I’m here in Tampa, visiting my parent for 2 weeks. American Airlines now charges $15 per checked bag and $7.95 for wifi in the terminals. No more peanuts. No more earphones. Snacks available for a small fee, payable only by cash or debit. No movies or TV – just 2.5 hours of delay on the tarmac.
I arrived at night, which meant dinner. My mother announced at the airport that she’d been cooking all day: risotto ai frutti di mare and a prune crostata for dessert. Mamma mia, indeed. We are going to St. Petersburg Beach today for Father’s Day; my first Father’s Day with my dad since I moved out of the house 11 years ago. When I dressed this morning, I picked through the summery clothing I bought in Thailand and Viet Nam. New York is still rainy and cold but Florida is, well, Florida so bring on the sunscreen. I chose a fitted black cotton halter top embroidered with roses and realized that I – a city girl – had no beach bag. In a pinch, my turquoise silk scarf from Hoi An doubles as a furoshiki. There’s your multicultural craftiness for you.
In Florida, I’m with Leia – the beloved cat I tearfully left with my parents when I moved to Japan. For a good six months, I debated not even moving abroad because I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving her behind and when I finally made the decision, the plan was to stay for only a year before settling back in New York for good. I don’t blame her for being angry – I’d be furious. But I had somewhat hoped that at the first whiff of me, she’d remember what we meant to each other. Alas.
Leia pretends not to see me, but I can’t stop looking at her. She is my beautiful Little Miss Tigerstripes, after all. With her little white feet, big ol’ ears and big green eyes. Because she now eats the other cat’s food and has developed a nervous licking tic, she has become fat like a croissant and bald-assed like a baboon.
“Leia,” I call as she waddles past without so much as sniffing my leg. “Don’t you remember? You used to jump into my bed as soon as I turned out the lights. You’d burrow underneath the blanket and purr until morning.”
“Leia!” I say as she chooses the furthest chair from me. “Don’t you remember? You used to steal the potatoes out of my leftover chicken vindaloo. And then you’d sprawl across my computer when I was trying to work. Me. That was me. You used to meow in response every time I talked to you.”
When I look into her big green eyes, rimmed in rings of black and white, I could swear she does remember and is trying to torture me for it. Like Darin last week, she seems to say: “You stayed away longer than you said you were going to.” It’s not enough that I’ve felt consumed with guilt for the past 2 and a half years. She has to twist the knife.
“This is just like you, Leia,” I tell her. “You always did like punishing me.”
Leia tucks her little white feet under herself, just like a roosting chicken.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know how many times I can tell you I’m sorry.”
She stands, stretches – her black stripes standing to attention – and quietly pads out of the room. Her hairless bottom seems to mock me.