My Husband's Cat
My Husband’s Cat
I hear him coming up the stairs, one slow step after the other. Bracing myself, I push back into the door, hoping he walks by and tries another door. The creak of a floorboard on the landing tells me he is close and I screw my eyes shut, counting calmly as I struggle to hold my breath.
My breath comes out as a sigh, filled with terror. The voice of my husband, Rick, is outside the door. Gripping the kitchen knife tightly, I crawl to the bed. My name is called again and I hold the knife out. The door handle turns and I spin round and dive under the bed. In the darkness, I can see two green eyes looking at me and I freeze. Our pet cat regards me suspiciously and I stare back. It stopped being a real cat when Rick had insisted we replace bits of it as it got older with robotic implants. First it had a new heart put in, then when each organ failed with old age we had more replaced. The brain was the final part to go and since then it ceased being a living thing in my eyes. Rick still loved it, his pet from when he was just a small boy. The cat’s artificial eyes were the only visible evidence of tampering.
But I knew it was wrong. Just like Rick.
The door creaks open and I see his booted feet come in and walk towards the bed. The cat gives out a low meow, and I wave the knife towards it. Rick is standing at the foot of the bed and any moment he will bend down and pull me out. I tense. The cat runs from under the bed and Rick picks it up.
“Hey, girl,” he whispers. The cat purrs contently. Not because it was happy, but because it was following a program its central processor initiated.
Holding the knife tightly, I wait, watching those boots until they move away, back towards the door and out. Tears of relief flow from my eyes as Rick wonders down the landing, calling out my name again. That was close. Part of me wants to run to him and hold him, but I remember the coldness in his manner since the accident.
The doctors told us how lucky we had been. The car was a wreck and I still remember with clarity that last moment when the impact came. When I came round, I kept asking about Rick, thinking he had died on me that day. In a way he had. After a few days of recovery, they finally let me see him.
“There was a lot of damage to the brain,” the doctor explained to me. “We had to replace part of it, but it looks like the implants are stable.”
When I saw Rick in bed, I ran to him, resting my head on his chest and crying with relief. Then he stroked my hair and I looked up into eyes that seemed as artificial as the cat’s. When he spoke, it sounded like him, but there was something different in his tone. “I love you, Amy,” he had said. That was when I first recoiled from him. His touch was cold and when he smiled, I wondered if it was programmed.
When we came home, we went through the motions of normality and I told myself we would get through this. I tested him constantly, asking about our first date, quizzing him over tiny details. He got everything right, but he spoke as though he was reading a list and not really remembering. Whatever they had replaced in his brain, it had destroyed the human part of him.
I roll out from my hiding place and creep towards the door that’s been left ajar. Nervously, I poke my head out and see the landing is clear. Seeing my chance, I carefully hurry to the stairs and take soft steps down. My name is called again, this time more urgently with a hint of anger. I get to the hall and rush to the door, pulling the handle. It’s locked. Of course it is.
“Amy, this is ridiculous!” Rick calls out. I can hear him banging around upstairs, slamming doors. The cat slinks down the stairs towards me and I run away, darting into the lounge, clutching the knife to my chest. Cornered, the cat stares at me.
“Go away!” I hiss.
But the cat blinks and silently questions my actions. What program is it following now? I move around the lounge, looking for a way out. The windows are locked and I can hear Rick coming back down the landing. As his heavy feet stomp downstairs, I hide behind the sofa and hope the cat will not betray me. On the wall is a picture of us on our wedding day. The man in that photo with his arm around me is Rick and I miss him so much. That Rick would have kept me safe and never harm me. But the man posing as Rick coming down the stairs was evil. They had said the implant was stable and all was well, but how could I love a man with a computer controlling part of his brain?
The real change had come a week ago when I found Rick going through my things. When I had challenged him and asked what he was doing, he turned on me and there was anger in his eyes. Rick had never struck me before, but in that moment I felt certain he was going to. In his hands was my diary and I went to grab it, but he pushed me back and began reading the pages.
“That’s private!” I had shouted, but his face was twisted into anger.
“I don’t know you anymore!” he shouted at me. “You’re not the woman I married.”
Then I saw tears in his eyes and I felt pity for him. The implant was changing him, making him something that wasn’t human, just like his damn cat. The doctors said a side effect would be paranoia. That day I had moved into the spare room and locked it behind me, shutting out Rick for good. When we saw each other around the house, we barely acknowledged each other. He would go to work each morning as though he was still normal, following routines that his artificial brain told him to.
Then I found out that he was locking me in. Since our accident, I had been reluctant to go outside. I run my hand over the jagged scar on my face that cuts down from my hairline to my jaw and I know that I am ugly. Perhaps Rick’s artificial brain is rejecting me because I no longer look like the woman in our wedding photo. But as Rick’s behaviour became increasingly paranoid I decided I was going to leave. I told him today I was leaving and he had reacted violently, pulling me away from the door. The cat had watched the struggle quietly until I smashed the bottle over Rick’s head. It gave a hiss and ran from the room. I followed, grabbing the knife and running upstairs.
I freeze as I realise Rick’s in the room. He pulls the sofa back and I slash out with the knife. There is a struggle and the knife if thrown from my hand. Rick grabs my arms and shakes me, shouting at me. But I am not listening as I recoil in panic. Then I am on my feet and running faster than I have ever done before. I make it to the door, but Rick pulls me back. I fall to the floor and curl into a ball, crying.
Rick stands watching me in silence, just like the cat. When I finally stop crying, I look at him through tears, waiting for him to strike.
Instead, he sits back on the floor and holds his head in his hands, loud sobs escaping him.
“We can get help, Rick,” I sob. “It’s the implant.”
Rick looks up and gives a half smile. “I know it’s the implant, Amy. That’s what I have been trying to tell you. ”
I wipe my tears away and sigh. So he finally admits it, but I am not sure anything can be done to bring my old Rick back. Just like the cat, he is just a collection of parts that is run by a computer. “It’s the car crash, Rick,” I say. “They should never have put the implants in.”
Rick nods. “What else could they have done? I’m so sorry, Amy, it was my fault.”
Hesitantly, I reach out and touch him, but his skin feels cold to touch and his eyes have a glint like his cat. It wasn’t his fault, I tell him. We were late for our anniversary meal and I insisted he hurry up. It was raining, the road was slippery. The car slid on the tight bend and I watched helplessly as Rick struggled to control the wheel. Then the world turned with the car and I was plunged into darkness, coming back to a world I no longer cared about.
“Perhaps they can remove the brain implant?” I say.
Rick shrugs, calm now. “I already looked into it. They say too much of the brain was damaged. If they remove it, then....” his words trail off. I imagine I can hear the artificial brain ticking away like some old clockwork toy. Shuddering, I back away from him.
“It’s changed you, Rick.”
Rick gives me a confused look. “Changed me? Amy, it was you who had the implant, don’t you remember?”
A flashback to the hospital comes back. I remember the doctors telling me there had been a lot of damage to the brain. Reaching up, I trace the scar that runs down from my head and I remember it all. The cat comes over to me and looks at me with artificial eyes.
And artificial eyes look back as I wonder what I am.