Paul’s Cat – Jameson Currier (Chelsea Station Editions)

In an interesting occurrence of synchronicity, this past weekend I agreed to cat-sit for a couple of friends, and once ensconced in their apartment, I opened up Paul’s Cat by Jameson Currier, which ostensibly begins with Paul’s friend Jay arriving at Paul’s apartment to care for Paul’s cat. Paul’s cat escapes at once, and Jay must follow it, first down six flights of stairs to the basement laundry room. Of course nothing can be taken at face value: the “laundry room” in the basement is filled with drag queens preparing for a show. Paul’s cat then leads Jay on a merry chase: across the stage of an empty theater, outside and back into a theater lobby with a fortune teller, into a gym locker room, through a dance club (with VIP room), down a hallway before a set of doors guarded by an old man, across a pool, into a hospital, until finally reappearing on the roof of Paul’s apartment building. Along the way, the people that Jay meets continually prod him with questions, or offer him a choice (“Future or fortune?” “Pleasure or knowledge?” “Sobbing or screaming?”) while evading his own questions.

My first thought (led on by Jay’s initial descent to the basement, later reinforced by ending on the roof) was that Paul’s cat was going to lead Jay through some queer underworld. The idea of guided tours of the afterlife/other world is millennia old, going back to Classical Antiquity and even earlier. Jay does visit nine locales (similar to the nine circles of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy), but none of them deal specifically with punishment or reward. Instead of considering the possibilities of the afterlife, Jay’s journey is a trip into his past, down Memory Lane, although there seems very little nostalgic about this tour.

While I won’t say that his journey is archetypal, Jay’s recollection of his life takes him through many places familiar to Gay men: the drag show, the theater, the gym, the dance club; and many Gay Men of a Certain Age will remember many bedside vigils in the hospital. The introspective quality of Jay’s excursion, however, raises the possibility that Paul has died. Except that Paul himself does not appear in Jay’s musings about the past: the characters that Jay meets force him to focus on his own responses to situations in his past, questioning his life choices. Paul may be absent from Jay’s memories, but Jay continually contrasts his own reactions to the (more confident, more daring) responses that he presumes Paul would have given. (But then, if Paul is not a key figure in Jay’s memories, how is it that Jay is caring for his cat? How did they meet? Based upon what we learn about Jay, they apparently are not exes-become-friends, perhaps tricks-become-friends?)

Even with his cat acting as a catalyst for this journey, Paul is clearly incidental to Jay’s dream vision. Moreover, Jay’s journey is highly personal, the typical queer settings notwithstanding. And, as one can see, despite its short length, Currier’s story provokes numerous questions for the reader, just as it does for Jay. For all that I read this story within an hour, I find myself still thinking about it.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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