“Cat Owners,” by Tim Oke

Dec 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

‘You’re worried you’re losing your magic as a couple?’ Olivia asked.

‘Kind of. I look at our parents, and I don’t want that for us. I want something more,’ Jasmine said. She wished Olivia was older, grey haired and with large round spectacles that’s the kind of marriage counselor she wanted. Not early twenties, sleek jawed and toned shouldered.

‘What’s wrong with our parents? You’re so condescending about normal lives. As if we’re not normal. As if we’re above that. Superhuman, or something,’ Matt said, rolling his eyes.

‘If you’re not going to take this seriously, there’s no point,’ Jasmine said, shrugging her shoulders and looking at the door.

‘Okay, let’s calm down and take this slowly.’ Olivia double clicking her pen as she said this. ‘Why do you think we are here, Jasmine?’


‘Yes, I’d like to hear why you think you’re here.’

‘Well, I would like to discuss us. You know, what’s happening to us. Matt’s so distant. I think he’s got this sense of powerlessness about him. It feels like our relationship has gone cold, even with Anthony, our son. ‘

‘Oh come off it,’ Matt said, rolling his eyes again. Jasmine noticed that he had tried to comb his hair forward to hide his receding hairline. That was progress of sorts. He should just shave it all off though; he was fortunate enough to have the symmetry to pull it off.

‘Do you want to know who suggested this?’ Jasmine said. ‘Our son. That’s right, our son.’ She looked accusingly at Matt, letting this sink in. ‘He was reading a comic book and pointed to Doc Samson. You know the psychiatrist who is always going after the Hulk, the one who was exposed to gamma radiation, and became really strong?’ Jasmine looked at Olivia. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘we know all the characters now, Anthony is obsessed with them. Anyway, my point is our son pointed to Doc Samson and said, “He could help you and dad.” That’s how aware our son is of our unhappiness-‘

‘I wish you’d stop buying him those comic books. That’s half the problem,’ Matt said.

‘Please, Matt. Let Jasmine speak; this is a safe space.’

‘Thank you,’ Jasmine said. ‘I feel like Matt’s lost his direction. I feel like he’s taking his frustrations out on me, and on Anthony.’

‘On Anthony? That’s rich,’ Matt said.

‘Jasmine, would you like to share a specific example, to help contextualise your frustrations?’ Olivia asked.

‘It’s little things. He’s so tightly wound up. Last week, he shouted at me in front of Anthony because I didn’t want a cat. I mean, he just flies off the handle. He doesn’t want to talk it through at all.’

‘Sorry, can I speak now?’ Matt asked.

‘Please,’ Olivia said.

‘You know why Jasmine doesn’t want a cat? It’s because-‘

‘I never said this.’

‘Please… let’s try not to interrupt each other,’ Olivia said.

‘Because villains have cats, superheroes don’t. That’s why. She doesn’t want a cat because it doesn’t fit in with her idea of being a superhero-‘

‘I don’t think I’m a superhero,’ Jasmine said.

‘I don’t even like cats. I’m mildly allergic to them. I only wanted one as a way of putting all this behind us, you know? As a way of accepting we’re not superheroes. That’s what we agreed. We’re just ordinary people. Cat owners. And then at the last minute, she just says no. I think I’ve got a right to be a little angry at that.’

‘I don’t want a cat. Is that a crime? They’re selfish and they lick their genitals in front of you,’ Jasmine said.

‘I’m not sure I understand,’ Olivia said, shifting in her chair.

‘Jasmine thinks that because she has a superpower, she’s better than everyone else. She’s obsessed with it. And that’s why we can’t have a cat.’

‘I never said I have a superpower. And I certainly don’t think I’m better than everyone else.’

‘You don’t have to, it’s how you act.’

‘Superpower?’ Olivia asked.

‘Yes, go on, tell her,’ Matt said, pointing at Jasmine.

‘You know what? I think this has been a mistake. I thought this might help, but it’s not going to,’ Jasmine said.

‘No. We are here now. You may as well tell Olivia about your magical powers,’ Matt said, putting ‘magical powers’ in air quotes.

‘I can heat things with my eyes,’ said Jasmine, sighing.

‘Sorry?’ Olivia said, clicking her pen once.

‘You know, like that guy from the comics who can do the lasers out of his eyes,’ Matt said. ‘That’s why Jasmine reads comics with Anthony, she wants him to think that she is the female Cyclops. I mean… it’s ridiculous.’

‘I’ve never said I was the female Cyclops. I don’t have any lasers,’ Jasmine said.

‘I don’t understand,’ Olivia said.

‘Show her,’ Matt said.

‘Well, it’s already quite hot in here, so she probably won’t feel anything.’

‘It’ll still work, just about,’ he said.

‘I can heat things to 17 degrees. I’m not claiming it’s a superpower,’ Jasmine said, shrugging.

‘Well, in the interests of full disclosure, 17 degrees is the highest recorded temperature that Jas has ever managed. On most days we’re talking about 14 degrees,’ Matt said with a piggish snort.

‘See that’s what I’m talking about,’ Jasmine said, shaking her finger at Matt. ‘It’s frustrating for me that you’ve got this inferiority complex about it. Why can’t you just accept it? Or be happy for me? Instead, you try and belittle me. Did you hear that Olivia?’

Olivia nodded.

‘That is why we’re here. He makes me feel so small. And he does it in front of our son. That’s the worst thing. Like last week, when the electricity went, guess what he did? He turned to me in front of Anthony and said, “If only you could heat things another 10 degrees, then maybe we could have some dinner.” And that’s only the stuff he says in front of our son.’

‘Can we slow down a bit? You think that you have a superpower? Is this in a metaphorical sense?’

‘Show her. Prepare to be amazed,’ Matt said, doing jazz hands.

‘Okay, give me your arm,’ Jasmine said, rolling her eyes at Matt as she stood up and walked over to Olivia. Olivia stood up and held out her arm, looking at both of them as if this was a setup, and they were about to burst into laughter.

‘Ouch,’ Olivia said.

‘Ouch?’ Matt said. ‘What do you mean ouch? Was it actually hot?’

‘No, not exactly… but I felt it warming.’

‘Exactly, warm. Big deal.’

‘For god’s sake, no one is saying it’s a big deal,’ Jasmine said.

‘That was incredible,’ Olivia said.

‘Oh come off it,’ Matt said, shaking his head.

‘I’m serious, you have a gift.’

‘Thank you, but it’s not a massive deal.’

‘What’s the point of this?’ Matt asked, turning to Jasmine . ‘If you’re going to lie?’

‘What do you mean by that, Matt?’ Olivia asked, clicking her pen and trying to catch his eyeline.

‘She says it’s not a big deal, but that’s a total lie. To her, it is the only thing that matters. I mean, she’s had Anthony doing every activity under the sun. He is 9 years old and has a bruise that covers the entire side of his right face because she thought he might be able to fly-‘

‘That was his idea,’ Jasmine said. ‘You don’t think I feel guilty about that? I do.’

‘He’s 9 years old, desperately trying to please his mother, which for a kid of that age is unhealthy in itself. He should be out with his mates playing football.’

‘What happened exactly?’ Olivia asks.

‘Anthony thought he might be able to fly if he had a bit of help. Like if he jumped off the shed. And she said, “good idea.” I mean he’s lucky he didn’t break his legs, or worse.’

‘That was a mistake. Am I not allowed to make a mistake? I’ve said sorry. Can you stop punishing me for it?’

‘She’s had Anthony throwing daggers, shooting arrows, and she made him touch an electric fence a month ago to see if he could store and re-channel the electricity.’

‘It was extremely low wattage. I tried it first.’

‘What kind of mother does that? An electric fence!’

‘Low wattage. I looked it up online before we tried it, there was never a chance of any injury. And he wanted to.’

‘You see?’ Matt said, gesturing to Olivia. ‘This is what we’re dealing with. Someone that encourages their 9-year-old son to touch electric fences and jump off sheds. She’s going to turn him into a weirdo.’

‘Don’t you dare say that about our son! Don’t you dare,’ Jasmine shouted. ‘You just feel excluded. While we’re outside having fun you’re sitting on the couch moping around, feeling sorry for yourself. It’s you that has the problem, not Anthony, not me.’

‘What do you want me to do? Come outside and touch electric fences with you both?’

‘Yes. We want you to join us, we’ve asked you. Anthony has asked you. But no, all you want to do is watch daytime TV. You’re pathetic.’

‘Okay, okay, Let’s dial this down. I mean, sorry, I’m slightly speechless…—’

‘Can we please skip all the shock and awe and get to the counselling bit, I mean we are paying for this, right?’ Matt said.

‘Right. Yes, of course,’ Olivia said. ‘Jasmine I’m interested in why you’re encouraging your son to do these things. Could you share that?’

‘Good question,’ Matt said, slapping his knee.

‘I have a hunch that Anthony is gifted-‘

‘This is the problem. You see?’ Matt said, turning to Olivia. ‘Most people are trying to prepare the child for exams, maybe one day university , but Jas is trying to figure out whether he can fly. And how do you think that makes him feel? That kind of expectation?’

‘Do you feel like you are pressuring him?’ Olivia asked Jasmine.

‘No, I don’t. He’s practically a model student.’

‘Academics aren’t the only thing.’

‘He doesn’t want to play football or join the school play. Or whatever it is you think he should be doing. That’s not him. He’s more thoughtful.’

‘Only because he reads all those comics, full of superheroes who are these extreme individualists. We are teaching him to be an island. It’s not healthy.’

‘I’m not teaching him to be an island! That’s you. That’s you sitting alone watching TV every day. That’s you not joining in. That’s what this is about. Start talking to him more.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just trying to look out for him. He needs to be out there with his mates.’

‘See?’ Jasmine said, turning to Olivia. ‘He says I’m the one forcing Anthony to do things he doesn’t want.’

‘You’re the one pushing him away from me,’ Matt shouted.

‘Okay, let’s just slow this down. What do you mean by that, Matt?’ Olivia asked clicking her pen and dropping it on the floor. Both Matt and Jasmine looked at her, waiting for her to pick it up. But she didn’t. She looked back, pretending it hadn’t happened; her hands shaking slightly.

‘Jas feels I’m not good enough. And has been saying the same thing to Anthony,’ Matt said.

‘I have not. I mean how could you think that?’

‘Well, you imply it.’

‘When have I ever implied that?’

‘What about when we were in that queue the other day for the Natural History Museum, and you said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to see how far the queue goes? Remember when you could do that, Matt?”‘

‘I was just irritated by the queue.’

‘Well, you said in front of Anthony. And I heard him ask you whether I would ever get my powers back. You know, when we were inside the museum, looking at the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.’

‘Sorry, I don’t think in following this,’ Olivia said.

‘You’re not following it, because it is not making much sense,’ Jasmine said.

‘Jasmine is pushing me out because I can no longer levitate.’

‘Levitate?’ Olivia asked

‘When we got married I could levitate, yes.’

‘Like, levitate off the ground? This is amazing.’

‘Well, maybe at the time it felt like it was. But looking back now, it really wasn’t.’

‘This is what I’m talking about. He’s so dismissive. As if levitating isn’t a big thing. How many people do you know, Olivia, who can levitate?’

‘None,’ Olivia said.

‘Exactly. He’s got low self-esteem,’ Jasmine said.

‘It was barely noticeable.’

‘There you go again, doing yourself down,’ Jasmine said.

‘I could only do it up to two centimeters or so… and that was a good day.’

‘I’m sure you went to three once,’ Jasmine said.


‘Whatever? How many other people can even do one millimeter?’

‘Anyway, one day I just got up and couldn’t do it any-more. And, frankly, it was a relief. I didn’t care.’

‘Didn’t care? I’m sorry, I’m not going to listen to you rewrite history. You were depressed for six months. You barely managed to go into work. You were in tears when he found out you couldn’t levitate anymore.’

‘I was depressed because you made me feel inadequate. I thought you wouldn’t love me. Not because I couldn’t levitate two centimeters ‘.

‘Three. And what? So it’s all my fault now?’

‘It was how you responded to it. It was like the end of the world to you.’

‘That’s nonsense.’

‘You kept telling me not to worry because I’d be able to levitate again soon. You didn’t help me move on.’

‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this. After everything I did. I was there for you 100 percent.’

‘What I didn’t realise when we married,’ he said, looking at Olivia, ‘was that Jas thought we were going to have this life that was different from everyone else’s. Because of our superpowers. We were going to have this great and happy life. She was so entitled, and I didn’t even realise it.’

‘You thought it too. You basically said so in our wedding vows. “Here’s to a different life“. That’s what you said.’

‘I didn’t mean we were going to have a different life because I could get an extra two millimeters off the ground!’

‘Would you stop saying two, when it was definitely three? And what did you mean then?’

‘I meant that we were going to be happy together. That’s all.’

‘That’s just not true. I remember you levitated while we cut the cake. No one else noticed, but I did. I remember you winking at me. And you can see it in the pictures. You’re three centimeters taller than everyone else.’

‘I don’t remember that.’

‘Well I’ve got the pictures to prove it.’

‘We’re 45 years old. We need to move on. And, guess what, we do look like our parents. What did you think would happen?’

‘So what if I thought we would be different. Is that such a crime? We were happy until you stopped levitating. It’s not just me that’s changed, it’s you. And don’t write our son off. He might have a gift. Maybe he will do something with it.’

‘What’s that meant to mean exactly?’

‘It’s meant to mean you’re a hypocrite. You find life boring without the extra three centimeters. And, just because you don’t have that extra space, you’re taking it out on Anthony and me. You’re trying to make us just like you.’

‘Anthony thinks you don’t love him. That’s the problem. That’s what he thinks; he thinks you don’t love him because he doesn’t have a superpower. That’s why he’s jumping off sheds. That’s why he’s touching electric fences,’ shouted Matt, cradling his head in his hands.

‘Says the man that barely speaks to his son anymore. How would you know?’

A moment passed when no one spoke, and the only sound was the faint sniffling of Matt.

‘You know what? I can’t live with this,’ Jasmine says quietly. ‘If you feel so strongly then I think we need to talk about separation for a while. Because this is not fair.’

‘Unfair? You think it’s unfair on you? You are in love with an idea. The idea of us as a special family. You can’t see past it. You can’t even get a cat, because you think you’re a superhero. It’s not working. We don’t work.’

‘It’s working,’ Jasmine said, standing up.

‘It’s not working, is not working at all.’

‘No, I mean, you’re levitating.’


‘You’re levitating. Maybe even more than three centimeters off the chair!’

‘On my god.’ He looked down at his feet.

‘That’s amazing,’ Olivia said, ‘but can we just go back to what you said about your son.’

‘I’m levitating.’

‘He’s levitating. I think it could be four centimeters .’

‘Do you think so?’ Matt said.

‘I’m certain,’ Jasmine said.

‘Olivia, do you have a tape measure?’ Matt asked.

‘Maybe somewhere, but I don’t think that’s the point of this session.’

‘Get the tape measure quickly,’ Jasmine said.

Olivia looked at them both, shrugged, stood up and walked out of the room. Jasmine watched Olivia leave in search of a tape measure. A bit of urgency wouldn’t hurt, Jasmine muttered.

‘Did you know this would happen?’ Matt asked.

‘I hoped it would. I had this idea. You know Doc Sampson?’

‘The psychiatrist guy that stole Hulk’s girlfriend?’

‘Yeah, well you know he changed the Hulk back into a normal person, I thought maybe it could work the other way. Maybe a therapist might be able to help you do the reverse? I thought maybe if we took away the safety net it might come back. You know, talk about how we feel, and the separation. I thought it might force us to be who we used to be.’

‘You’re a genius,’ Matt said tears forming in his eyes.

‘I think we need to refocus on Anthony,’ Olivia said, returning.

‘Anthony has a gift, we just don’t know what it is yet,’ Jasmine said.

‘And, he is doing very well academically at school,’ Matt said.

‘Exactly, so what if he is not the most extrovert of children. He is deeper than that,’ Jasmine said while measuring the distance between Matt and the floor.

‘Yes, he’s much deeper than that. He’s a thinker,’ Matt said.

‘Oh Matt! It’s six centimeters. You’ve doubled your superpower.’

‘If I can double mine, maybe you can too. I mean 34 centigrade would actually be quite hot.’

‘It’s possible.’

‘I think we are potentially missing the point here about your child.’

‘Anthony wants us to be a happy family again. You’ve helped us with that. We haven’t missed the point – you have,’ Jasmine said.

‘Yes, exactly. It’s like a cloud has lifted. This feels like a second chance. Like a real second chance,’ Matt said.

‘You know what? Anthony has quite a lot of your features. Maybe we should try him on levitation again?’

‘Yes, that’s a great way for me and him to reconnect, I know I haven’t been exactly the most communicative over the last couple of months, ‘ Matt said.

‘Oh, don’t worry about that. There’s a lot of things which I said and did that I’m not proud of either.’

‘I’m sorry, but I think this is unethical, ‘ Olivia said.

Matt and Jasmine looked at Olivia as if they had forgotten she was there.

‘How you’re treating your son, I mean. I think you need to stop and think about the consequences of your actions on him.’

‘How we raise our son has nothing to do with you,’ Jasmine said.

‘You’ve got a nerve,’ Matt said, slapping his thigh.

‘You said that Anthony felt that you didn’t love him because he didn’t have these powers? What’s changed?’

‘Everything’s changed. If I can levitate again, there’s almost no way Anthony does not have superpowers. Don’t you see that?’ Matt said. ‘Before, when I thought he didn’t, I was angry. I thought we were leading him down a path he couldn’t go down. I’m not too proud to say I was wrong. And Jas was right.’

‘Isn’t that the sign of a true man?’ Jasmine said, leaning over and squeezing Matt’s hand.

‘It would be wrong to let Anthony not develop powers he naturally has,’ Matt said.

‘It would be criminal,’ Jasmine said.

‘Sorry. I think we need to talk more about whether this is the best thing for Anthony,’ Olivia said.

‘You’ve done great work, but you’re now overstepping a line,’ Jasmine said.

‘Ouch,’ Olivia said, rubbing the side of her face. ‘That burns’.

‘Burns?’ Jasmine asked.

‘More than 17 degrees?’ Matt asked.

‘Yes, much higher,’ Olivia said, running from the room as her hair caught fire.

‘Olivia, you are a miracle worker. You’ve saved our family,’ Jasmine shouted after her.


Tim Oke writes short stories and plays. His plays and stand up-acts have appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe, and his short stories have been published in anthologies, magazines and websites including Idle Ink, The Writers Club, Storgy, and Scribble. Tim is working on a book of short stories and a novella (http://www.tim-oke.com/). You can find him on Twitter @TimOke9.

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