This is what you know about Pepe: He is your friend of many years. He is loud. He is French. You’ve never considered his French accent to be overtly French; it’s more reminiscent of a New Jersey man in the witness relocation program performing a very poor Francophile adaptation of a language best left to a purse-lipped man with a demitasse in one hand and what’s left of a Gualoise in the other.
Pepe speaks in short emphatic bursts. He calls you Dave despite your preference for David; he calls you David on occasion but only as the situation calls for irony.
Pepe has a portly long-haired all black cat named Lucifer. This is what you know about Lucifer: his real name is Tiffers–Tiffany until its original owner was awkwardly informed of the cat’s preferred gender. Pepe promptly renamed Tiffers after adopting him from said owner who chose an allergic man over an androgynous cat.
Pepe calls upon you to watch Lucifer for the better part of the summer while he returns home to France. Of course this means you have to drive across town twice a day since his cat is diabetic needing not one, but two daily insulin injections. Not that you feel some enormous debt to Pepe, or some ridiculous favor to Lucifer who doesn’t give much of a fuck of your existence, but criss-crossing about town is beyond the scope of your friendship and far beyond your casual acquaintance with the cat.
You suggest that you bring Lucifer to your apartment. This is met with short bursts of resistance but Pepe finally surrenders as only the French are unfairly known to do.
Lucifer is reunited with Godiva and Mama Cat–three cats ignoring one another like the remaining finalists of a beauty pageant. Your apartment is small but yet the cats seem to create a universe so embattled with denial of each others existence it’s not uncommon to find all three sleeping on the bed together.
You actually enjoy giving Lucifer his insulin shots; although, It makes you feel like perhaps art school wasn’t the best choice for a career–that instead you could be injecting vaccines and cures and disease prevention into the greater good.
You grab the vial of insulin from the fridge and stare at it. You notice the sterility of the typeface because that’s all you have. You insert the needle and watch the syringe fill until you get to your favorite part… flicking your finger against the syringe to mitigate any air bubbles. You feel a sense of excitement. You fantasize that you are a heroin addict.
You grab the fading black scruff around Lucifer’s neck and form a pocket. The needle goes in and Lucifer, to your dissatisfaction, feels nothing. He swishes his tail completely unaware you are prolonging his days.
You leave for a vacation, something you selectively forgot to mention to Pepe. But it’s of no consequence… it’s only for a week and you’ve enlisted the bass player in your band to tend to Lucifer in the morning, not to mention your Asian neighbor with the perfect breasts who perkily agrees to come in the evenings.
You’ve been gone for one day and then you receive this voicemail: we can’t find Lucifer. You don’t panic… Lucifer is around somewhere.
On the fourth day of your vacation the worry sets in. You ask lots of logical questions sometimes repeating them in angst. Yes, they checked the closets. Yes, they checked the Humane Society. Yes, they checked the no-kill cat shelter, the one by your bass player’s parent’s house. Yes, they checked the closets.
Yes, yes they did.
You also know this about your French friend: when Pepe was at the age of two his father divorced his mother on grounds of wanting to suck cock in Brazil.
Pepe’s father would go on to work with Armani, not for Armani, with Armani. He helped create the scent Lou Lou for Cacheral and L’Oreal’s Studio Line.
It is your understanding that Pepe was a poor student in France. It is no wonder that, after being kicked out of every school in Paris, he was sent to the under-achieving school systems of the United States as a foreign exchange student–specifically to the town of Columbus, Montana. (Population 2,000.) You find this to be a curious and strangely epic distortion of random possibility.
Estranged, Pepe had a long-standing date to reunite with his father upon his return from the States. Sadly, his father passed away from AIDS just one day before Pepe’s plane hit the tarmac at Charles De Gaulle; a lonesome burden that defines Pepe’s entire world.
And now you’ve lost his cat.
You return from your week-long vacation to an apartment with two cats. Even if Godiva and Mama Cat could speak they wouldn’t be able to tell you the whereabouts of Lucifer considering to them he is a mere figment of everyone’s imagination.
Pepe calls you daily. He asks how Lucifer is daily. He jokes about how you killed his cat daily. You lie and say he is fine daily.
In the back of your mind you know the time will come where you will have to deliver another blow to his fragile sensibility of closure; however, you haven’t given up. It’s been ten days since Lucifer vanished and you have a remarkable talent at building constructs of hope–residual desperation from parents who constantly threatened to divorce, but never did.
It’s been over two weeks. You have your spouse place an ad at the alternative weekly, it reads: Have you seen my cat? Answers to Lucifer.
But it is of no use. Lucifer is gone.
And then you receive that fateful call. That call you knew was coming.
Your spouse answers the phone and even from a distance you can hear the demands of a Frenchman in tune to the sarcastic nonchalant timbre of two weeks worth of a missing cat. You wave your arms spastically as your spouse thrusts the phone into your face. Your mouth is quietly screaming and pantomiming a vicious protest… but then there is silence.
You hear your name called without irony. You hear the one syllable version of David repeated until it almost loses it’s laid back status as the more comfortable version of yourself.
You give in… you apologize. You tell Pepe that you are sorry… but… Lucifer. He is dead.
You hold the phone away from your face because the slow motion volume of his response reverberates with a feedback loop of a thousand Pepe’s crying in unison.
In dramatic fashion he next asks you if you cremated his cat, per his instructions. Don’t worry, you thought this through. Just find a grill and collec… but your thoughts are interrupted. Pepe insists that you not attempt to scrape together bits of ash from a grill. And then he asks you again if you cremated Lucifer’s remains and again you hold the phone from your ear in response to a thousand reverberating Pepe’s. This, of course, after you told him you buried his cat in his front yard.
Now you have no choice but to dig up the imaginary cat and come up with imaginary ashes. In the eyes of Godiva and Mama Cat this is oddly fitting.
It’s evening. You are sitting on the balcony over looking the pool in the courtyard. It is warm, black. It’s almost as if a Dyson has quietly removed the sound from the air before anyone could notice. You clink your beer against the railing to make sure you haven’t gone deaf. But then… you hear something.
You hear it again–a guttural muted plea. You simultaneously want and don’t want to believe that the noise is coming from a missing diabetic cat. You run down the stairs and staring up at you between two spindly bushes is Lucifer. The fucking cat is alive. Lucifer… he’s alive!
Your first instinct is to call Pepe, but then you consider the gravity of the situation–it might be shitty to tell Pepe his cat has died twice.
In the morning you take Lucifer to the vet. Aside from being dehydrated he checks out. They do not know how he survived 17 days without insulin.
And now you have to make the call. You forget about the time-zone discrepancy. It is 3AM in Paris.
You confirm it is Pepe on the other end.