The following is an excerpt of Mary Miller’s short story, “Charts,” featured in Story Issue 1.
The air is full of perfume and energy and I don’t want to go but they act like I don’t have a choice and this is what I need in order to be motivated. Now there are five of us, and we could all be traipsing drunkenly down the alley, holding each other up, laughing.
In my room, the cat is curled on my pillow. I didn’t see her move from the couch. She looks up at me with her big eyes and meows.
“What do you want, Kitty?” I ask. She continues meowing so I go through the list—food, water, litter box. I only know these three things. “I won’t be gone long. And I won’t get drunk, I promise.” She doesn’t like it when I’m drunk. Perhaps, if I were drunk more often, she wouldn’t like it if I were sober. She’s a nice cat, and even though she follows me around and lies on my legs at night, I still imagine her clawing my face in my sleep.
I put on the dress and sweater I wear when I need to put on something in a hurry. The dress makes my waist look small and my breasts look large and the sweater is soft and comfortable.
My sister finds me in the bathroom. “You look nice,” she says, touching a sleeve.
“Do I need blush?”
“Mascara,” she says.
“I don’t like mascara. I can feel my eyelashes when I wear it.” I apply lipstick while she watches. I’ve only recently begun to wear makeup and a little bit of jewelry. They don’t feel ridiculous on me like they used to, like I was a girl trying to be a woman.
“Your cat isn’t very friendly,” she says.
“She’s friendly with me.”
“I didn’t know you liked cats.”
“So why’d you get one?”
“I wanted a pet and a dog seemed like too big a commitment.”
“But dogs are so much better,” she says, turning off the light. “Dogs come when you call them.”
“That’s the allure of a cat,” I say, which is what I’ve heard cat people say. I still don’t understand how cats work. You can’t yell at them or punish them like you can with a dog. When I’m swinging my Kettlebells, she doesn’t move out of the way. Once I knocked her in the head and her eye puffed up. I thought I might have cracked a socket.
I follow my sister into the kitchen where the girls are opening cabinets, peering out the windows into the dark.
Leah bends down to pet my cat, bracelets jangling. “I like him,” she says. “He’s nice.”
“She’s a sweetie. Aren’t you a sweetie?”
“Let’s go,” my sister says.
I turn on the porch light, lock the door, and we pile into a small, yellow car. Leah is on one side of me and a girl named Jenna is on the other. I can feel myself becoming more and more uncomfortable but my sister catches my eye in the mirror and smiles and I think, everything is fine, everything is just fine. I try to convince myself this is fun, that this is what people do—they go out and drink with their girlfriends and have fun. They meet men. They take shots and lose themselves in the night. But then the cars on the interstate come to a standstill and my breathing becomes more and more labored and I can’t see whether it’s a wreck or what. I don’t know why I had to be in the middle, my arms and legs touching people.
Mary Miller is the author of a story collection, Big World, and a novel, The Last Days of California. A recent graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, she will serve as the John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss for the academic year 2014-15.