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Single, Middle-Aged Cat Lady Seeks…

“So you said in your profile you enjoy traveling…?”

“Yeah, love it. Try to get out of the state at least once a year,” Conor said around a mouthful of steak.

Mia breathed in deeply and resumed cutting into her grilled chicken, taking another tiny bite of it. Finally, some common ground, she thought. That being said, this wasn’t going nearly as well as she’d hoped.

But she’d always hoped.

She’d hoped about each and every one of them.

Yet we never have much use for them, do we Mia Mya?

She clenched ever so slightly at the intrusive voice there in the back of her mind and dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, sipped her wine. “Out of all of the places you’ve been, which is your favorite?” she asked. The favorite questions were key icebreakers, sure. Everyone who’d had social contact in any awkward situation knew that. Mia had already asked several throughout their dinner. Every question was met with the same choppy answer and then ended, full stop.

She didn’t know how much longer she could take it without screaming.

“Went scuba diving in the Keys. That was fun. Good nightlife too. Lots of bar hopping.”

Again, full stop.

Conor scraped the plate with his steak knife as he sawed into his leathery steak. The screeching sound of it drilled deep into Mia’s fillings and poked holes in her eardrums.

Only psychopaths order steak well done. I could’ve told you that. You know you should listen to your mama.

“Good to know.  I’ve never been to the Keys,” Mia said, ignoring the voice’s chiding, lingering there. “Farthest down south I’ve ever been was Savannah. I love it there, especially in the spring. So many galleries, good places to eat, all the cherry blossoms…”

He offered not much of a response other than a chortle into his beer. Conor then waved over a server, who was pouring wine for another table. The poor woman looked as if she’d been run ragged. Saturday nights there were the worst. Mia empathized. It wasn’t that long ago when she quit working as a bartender at one of the more popular restaurants downtown. She never once needed the money anyway. It was just something to get her out of the house and mingle. She just hadn’t known just how bad “mingling” was when it came to customer service.

So she settled for the dating life instead, taking her interactions one guy at a time.

It was proving just as bad as working for them.

That was okay though. She liked the challenge and, quite often, the special gifts they brought.

“You have pitchers, right?” pressed Conor, holding up his half-full beer glass. “Think you could get us a pitcher of this?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” The server stole an uneasy glance in the bar’s direction before focusing back on Conor, who returned her stare with a friendly grin. “We have draft beers specifically for pitchers. They’re listed on our menu. Do you want a menu?”

Conor shook his head. “No, I’d like this in a pitcher. This was good. That other stuff you have on tap is what I used to drink in my twenties. Cold piss that burned your ass when you shit it out the next day. Do we look like we wanna spend the night on a bathroom floor?”

“It’s okay. I don’t drink beer anyway,” Mia said with an apologetic chuckle.

But Conor wasn’t about to be dissuaded. “So just because you don’t like beer means that I shouldn’t have more?”

Mia returned his scowl at her. “You can have whatever you want. I’m just saying I’m not going to share a pitcher of beer with you.”

Conor’s expression fell, almost as if it couldn’t take the furrowed brunt of it. “You know, that was rude of me. I’m sorry,” he said and then looked up at the server. “I’ll just have another pint, thank you.”

Well, good. He owns his behavior, Mia’s mother whispered.

When the server left, Conor shifted in his chair, reached for another roll in the breadbasket right before he slathered it with the honey-cinnamon butter the place was most popular for. “Had a bad week at work. We lost one of our clients to a competitor,” he said. “Major account, lots of money, gone just like that with no warning.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s one of the things they don’t tell us about growing up, all the stress from work…and life in general.” Mia followed his lead and took the last roll in the basket, then coated it in a light sheen of butter.

“How about you, Mia? You have any work or general life stuff eating you up inside?”

“Oh, no, sir. I’m not doing that with you. Not taking the bait. Not on a first date,” she said, chuckling.

“Come on. Everyone has something.”

And a good man always listens to her hurt. Her mother’s voice had gone all warm and sticky. Share it with this one to see his real character. You know I don’t mind, my little Mia Mya.

Mia sighed and said, “I spend far too many days trying to care for someone who could care less about me and anything that might be going on in my life. My life is dedicated to taking care of her and nothing else. At least that’s how she wants it.”

“’Couldn’t care less.’”

“Excuse me?”

When Conor smiled, there was playfulness glinting there in his eyes. “It’s ‘couldn’t care less.’ Not ‘could care less.’ When you say ‘could care less,’ that implies that you could possibly care.”

“Well, I couldn’t care less about your correcting my mistake.”

That made him laugh, friendlier this time. “You got me there.”

It was Mia’s turn to grin. “You have me there.”

Conor let out a rumbling laugh, nodding at her. “I can’t keep up.” He held up his hands in mock surrender. “I give in to the obvious English major.”

“Psychology, actually. Not that I did anything with it.”

“You serious? I minored in behavioral psych. Thought it could open doors as a motivational coach or something, I don’t know.”

It was Mia’s turn to be surprised. “You? A motivational…coach? Like a life coach?”

“I know, right? It was just an idea I’d toyed with. Turned out, I didn’t have the patience. Still, having that minor’s helped me sweet talk clients.”

“I imagine so.”

“I mean, it’s all about people skills, right? And getting into their thoughts, gauging their wants and needs.”

Mia scooted in towards him, pulling her chair close to the table. “So go ahead,” she said, her voice low and husky, her mouth drawn into a smirk.

Conor’s eyes widened. He cleared his throat before matching her tone. “Go ahead and…?”

“Gauge away. What are my wants and needs?”

“Well, you’re what, your profile said mid forties? Maybe…”

“Maybe what?”

“Maybe you want a man—”

“Go on.”

“—but need a cat.”

Mia’s gaze went flat, her mouth tight in annoyance.

Conor’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “I swear I’m kidding.”

“What’s with the obsession in putting single, middle aged women… in a box…with cats?”

“What, like a litter box?”

“Shut up. You know what I mean. The spinster stereotype. It’s just another way of demeaning women.”

“Oh, here we go.”

“Like we’re dried up since we’re unpartnered. The only solace we get is in hoarding cats.”

“Do you…?”


“Do you hoard cats?”


Conor softened, his hands up in surrender. “You brought it up.”

Mia rolled her eyes, took a last sip of the dregs of her wine, and then rummaged through her purse. She pulled out a fifty from her wallet and smacked it down in front of Conor on the table. He just looked on in disbelief.

“Don’t worry. That includes my tip,” she snapped, getting up from her seat and slinging her purse strap over her shoulder.

“Mia. Where are you going?”

“Home. Gotta take care of my hoard, don’t I?” she said right before she left him there, gobsmacked.


“Mia! Hey, hold on!”

She had just opened the driver door of her car in the parking garage when Conor caught up with her, panting from running after her.

“Come on,” he said, breathing heavily. “I swear I was just joking. I didn’t mean to upset you. Let’s start all over, have a drink somewhere.”

Mia gave him a look, one that read suspicion all over.

“I’m sorry, Mia. I am. Can we try this again?”

Maybe it was the soft, pleading tone, the apology in his amber eyes. Maybe it was the fact he was out of breath from running after her.


 “A drink?”

He nodded, smiled with those bright, white teeth. “There’s a good place about a block from here…”

If she was going to do this, she was really going to do this.

And do this right. The timing couldn’t be better. She’d blamed herself for storming out, and swore she wouldn’t do it again. She couldn’t ruin things this time.

“I’ve good bourbon back at the house,” she said, returning his smile. “If you don’t mind my fifty thousand cats and a bedridden roommate.”

Conor laughed, rich and full, and it was sweet to hear.

“Where are you parked?” she asked.

“By the stadium. Just let me know where we’re going, and I’ll put it in my GPS.”

“No no. I’ll drive us. You can take an Uber back to your car.”

“You sure? I can catch up. It’s no problem. I don’t want you to think I’m gonna get handsy or anything in your car.”

You sure about him, Mia Mya, letting him into our home? Think he’s ready? Her mother said around a giggle. Mia stifled the woman, shoving her back into the pitch where she belonged.

Mia then gave him a once over, lips pursed, teasing. “I’m not concerned about you.”

“Oh, no?”

“I’m concerned for you,” she said with a grin, and she unlocked the passenger side door for him. “I have the good booze after all.”


They’d had what seemed a much more relaxed conversation over bourbon in Glencairn glasses, which impressed Conor. Not many bourbon drinkers knew about them, certainly not any of the women Conor had ever been out with.

Maybe it was the fact they were in a living room rather than a restaurant or bar filled with people that eased them both into a comfortable back-and-forth. Conor had taken the glass from Mia’s hand, setting it down on the coffee table beside his, and then he’d pulled her in for a deep kiss, one that she’d been more than ready for, her body inching close to his, their thighs touching.

It was as if all the pretense and aggravation merely a couple of hours before had never happened.

When they’d come to from their kiss, it was Conor who’d pulled back. Normally, he would’ve been the one to keep the momentum going all the way to the bedroom, but there was an intensity in Mia he hadn’t been ready for whatsoever, especially considering how poorly their dinner went earlier.

“Be right back. Make yourself at home,” she’d purred in his ear and then kissed his cheek.

She had left him to explore and didn’t seem to be phased one way or the other about the possibility of him snooping, prodding into her private life, poking around the stuff that wasn’t on display in her house.

It was a nice place, a little retro for Conor’s tastes. He liked things modern with hard lines and glass surfaces. Still, he liked that Mia hadn’t filled her house with decor from some home interior store that catered to the pumpkin spice types with their Live Laugh Love reminders all over the walls, giant kitchen islands that were barely utilized, and wine caddies in their master baths.

“So where are your cats?” he called over his shoulder as he perused Mia’s bookshelves. “Thought there’d be at least some of them hanging out in the living room.”

Either she didn’t take the bait or she didn’t hear him. It didn’t matter. By then, Conor had been sucked into the book spines on one of her shelves, in particular, a little selection of self-help books with titles like Caring for Elderly Parents: A Guide For the Broken, When Your Aging Parent Needs You Most, and Long-Term Care Tips That Won’t Break the Bank. An ornately carved, locked box, no more than the size of a jewelry box, braced against the little selection acting as a bookend.

On the shelf above, Mia had placed a series of framed family photos. They were all pictures of Mia throughout various stages in her life. Mia in her high school band uniform. Mia in college graduation regalia. Mia in the middle of a cluster of what Conor presumed were her girlfriends, all sparkling smiles and decked out for a night out on the town. At one end of the cluster of photos was a grainy picture of little Mia, no more than a sprite, staring blankly at the camera. Behind her was a stony-faced woman, her hair in a tight, rusty orange helmet of a bad perm, her talons gripped tightly onto Mia’s shoulders. The photo on the other end was another of Mia with the same woman, only both were much older. The woman with the perm was no longer stiff and slender. Instead, she’d shrunken into a hunched nib, her face a wizened, wrapped, grimacing skull. The perm was gone. In its place were tufts of baby fine white hairs, her spotty scalp peeking through. It was Mia this time who stood behind the woman, her hands on the woman’s shoulders.

While the woman standing there with her had disintegrated into old age, Mia had bloomed, as stunning as she was that evening. Her glossy hair cascaded over her shoulders. Her eyes were bright and lively, smiling at the person taking the picture. Conor presumed it may have been her father, but there were no traces of a father figure in any of the photos, not only on the shelf, but there were none hanging in the hallway or in the living room as well.

In fact, there were no traces of any men at all in any of the pictures. No brothers mugging at the camera with her. No boyfriends holding her close.

Not even a hint of a possible ex-husband. Conor had been out with plenty of women before who’d hidden that fact from their profiles. Quite often it wasn’t just that, either. They’d hidden all sorts of things that would’ve trapped men like him into a wired cage of baby momma debt and drink.

Something brushed against Conor, startling him. A striped, orange tabby rubbed her face against his trouser leg.

He laughed, a hand over his heart. “Scared the hell out of me, kitty.” He bent down to scratch the top of her head and under her chin. “Knew she was a cat lady. What’s your name, pretty girl?”

The cat edged closer, her purrs going locomotive. Conor examined the tag on her collar, rubbing her neck with his other hand as he did.

It read, #2 MAMA.

“Weird thing to call you. You a mama cat? Where are your kittens?” he murmured.

The tabby plopped herself down, sprawling out at his feet. Something then caught her eye just past Conor’s shoulder. Her pupils expanded, and she let out a rumbling growl from deep within. Conor turned to see what she had been distracted by. Another cat—leaner and shadow-like with a dark, satin coat—had perched on the back of the sofa, her ears flattened, her pupils wide and honed on the tabby. The two cats yowled at each other, and Conor laughed, backing up a bit, giving them room.

“Right. Which one of you is gonna kick the other’s ass?” he said. “My money’s on you, number two Mama.” He leaned in towards the black cat that paid absolutely no attention to what Conor was doing. Conor peered closely at the tag on the black cat’s collar.

“Number three Mama,” he said, reading the tag and chuckling. “And here I was, thinking you might be number one. Where’s number one hiding?”

The black cat leapt, clearly aiming for the tabby but missing by inches. She tumbled to the floor. The tabby then bolted in the opposite direction towards the hall where Mia had disappeared to, and the black cat scampered after her. 

“So I was right. You are a cat lady!” Conor called out towards the hall. “They always play rough with each other?”

He was met with only silence. Conor glanced at his watch. It was already past one in the morning, and he had to be up early for a conference call. It would either happen or it wouldn’t. Based on how long Mia had been back there, with no indication she was coming out, Conor didn’t think his chances were all that great. She could’ve crashed. That happened from time to time. Not like he couldn’t always expect otherwise on a weeknight.


…she could be back there somewhere, tending to her invalid mother.

Hold on. Did she say “mother”? He couldn’t recall. She’d mentioned taking care of someone…a “her.” A “roommate.”

But it had to be her mother, right?

Mia had put her mother on display, that grim-faced old lady. All those pictures, the two of them.

No male figure at all. Not a one.

“Mia?” he called as he made his way to the hallway. The whole place had gone quiet, the only sounds coming from the slight creaks and pops of the house settling and the far off rumbles of traffic on the main road not far from Mia’s street.

Conor loudly cleared his throat, as if to remind Mia again that he was there. “Listen, I’m gonna go. I gotta work thing tomorrow morning.”

Again, no answer. Conor could’ve sworn he heard the ticking of a clock from somewhere down the darkened hallway. He crept down the hall, listening to every sound as did. He passed what looked like a home office with a desk piled with books and papers beside the desktop computer, an old tangerine colored iMac that would’ve been right at home in the ’90s and probably took hours to boot up.

The little bathroom beside the office smelled awful, that sort of rancid stench that came from litter boxes that hadn’t been scooped and cleaned in awhile. Conor crinkled his nose in disgust. When he peeked around its doorway, he caught a glimpse of a couple of pairs of golden eyes peering back at him in the dark.

There was a moment of absolute stillness, the kind of quiet where it felt as if the air itself had stopped around him, and then he heard it.

It sounded as if someone was softly sobbing, the slight hitches barely an echo in the silence of the little house.

Conor slowly turned, craning to listen closely.

The muffled sobbing was coming from beyond the closed door across the hall from the bathroom.

“Mia?” Conor rapped softly on the door. “You okay?”

The sobbing stopped, halting Conor, as if signaling to him that whatever it was that had bothered them had eased.

Conor put his ear to the door, listening against it, his hand around the doorknob.

And he was suddenly jolted by the sound of a muffled cry beyond the door. That was enough for Conor to open the door.


He could barely see much in what seemed to be the master bedroom. The only light source came from the little lamp that was on the bedside table. A figure tied to the bedposts yanked and twisted against its restraints, trying to pull itself away towards Conor, who stood there, dumbfounded and gaping at the sight of it on the king-sized bed. Its shadow writhed a mad dance on the wall.

The figure looked like a rail thin woman twisting there in the bed. She was dressed in a nightgown decorated with daisies in faded pops of yellow. Her hair was a bright orange cap of tight curls. Ever so slowly, taking deliberate small steps towards her, Conor took in all of her appearance. It grew stranger the closer he moved towards her.

The odor emanating her was pungent, a wet, heady stew of baby shampoo, cooked onions, and week-old shit. Conor audibly coughed and gagged, cupping a hand over his mouth. She whipped her head in Conor’s direction as he approached her bedside. He gasped at the sight of the wretched creature’s face.

Her eyelids had been sewn shut with thick, white string. Each eyelid had been painted over to appear as if they were her actual eyes, wide with shiny, green irises that stared at the nothing there in front of her. Her lips had also been sewn shut so she couldn’t speak. All she could do was let out a pathetic, mewling whine.

“Jesus Christ. Are you her mother?” Conor whispered, as if expecting an answer. “Why the hell did she do this?”

He examined the restraints. They were what seemed, on first glance, leather, buckled straps. Underneath the straps, however, were handcuffs. Mia had obviously wanted to keep her prisoner wholly secure and dependent for some bizarre, and undoubtedly awful, reason.

Conor’s fingers brushed the back of the prisoner’s hand, a hand that was covered in coarse, black hairs, causing Conor to flinch his hand away.

“What the fuck…?”

Conor gently tugged at the orange mass of hair on the prisoner’s head, exposing the bald dome underneath. It was then when he let his focus wander further down, his eyes growing wide in horror.

A cluster of dark, curly hairs peeked out from the prisoner’s neckline, getting thicker down underneath the nightgown. It was then when Conor realized…

The Adam’s apple.

The light dusting of salt and pepper stubble around the sewn lips and along the cheeks and jawbone.

Even the chalky foundation and setting powder couldn’t hide what was clearly there.

Conor’s gaze traveled above the prisoner’s head. There, hanging on the wall, instead of the Live Love Laugh stencil or decorative slabs that he’d thought ridiculous décor, there was a colorful sign posted on a wooden block in careful, fine script that read—


Before he could say another word, before he could even consider doing anything else, Conor felt the blow hit the back of his skull, quick and searing and everything went black.


When everything slowly came back into focus, he was still in the dark with it, and his head felt numb with pain that stretched from the top of his head where he’d been struck to his eyelids to the inside of his mouth that was sore and sandpaper-dry. Conor tried to touch his eyes, but his wrists had been bound, and his arms had been pulled up on either side of him, so all he could do was rattle the chains and pull his wrists with only about a couple of inches’ worth of slack.

He felt a cool, wet cloth being patted along his brow line. Mia softly cooed at him as she dabbed at his eyelids that had been sewn shut. She hummed a little tune as she worked, cooling him down, and then tucking his hair underneath the wig.

“Mama, you’d be proud of me,” she said.

Conor found he couldn’t respond. Couldn’t move his lips or tongue.

In fact, he didn’t seem to have a tongue. He tried licking his teeth, but there was nothing but agony, thick and smoked.

His tongue had been cut out, the stub of it left cauterized. It explained the pain, the soreness that wouldn’t stop, the bitter taste of charred meat.

The wet washcloth felt so nice against his feverish skin. He felt himself drifting again, not quite reaching oblivion, just barely skimming it there.

“He was so rude in the restaurant, I knew it would be the best thing for him,” she continued. “I knew it would work, bringing him here. He was so eager to get in my pants just like you said. You’re always right, and I need to respect that. I need to respect you.”

Conor then felt the sudden chill of air, Mia having lifted the blanket that had been covering his naked body.

“Like you say, ‘A good man always listens to her hurt,’ and he just pretended to care like the rest of them. There now, almost done, Mama…”

Mia poked something cold and metallic against the base of his testicles, which were then caught in the middle of what felt like two sharp blades.

“One little snip, and you’ll be back to your regular self, good as new.”

And Conor’s scream caught in his throat, the bile rising, choking him.

“Just a little snip.”


Author’s Notes:

I’d had this idea for some time now, a story involving middle-aged people dating. By the time you’re deep in your 40’s, singlehood goes from being a basic social stigma to a never-ending, outright curse. The dating pool has become considerably narrowed because by then, it seems, most have already settled down with a partner. My own love life, if you were to call it that, felt so delayed due to my having been raised by a mother who didn’t like the thought of her daughters, especially her eldest, dating anyone.  I decided to take that motherly possessiveness and flip it on its head in the story, instead, having the protagonist unable to let go of her mother, especially after her mother’s death.

(“Single, Middle-Aged Cat Lady Seeks…” from Always Listen To Her Hurt, Blistered Siren Press, 2022)


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