mcarthurMarla was a polite woman. If a man wanted to sleep with her she never refused. With each new man, she adopted a cat—Fluffers McGee for John, Marion for Paul, Tiddlemouse for Richard, and so on. Her planner became full of daily romps, so too her house with felines.

Marla also had a fondness for cheese. She couldn’t stay away from it, not with a proper cheese shop on the corner. She indulged in Maple Bries, aged Jarlsbergs, and silky Fontinas. Marla never cooked with cheese, preferring to bite from the blocks, wedges, and rounds. She believed that eating cheese at night prompted fantastical dreams. Many of the cats shared her penchant, especially Edward. He had been adopted after she met Thomas.

The cats, her offspring as she called them, did not care to see so many gentleman callers. They didn’t enjoy vying for their mother’s affections. As sex became less of an interest, Marla agreed with her kids that something would have to be done. But Marla was far too polite to tell the men to bugger off.

It was after eating an exorbitant amount of blue cheese before bed that the most delicious idea came to her. She sat upright at four in the morning with a clever grin spread wide. “This would take care of things,” she said to her surrounding brood.

Marla had a taste for practical jokes. She dug through her crafts closet to find a tube of acrylic, its colour reminiscent of dried blood. She squeezed a blob onto the end of her finger and wrote I AM DEAD onto a plain sheet of paper. She then took a pen and scrawled underneath: Please keep the children out as the shock of seeing me may cause permanent scarring. She taped the confession to the outside of her bedroom door.

Marla shooed all the cats from her room before each man arrived for his appointment. Each was as horrified as the next upon reading her note. Marla lay under her blanket, suppressing giggles and popping rubbery curds of cheese into her mouth. She could hear a mix of gasps and cats cries from the sitting room outside her door. The men did not enter her bedroom for fear of its contents and because they had more serious relationships, marriages, to consider.

One by one the men disappeared from her life, as did the cats that had marked their arrival. Marla returned each of her adopted children to the shelter except for Edward. His human counterpart Thomas had cancelled last week’s appointment. He was due this evening. Marla grabbed a chunk of Camembert and retreated to her bedroom. She lay quietly in bed, listening. The front door opened, closed, and then a faint shuffling sounded across the hardwood towards her room.

Thomas read the note and shrugged his shoulders. “Edward, your mother has offed herself, has she?” The man walked to the kitchen, with the cat trailing. Thomas opened the cooler and pulled out a block of old cheddar. He broke off a corner and crumbled it onto the floor for Edward. Thomas moved to the sitting room, picked up the daily paper, and stretched out on the chesterfield. He began reading the obituaries.

Marla closed her eyes and drifted off.

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Julie McArthur was born and raised in Ottawa. Her stories have appeared in The Antigonish Review, Broken Pencil, Joyland, Necessary Fiction, PANK, and the fable anthology The Lion and the Aardvark (Stone Skin Press). Men and the Drink is her first, yet to be published, short story collection. She works as a freelance editor in Toronto. Juliemcarthur.com