Get Used to It, I Tell the Cats

Suzanne Helfman

My new boyfriend asks if I think the cats would recognize my husband if he came back from the dead, if he walked up the front path and rang the bell. Would they run for the closet or run to greet him? Clearly, he doesn’t know cats. What he really wants to know is if I would greet my living-dead husband with open arms. Only if we can get the guy from “Truly Madly Deeply” to direct, I tell him. But Scott doesn’t get it. We haven’t been together long enough to have a pool of movies in common. My joke falls flat. Dead husband would have laughed out loud.

“Do you talk to him?” Scott asks, as if everyone talks to the dead. What would I say? I’ve given your house key to someone new, so be sure to ring the bell next time you stop by?

But I do talk to the cats. “Bradley’s still dead,” I tell them. “I’m all you’ve got now. Get used to it.”

I once had a friend whose boyfriend’s wife did come back from the dead. This factoid catches Scott’s attention. He swivels in his chair, eyes wide open.


She’d been dead for three years. My friend Kristy and her boyfriend were raising the dead wife’s kids, a boy and a girl, seven and ten. The kids had even started calling Kristy “Mom.” Sure, they must have missed their real mother, but she was dead after all; no one thought she was coming back. Kristy took them tadpole fishing, painted them up as little ghouls for Halloween. Everything was going great. Cute three-bedroom house not far from a creek. Boyfriend and Kristy were talking about getting married. And then the dead cats began to appear on the front porch: first one, and then two with their throats slit. Of course Kristy was freaked out. She was sure it was some neighborhood crazy. “Gotta be,” was all the boyfriend offered up. “Who else would do such a thing?” Who else indeed. Turns out his wife never had been dead, just crazy, which of course the boyfriend knew all along. Somehow she managed to get herself out of the care facility where she’d been hidden away while her husband, Kristy’s boyfriend, played the grieving widower. The dead cats were her calling card. The stuff of soap operas. Kristy was engaged to marry a liar. A married liar at that. 

“Not good,” says Scott, pouring us each some more wine.

We’ve just finished the soup he brought over. Butternut bisque. A little too sweet. But I do love a man who can cook. 

“I can get you the recipe if you want,” says Scott. 


We’re at that agreeable stage. It’s early. I don’t know him well enough yet to say thanks, but no thanks, not my cup of soup. But just who did make the soup if he doesn’t already have the recipe?  And I’m beginning to notice not only does he not laugh, but he doesn’t seem to have much to say.  Cute enough. Tall, wavy hair. Sweet enough. But somehow that isn’t enough enough.

In the morning, I make him my famous bacon-waffles—Bradley’s all time favorites—my eyes completely dry. So I’m surprised to find myself sobbing when Scott tells me later that day over the phone that he’s decided to go back to his old girlfriend, the one who, as it turns out, has the soup recipe. Why not; why not try again? “Sure,” I say. “I understand.” 

“I don’t blame him,” I tell the cats. “I’d go back, too, if I could.”

Not that everything was always so peachy. More than once I woke up from a bad dream in which Bradley was screwing one of his colleagues.

“Tell me how sorry you are. Promise you’ll never see her again,” I’d insist.

“Laura, it was a dream,” he’d say. “No way am I apologizing for something I did in your dream.” 

Sometimes he’d try to turn it into a joke. “Who was it? Was she hot? Did it look like we were having a good time?” I’d laugh but would walk around feeling weepy and unsettled for the rest of the day, rearranging the pillows on the couch, straightening all the picture frames. And then before you knew it, we’d be back to our regular life—beef stew, jazz on the radio, the windows steamed. All was right with the world. 

“Crazy about you, babe.” he’d say.

“No, just crazy.”

And then he died.

Both cats threw up on the long winding road over here, but we’re all settled into the new house now, the cats cozying up to the new, new guy, who cooks and sings and laughs out loud. Mornings they rub around his ankles as he grinds the coffee. One of the cats likes to lie on the new guy’s chest while we watch TV; the other stretches out on the back of the couch, one paw dangling down. The new guy talks to them; he scratches their ears. “See, it’s not so bad living here,” he tells them, “not bad at all.”

Suzanne Helfman is an emerging fiction writer and a poet. Her short stories have appeared in Red Wheelbarrow Magazine. Her poetry has been anthologized in Broadsided Press: Fifteen Years of Poetic/Artistic Collaboration – 2005-2020; her poetry collection, Night Driving, was the winning manuscript in a San Francisco State University chapbook contest. She lives on California’s central coast, where she is working on a collection of linked short stories.