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Cat Person: What Robert (probably) thought

The New Yorker told Margot's story. Here's Robert's

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This satirical short story is based on 'Cat Person' by Kristen Roupenian, which was published by the New Yorker. It contains adult themes.

Robert met Margot on one autumnal Wednesday night. He would probably have called it 'fall semester' if he was an annoying, work-shy student but he wasn’t. He was a 34-year-old taxpayer with a proper job.

She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown. You know the places - all subtitles, chin-stroking and organic carrot cake. He bought popcorn and, because she was kind of hot and he wanted to come across as memorably ironic, a box of Red Vines.

“That’s an unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.” Put on the spot with a queue of pick ’n’ mix-crazed kids behind him, Robert couldn’t think of a witty reply, so settled for mumbling, “Well, OK then.”

He hated himself and spent the entire film - some French guff involving crying, red wine and hairy armpits - thinking up flirty responses he could have said. Robert didn’t even like liquorice. It tasted of his nan’s house but now it had become 'a thing'.

Next time, after a week rewatching Friends and being inspired by Chandler’s wit, Robert was ready with a line where he’d call her ‘concession-stand girl’. He even asked for her phone number, sounding much more confident than he felt. To his surprise, Margot gave it to him. She didn’t even swap the last two digits around, like the last few women he’d asked.

Now he was cooking with gas. He proceeded to riff, use rapier-like wit and generally bring the ROFLs in a way he knew no college kid could. Fortunately, he was on a phone tariff with unlimited free texts. He threw in emoji in a bid to appear young and 'with it', even though he wasn’t sure what some of them meant. (Crying with laughter or weeping hysterically? Aubergine or deformed dolphin? Margot loved them all.)

One evening, a bit pissed and bored, Robert found himself fibbing that he had two cats, because he’d read somewhere that women like pets. She asked what they were called and in a panic, he said Mu and Yan. This sounded exotic but was actually stolen from the name of a local takeaway, Mu-Yan Noodle House. Tasty pork balls.

One night, she was complaining about being hungry - the dorm dining halls were closed, her roommate had raided her 'care package' - so Robert offered to buy her some snacks at the 7-Eleven. He was so nervous he couldn’t look her in the eye when she got there. He wore the new rabbit-fur hat his friend Tara said made him look like a sexy lumberjack, and a coat that hid his beer belly. He’d had a quick skim of Neil Strauss’s advice to steel himself before heading out, and had decided not to use Margot’s name or kiss her. He’d leave her wanting more.

It was actually stolen from the name of a local takeaway, Mu-Yan Noodle House. Tasty pork balls.

The next few weeks were fun. His banter was on top form and he felt witty, clever and positive. His colleagues made jokes about him clearly getting laid, and he’d smile mysteriously in response. But when Margot went home for the holidays, Robert became paranoid.

Maybe he’d overdone it with the aloofness and made her think he wasn't interested. Maybe she’d decided to get back together with some old high-school boyfriend - probably a stupid jock called Brad or Chet or Biff, with a square jaw and a varsity jacket, the kind he’d had to hide from at school. She probably didn’t want to flirt with an old, fat doofus like him anymore.

They kept texting, mainly silly cat-based jokes. He was starting to feel guilty about this whole feline thing, which had spiralled out of control. He briefly pondered actually buying two cats, but he hated cats. He was actually more of a dog person.

It was clear Margot wanted to see him again – her hints were no longer subtle – and he enjoyed the power play of keeping her waiting. But he also knew he was avoiding asking her out in case she said no. It took him a few days to rack up the courage to suggest a date, but when he did, he knew he’d nailed it. All the indie film bloggers were raving about the new Holocaust movie; he knew Margot would be impressed.

When the date came around, he almost wondered why he’d bothered. She turned up in leggings and a sweatshirt. She’d clearly made no effort, while he’d had his shirt dry-cleaned. His temper briefly flared. She still looked hot, though. It struck Robert that perhaps she’d deliberately dressed down to look nonchalant, to hide how much she was starting to care about him. He found himself being nicer to her. But then she made a snippy remark about the movie (which had got great reviews!) and he felt a wave of panic that quickly turned to irritation. What did she want, Paul Blart: Mall Cop? Fast & Furious 34?

They went to a bar afterwards – he’d never been there before but his cool, young, media-person neighbour had posted a shot of it on Instagram. It turned out Margot was only 20, and the bouncer wouldn’t let her in. When she burst into tears, he found himself strangely attracted to her. He felt his penis prick against his thigh and it made him stand tall. "Sweetheart," he called her as he draped his arms around her tight body. "Honey."

He was actually more of a dog person.

She giggled, embarrassed. The tension turned decidedly sexual. He leaned in and kissed her. Her tongue fumbled against his in confusion and he realised this might be new for her. She was only 20. He broke away, feeling manly and in control, with a tenderness for her.

He was careful not to patronise her when they discussed the film over beers, instead going along with the pretence that she knew loads about cinema. She made lots of faux self-deprecating remarks, fishing for compliments which he politely gave out. When they snogged, he tried to be gentle and made a point of checking she wasn’t too drunk. He’d hate to take advantage like some old perv - he wasn’t that kind of guy.

She straddled him in the car and he let out a weird high-pitched noise. It was embarrassing. What was wrong with him? Why could he never play it cool, the way other men could?

They went back to his place. Robert suddenly remembered the non-existent cats, and blurted out something about them being in another room. But the cats were quickly forgotten as their clothes came off.

Margot had a banging body. It made him feel self-conscious about his flabby bits but, hey, she seemed up for it. She was attracted to his wit, sophistication and charm. If she wanted an older man, she had to take the whole package. A swig of whisky for Dutch courage and he was good to go.

What was wrong with him? Why could he never play it cool, the way other men could?

He was rusty in the bedroom – it had been two years and three months since his last relationship, though who was counting? - but busted out his best moves. He’d been watching loads of porn and felt inspired by it. "Take that thing off," he said powerfully, pointing at her bra. She complied submissively and he felt himself harden. She was young, hot and his. He knew he was going to come quickly, so he made sure to do his duty and pleasure her first – he wasn’t some selfish chauvinist. He knew it was good; he could tell from the sounds she couldn’t help making.

It suddenly occurred to Robert that she might be really inexperienced, maybe even a virgin - he hadn’t popped his own cherry until he was 24. He asked her, “Wait. Have you ever done this before?”

She laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Jesus, was it really that funny? He felt annoyed (and kind of disappointed). But she explained that she was just giggling out of nerves, and he felt warm towards her, and turned on, again.

After they’d finished, he put on a movie and cuddled her. Women liked to be held after sex. It was to do with their post-orgasm chemicals. When she said she wanted to go home, he was kind of surprised. She probably didn’t want him to see her in the morning with drool and no make-up. Girls could be so silly about stuff like that. Ever the gentleman, he dropped her home, and kissed her goodbye.

He waited the obligatory 24 hours to text her, and then sat in front of his framed arty posters waiting for her response. Five minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, one day. Three days later, and still nothing. He didn’t understand. He’d been the mature, intellectual man she wanted. He’d been good in bed. Eventually, in an act of passive aggression, he texted her, “Hey, so it seems like you’re really busy, huh?” She replied immediately. "Haha sorry yeah." The 'haha' reassured him.

He knew women liked to be held after sex. It was to do with their post-orgasm chemicals.

And then: The misspelt brush-off. Reading it had made the blood rush hotly to his face, spreading down his neck and up to his ears. He felt used, deceived and foolish. Had he misread the situation? Had she just pretended to be the young, innocent student, when in fact she was only interested in a free drink and a good lay? He had imagined a future with her. Not necessarily marriage (she should be so lucky, the arrogant cow!) but perhaps a happy year of interesting conversations and great sex. He refused to believe he'd read the signs all wrong.

Robert went to the student dive Margot liked for a week until she showed. He wanted to talk to her, to confront her about what had really happened, and maybe even convince her not to throw what they had away. But she ran away like a shrieking drama queen when she saw him. Some anaemic looking boy hustled her out of the bar as if Robert was a crazy stalker. It was the final straw. He felt humiliated. After several more beers and a few whiskies at home, he texted her.

“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!”

“I know I shouldn’t say this but I really miss you”

The messages flew from his fingers, one after the other.

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

“*wrong”

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

Margot didn’t reply. Robert’s heartbreak soured into rage. What a rude little bitch not even having the decency to explain herself. Was this normal for her? To just sleep around and disappear into thin air? She must be with that guy. That pathetic little runt. He imagined them together, Margot naked and moaning like she had with him. He felt turned on and he felt angry. Should he masturbate or text her back?

He did both. It felt good. He was better than her. She was nothing but a manipulative little girl, screwing everyone in sight. "Are you with that guy right now?" he asked. "Are you, are you." With every ‘are you’, he got closer to a climax. He writhed on his bedspread which he hadn’t changed since she’d come over – he could still smell her perfume on it – and managed to type out one last message. He knew it was nasty even as he wrote it, but the satisfaction felt too good to resist.

“Whore.”

The original 'Cat Person' by Kristen Roupenian was published by the New Yorker