keys in the lock.

Chester knew the routine, the sound of the jingling keys that lay at Gene’s waist, the smell of the dirty engine as Gene drove past the bedroom window. He knew that Gene carried bags of groceries twice a week. He knew that every other Wednesday their neighbor, a nice old lady with long white hair, would greet Gene just before he could shut the door, and commence to tease Chester through the screen door, pretending to BOOP his nose. Chester didn’t like the smell of this woman, and her nails were too long, and she owned too many small dogs.

But he knew he could sweeten her up with just a quick trick of his eyes, brightening his gaze enough to seduce her to being on his side. He knew he could to the same with Gene, though it was easier to fool the man by running around the apartment and “accidentally” spilling water long enough to distract him.

So, that’s what he did.

Chester smelled the engine as it drove by on Wednesday evening. He waited by the window to watch as Gene walked up the stairs. Heard the jingling keys. The door sprung open and in wafted the scent of the neighboring feline as well as a hot spicy plate of food, spicy enough to keep Gene awake for hours that night.

Chester ignored the smells, taking a deep breath of his own snacks before BOLTING around the apartment. He swiped under Gene’s feet twice, then ran to his water bowl — knocking it over — then to the bathroom and barely able to grab the floor as he dashed straight for the front door. Gene’s face had a look of bewildered delight as Chester jumped into the air, through Gene’s arms and into the screen.

The screen tore from the seams and Chester found himself outside, Gene’s cry of fear fading already. The balcony was long, and Chester dashed as far as he could, never having run this far or this hard all at once.

He took a look to the window at his left, and there she was: A grey tabby, eyes wide, ears pulled back, fur sleek and pushed down.

She raised a paw to her own window, and Chester raised his in return. Footsteps approached, and Chester was hoisted in the air by a laughing Gene.

He stared back at her until his view was hidden by the door Gene slammed shut, and from then on every scent that tickled Chester’s nostrils whispered the vision of the cat next door.

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