She was a beautiful cat with fur the colour of moonlight. Four times a week she worked out at the gym, determined to keep her fabulous figure. Ah, the power of it.
He was a grungy-looking tom. He came from a broken home, had no money. His mother cleaned rich animals’ houses so he could go to college. She believed in him; she deemed it worth the sacrifice.
When she learned of her son’s obsession with the beautiful cat, she warned him, “Handsome is as handsome does,” meaning: it’s what animals do that counts, not how handsome they are. But he had eyes only for the moonlight queen, who called herself Juno.
When he began to leave roses outside Juno’s well-heeled door, Juno wasn’t surprised. Toms had been hitting on her since she was a catling; she’d grown bored with it. Furthermore, she hated roses.
But he went on leaving them, at first, anonymously, and later with little notes. (He couldn’t afford to buy cards, stole the roses from the gardens of old queens whose kittens had left home, leaving them to devote themselves to such pursuits as gardening and tatting.)
When Juno discovered who was leaving the roses, she took one look at the unfinancial tom (let’s call him Frank) and dismissed him.
“Listen,” she said one day during a break between classes, “I’m not interested in you and I never will be. And don’t leave me any more roses, I hate them.” She intended to marry well, be kept in the style to which she was accustomed — and preferably even better.
After all, she was beautiful.
There was another queen called Berenice, a plain tortoiseshell his mother wished for him. She wasn’t beautiful; she was even a bit dumpy. She loved Frank dearly, but he was too busy studying IT — when he wasn’t stealing flowers and writing notes to Juno — to notice her existence. Later, she took up nursing. She liked caring for animals.
One day, Juno broke her leg in a carrriage accident brought about by her father, the drunken pencil tycoon. He was killed in the crash, and without his heavy paw on the tiller, the pencil factory went bust.
Time passed. As it does. The break was slow to heal. Juno lay in bed, moping. She was no longer head cheerleader, no longer heroine in the college end-of-year musical. A new young queen who looked like Angelina Jolie in her prime arrived at the college, and the toms forgot about Juno. But Frank kept coming with his flowers (these days, he took anything but roses) and, seizing the moment, he proposed.
Juno was frightened. She’d never lacked for attention before. Maybe Frank would be a good bet after all, a stable base from which to mount her move when the right tom came along — one with looks and money.
And so they were married, ring the bells, ding dong. Frank’s mother shook her head, and the little nurse queen Berenice cried for a month. Frank was lost to her.
The years went by, but there were no kittens scampering around Frank and Juno’s house. Juno didn’t want to spoil her beautiful figure — she’d seen what had happened to other queens: after a few batches, they got around in their dressing gowns, all floppy bellies and sagging tits. Juno wasn’t going there. Frank found himself eating cheap tinned cat food every night — Juno spent most of the housekeeping money on a personal trainer.
“What are you training for?” Frank would sometimes cry after a hard day’s work hunched over the computer, finding again no meat, no fish, or even cheese on his plate.
Juno didn’t come home one night from her job at the cosmetics counter. She’d run off with the personal trainer, a Bronze Burmese, ex-football jock with muscles and a red sports car. Alas, the only muscles Frank had ever had were his heart muscles, with which he’d loved not wisely, but too well.
Frank collapsed, it was all too much. His mother found him in the kitchen, empty cat food tins everywhere, staring at a photo of Juno and moaning. Fearing for his life, she had him admitted to the psychiatric hospital.
Who should be in charge of the ward Frank was admitted to but Berenice. She took special care of him. Sometimes, when she was on night duty and he couldn’t sleep, she’d take him outside and show him the stars.
“Look, Frank,” she’d say in her plain, little voice. “They’re still there. Everything’s still there. You’ll get over this. Throw yourself into your work.” (He was an IT geek.)
So he did. He had to do something to forget the beautiful Juno. But no one can work 24/7 — though Frank would’ve liked to. When he wasn’t deep in the programs, he went to the movies with Berenice. Nothing sensational, just a movie and maybe dinner at a middle-of-the-road restaurant beforehand. Berenice was good company; she made him laugh. It was a long time since Frank had laughed.
One night, while Berenice was at work at the hospital and Frank was deep in his computer, he had one of those light bulb breakthroughs, the kind that caused Archimedes to leap from his bath shrieking “Eureka”! Frank had found it, the set of applications that would make him rich.
A cliché? Honey, there’s nothing clichéd about money.
There isn’t much more to tell. Frank and Berenice were married. They moved into a fabulous house in a leafy suburb with another house down the road for his mother. Then Berenice started on the kittens.
One afternoon, when Juno was slopping around the flat she shared with the ex-personal trainer (looking very ex these days), he called from where he was slouched on the couch watching TV and drinking tinnies.
“Hey, Jun, isn’t that your ex-husband on TV?”
Frank was receiving some international award for computer apps. His glamorous wife was with him.
Juno’s mouth fell open. Surely that wasn’t plain Berenice by his side? Slim and gorgeous in a Gucci suit.
’Course it was.