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Natural Fibers
Shannon Cain
When I was a teenager I used to sit in my room and pull skin off the heels of my feet. It hurt, and sometimes I’d draw blood, but I couldn’t stop. Maybe it’s like that for my cat. Maybe he’s helplessly drawn to eating fabric. Maybe he wants to see how far he can go, how much of it he can consume without getting sick; maybe he grosses himself out doing it. Maybe when he does it he hates himself.

It can’t be the taste. I guess he goes for the texture. The chewing experience. The challenge, maybe. I come home to find toes missing from tights, corners chomped away from napkins, holes gnawed in sweater sleeves. The vet said she didn’t know why he does it; she’d never seen it before. Personally I think it’s because I named him Rose and he’s not as enlightened as I hoped he’d be. Perhaps he doesn’t share my outlook on the ridiculous randomness of male and female, could be he resents his girlie-girl name and lacking English the only outlet for his anger is to ensure I will never again wear matching socks. If only he clawed the furniture to shreds like a normal cat, I’d do what regular people do and wrap the couch in aluminum foil.

Ever since he was a kitten he’s hunted down cloth stuffs, starting with bits of string or some fringe from the area rug under my dining room table, then as he got older moving on to the big time: washcloths, place mats, a mouthful of denim from my new black Levi’s. One day when he was still little and exceedingly cute I spotted a shoelace hanging from his tiny kitty butthole and unable to stop myself I pulled, squealing in disgust as it kept coming another six inches, but by then he’d been mine for four weeks and how could I have known it was only the beginning? How would I have known that I’d end up with a ragbag bigger than my pillow and become resigned to wiping my mouth on cloth napkins like Swiss cheese? Holier Than Thou, my father called me one night in his angry wild man yell, because I’d seen him drunk-stumble down the front steps and bloody his chin on the concrete. I’d witnessed it all with my big quiet eleven-year old eyes. He’d have a good laugh now, at my holey predicament, if he weren’t so dead.

The cat will snack on my underwear but only if they’re clean. He reminds me of Hiram, my ex-boyfriend, who moved out just after I brought Rose home from the Humane Society. Hiram had a habit of jerking off into my underwear drawer. I discovered this when one afternoon I came home to find him asleep on the carpet in front of my dresser, curled up with a gooey pile of white cotton panties. He was contrite when I woke him up, so I let it go. After that, whenever he started to act restless I just left him alone with my underthings and went to the living room and watched TV. It was okay, though. He never yelled or tried to hit me and he took good care of my bras and panties. I would have married him if he’d asked, but he ended up joining the Navy and lurking around someplace under the Pacific on a nuclear submarine. My mom still asks about him.

Rose prefers one hundred percent cotton, but sometimes he’ll settle for a wool blend. He shuns polyester, rayon, synthetic silk and the granny square afghan hand-crocheted by my mother in bright green and orange acrylic yarn that I leave, hopeful, in plain view. If I’ve only just missed catching him in the act I’ll find the gooey kitty saliva he secretes, glistening like Vaseline on a mitten or a potholder. I imagine it lubricates the cloth, eases the scratchy journey down his beleaguered feline throat.

I’ve never been good with animals, not like those people who arrange their lives around their pets and talk about them like they’re human children. Still, I’m not so callous that I’d give him away or something just because he’s got a monkey on his back. Once I tried placing a sacrificial dishtowel in the hallway. My mother used to leave three beers in the fridge hoping they’d be enough to appease my father, but just like Dad, who used to hop on over to the QuickMart for a twelve pack after my mom was asleep, Rose wasn’t fooled. I woke up the next morning to find holes in the bathroom rug.

Sometimes he’d vomit it all up, a pile of multicolored goo mixed with cat food. I too was throwing up a lot then, but Rose’s looked and smelled nothing like my own vomit, which was acidic and colorless, being mostly white wine.

One night about six months ago I was in the Laundromat, folding my sheets, which of course were peppered with silver-dollar sized holes, and this girl with blue eyes and a tattoo around her belly button watched me and said, "I know a good home remedy for that moth problem." She was cute, so I brought her home and we fucked on the floor in front of my couch. She renamed the cat Romeo and made me herbal tea and the three of us curled up on the rug and watched a movie about an orphaned talking mouse that is given a home by a family of humans. I think the movie disturbed Romeo because the next morning I woke up to another textile casualty. My pillowcase, still slimy with spit and a jagged corner gone. I guess the wine had me sleeping so soundly I didn’t hear the moist gnashing of his teeth practically an inch from my ear.

The tattoo girl, Julie, moved in a little while later so I started staying home nights. I still bought a bottle of wine every evening but Julie just lay on the couch drinking her tea and I could feel her eyes on me when I’d pour my third glass, or fourth. Romeo sat on Julie’s chest and watched me, too. I started to feel self-conscious about it and asked myself how bad it would suck to try life without the wine, just for a while. So I did, and for the first few weeks it was incredibly awful, more awful than anything I’ve known, but I do okay as long as I keep going to meetings. Julie turned out to be sweet, and she doesn’t care about my underwear unless it’s on my body.

Julie put the natural fabrics on the top shelf of our closet and bought polyester-blend sheets and paper napkins. It's been forty-four days since Romeo's chewed anything. Sometimes, late at night when I'm up, wondering if the sound of my car starting will wake Julie or if she'd smell the wine on my breath when I climb back into bed, he and I pace the apartment together. He likes her a lot, he really does, maybe he even loves her. But lately I'm getting the sense he misses our old life.


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