The camera, the one Tina got on our trip to Concord the other day, is sitting on my kitchen table. She walked in the door with it ten minutes ago, and now she is drinking coffee, her bare feet propped on a chair, her hair mussed from the wind that was gusting outside my apartment before she came inside. It is barely dawn, and we haven’t turned on any lights. The dim glow from outside the kitchen windows tints us both blue, and I feel chilled by the air.
“I want to go to the park today,” she says. “I need to break in my camera.”
“Do you want breakfast first?” I ask. I am not yet properly dressed, in sweatpants and T-shirt, hair mussed, unshaven. I knew she had been coming early this morning, but somehow I had been expecting her to wait until the sun had come up.
“We can get something on the way,” she says. “I want to get there early.”
“Obviously,” I say. Once upon a time, Tina had been a photographer for hire—weddings, portraiture, that sort of thing. I’d done some jobs with her in the past, mostly being her second gun at large events, catching the shots on the periphery while she did all the real work. It was never my passion, and when she started shooting for herself instead of for other people, I didn’t feel the need to try and make a go of it for myself. Tina is the true artist between us. I just drift on through.
“I want to go to the tea garden,” Tina says. “It’s supposed to be overcast today.”
“Okay,” I say, and sip my coffee. Cloudy days make for the best lighting, all soft light and shadows. Tina used to shoot a lot of her engagement photos there, with the pagoda or arching moon bridge as backdrops. I know it’s her favorite place to shoot in the park.
There is a sound from outside my back door, a soft but insistent mewing. “Hang on,” I tell Tina, standing up. “I forgot to feed the cat.”
“You don’t have a cat,” she says.
“It’s not mine.” I take one of the small cans of cat food that I bought at the market two days ago down from the cupboard near the sink. “I don’t know who it belongs to.”
“It belongs to you if you’re feeding it.”
I empty the wet food onto a small plate and take it to the back door. The cat—a small black and white kitten with slightly gummy eyes—is waiting on the other side. Its meowing becomes louder as I open the door, although it doesn’t try to enter the apartment. It moves off down to the foot of the stairs and waits while I set the food down, then close the door behind me.
Tina comes to the window over the sink and peers out. “I give it a week before it moves in. You’re a softy.”
“I don’t want a cat,” I say. I put the empty can into the recycling. “I don’t even like cats.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “You’re a pushover. Always have been.”
She’s right about that, of course, and there’s no point in denying it. “Do I have time for a shower? I didn’t take one last night.”
“If I told you no, you’d just go without,” she says. She pours the last bit of her coffee down the sink and rinses out the cup. “Go ahead. Make it quick though. I want to catch the light before it changes.”
“Alright. Give me five minutes.” Instead of responding, she looks out the window again at the kitten, and I leave the kitchen and head to my room to get clothes for after my shower. I grab a clean shirt, but take the jeans I wore yesterday off the chair I’d draped them on before going to bed last night. Photography with Tina is always a messy business, and there is no point in dirtying up clean pants with a morning and afternoon of crawling through bushes, kneeling in mud and splashing through the edges of ponds. She isn’t afraid of getting dirty while she works, and after all this time, I’m not either. I’ve learned over the years that shooting with her isn’t for the delicate.
I wash quickly, not bothering with a shave, and dress in the bathroom. When I return to my room to put my sweatpants and dirty shirt into the hamper, I find Tina sitting on my bed, shoes still off. The kitten is on her lap, purring as she scratches it beneath the chin. “You knew you were going to let it in,” she says. “I just thought I’d cut to the chase.”
“I don’t like cats,” I says again. “It wasn’t going to come inside.”
“She’s a girl. I’m going to name her Jessie.”
“If you’re going to name it,” I say, “then you can take it home with you.”
She rolled the cat onto its back and started to scratch its belly. The cat did not protest, only increased the volume of its purrs. “I’m not taking her. She’s your cat.”
“She’s not my cat, she’s a stray. I can’t take care of myself, let alone an animal. She’d starve inside of a week.”
“You’re already feeding her.”
“Obviously that was a mistake,” I say.
“Doesn’t matter,” she says. “Jessie lives here now, so you’re just going to have to get used to the idea. Do you have any litter?”
“What? Of course I don’t have any litter. Why would I have any litter?”
She gets off the bed and hands the kitten to me. “Then I’ll go get you some.”
“No. I don’t want to keep the cat. Besides, we’re going to go to the park. You need to catch the light, right?”
“The light will wait,” she says. “We can go after. This is more important.”
The cat is licking the tips of my fingers and making itself at home against my chest. “Tina…”
“I’ll be back in ten minutes,” she says. She scratches the kitten on the head. “You should have gotten a cat years ago. She looks good on you.”
“I don’t like cats,” I say once more.
“Well she likes you.” She walks toward the living room where her shoes are, but pauses in the doorway to say, “Ten minutes. You two get to know one another. I’ll be right back.” She continues into the other room, leaving me alone with the cat.
“I don’t like you,” I say to the kitten, holding it up face-to-face with me. “Just so you know.”
The cat mews, closes its eyes and continues contentedly licking my fingertips.