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Short story by Anja Zupancic

Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian is a short story that was published in The New Yorker in December 2017. The story follows the characters Margot, a twenty-year-old college student, and Robert, a man in his thirties, who go through a brief period of flirting, before going on a single date that ends on a slightly unpleasant note. It stirred up quite a fuss in the literary world, as men and women tended to understand the story differently, and took to Twitter to argue about it.

“Hi im not interested in you stop texting me”

Robert had read Margot’s message over three times since his phone produced the unmistakable sound of a text coming in. Its brief, yet clear, content had remained unchanged throughout this whole ordeal, still he gave it one more curtesy reread – just in case – before punching in his reply and finally putting his phone down.

Dropping onto the bed in a free fall, he fancied himself quite heartbroken. It seemed unfair to be so cruelly rejected by a girl who had previously shown such interest in him, and for a brief unflattering moment he entertained the thought of calling her up, begging to be given a second chance.

Robert quickly chased the idea away, deeming himself more of a man than that. He might have, in the past, done something similar, but he was a grownup now. Margot was just a girl compared to him. And yet she was a pretty girl, quite funny too, cooler than other girls her age, Robert thought. And she did have a nice body. Dating her, or at least continuing to fuck her, would have been something he’d enjoy.

Letting out a melancholy sigh, he rolled onto his stomach and grabbed the bottle of whiskey he kept by the side of his mattress. He took a swig straight from the bottle, followed by another one, and another one until the sweet burning sensation in his throat felt soothing rather than unpleasant, and the edges of his vision started to blur. As he fell asleep one of his cats snuck into the bedroom and lay down on the corner of his bed, as if she could sense he was in no state to shoo her away. Patting the little creature’s head Robert thought to himself that maybe Margot just wasn’t a cat person.

Robert’s initial resolution not to chase after Margot lasted exactly four and a half days. After that, he found himself going to the 7-Eleven where he had bought snacks for her that night before spring-break for all his grocery needs. He told himself repeatedly that he was respecting her wishes by not texting her. However, she had made no requests, and he no promises, which would prevent him from running into her by chance. Similarly, he had made no promise of not trying to increase the chances of something like that happening.

He refrained from visiting her at her place of work, thinking it would look to obviously staged, and then congratulated himself on his own smart thinking. Instead, Robert would spend his evenings sitting in the bar to which he had taken her on their date in the hope that she would show up there. That never happened, so after a while he moved his evening activities to the student joint Margot had suggested they go to.

Finally, about a month later, Margot entered the bar with a group of friends. “She looks lovely,” Robert thought, sitting behind his now already usual table in the back of the bar where no one would notice him and wonder why a thirtysomething-year-old man would hang out at a place catering to college students. Upon seeing her, Robert’s chest filled up with an emotion similar to hope, yet not quite so positive. It was a sort of melancholy yearning that occurs whenever the heart wants something very badly but the logical part of the brain knows it will never happen.

In the weeks Robert had spent waiting for Margot, he had constructed dozens of scenarios of their reunion in his head. As he sat there cradling his lukewarm beer, and Margot made her way to the bar, it became painstakingly clear that in not one of those fantasies did he imagine Margot would have replaced him with another man so soon. ‘A boy’ would be a more appropriate term, as the guy she was with was quite obviously a fraternity member, Robert thought. He couldn’t have been much older than she was, but he was a replacement no less.

A pang of jealousy twisted Robert’s guts and he had to force his gaze away from the young pair, who seemed to be laughing at some inside joke they had just shared. Only a month ago, Margot would have laughed at Robert’s jokes like that. He thought back to those moments and tried, yet again, to piece together what went wrong between them. He came up with nothing.

When he finally looked up again Margot was gone, which only made Robert more upset. He downed his already flat beer and got up to order another one, but self-pity made him change his mind by the time he got to the bar. Instead, he ordered two shots of vodka and some whiskey to top it off.

The drinks went down fast and as soon as they were gone, Robert ordered another round, all the while thinking about Margot. It took two more shots of vodka for him to gather the courage and fish the phone out of the inside pocket of his jacket. The brightness of the screen assaulted his eyes when he turned it on and he had to tone it down to a minimum just to be able to open his text messages and find Margot’s name. The last two texts they had exchanged lay there, silently mocking him, as he clumsily tapped on the screen.

“Hi Margot, I saw you out at the bar tonight. I know you said not to text you but I just wanted to say you looked really pretty. I hope you’re doing well!”

The empty shot glasses had already been cleared away, so Robert ordered two more and requested that the bartender keep them coming.

“I know I shouldnt say this but I really miss you”

He waited for a while. When it became obvious that no reply was coming, he picked up the phone again and started typing.

“Hey maybe I don’t have the right to ask but I just wish youd tell me what it is I did wrog”

“*wrong”

Nothing. Just a little check mark, declaring the message as seen. Robert took another shot.

“I felt like we had a real connection did you not feel that way or . . .”

“Maybe I was too old for u or maybe you liked someone else”

With each reply he didn’t get, Robert grew angrier, and with every drop of liquor he swallowed his rage seemed to become more justified in his opinion. Frustrated, he thought back to the guy whose joke Margot had been laughing at.

“Is that guy you were with tonight your boyfriend”

Perhaps they were laughing at him. In his mind’s eye, Robert could see Margot drape herself over the frat guy and tell him all about how she screwed over some older man. How she’d tricked him into taking her to the movies and buying her stuff and sleeping with her by pretending she was interested in him.

“???”

And then the frat guy would laugh the stupid laugh that all frat guys have in those low-budget teen movies that were always on TV and say something like “Oh man bro, that dude’s such a loser.” And Margot would proceed to throw herself all over him like the little slut she was.

“Or is he just some guy you are fucking”

“Sorry”

He paused, telling himself that couldn’t have been it, that Margot had to have liked Robert, really liked him, at some point. But then again, that would explain why she had so suddenly grown tired of him. After all, he’d done nothing wrong. She must have been using him to get sex. All the pieces fit together in his mind – he was the victim here.

“When u laughed when I asked if you were a virgin was it because you’d fucked so many guys”

“Are you fucking that guy right now”

Who did Margot think she was, using him like that, and then not even replying to his texts?

“Are you”

That little bitch.

“Are you”

He deserved an answer.

“Are you”

He was entitled to one.

“Answer me”

✔ Seen 0:42 AM

“Whore.”

Originally published in Issue XVII in May 2018.