Linda Marten

by Katy E. Whittingham

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Linda Marten
I wasn’t always her.  I used to be me, and I had a cat named Bobby Mac and a job working for the post office, but I wasn’t a carrier because of my bad knees.
I fed Bobby at 6 :00 and then at 5:30 when I got home from my job for the United States Postal Service.  First the phone messages started asking for Linda, and I noticed there were always two blackbirds sitting on the wire outside my window.  A friend told me birds use wire for their nests sometimes and really mess up your connection, but these birds were just sitting, always sitting.  No, I said to the phone voices then.  No, I said, I was not Linda Marten, until finally they convinced me.
Bobby was old, but not so old for a cat.  If he were a dog he might have been long dead, but he was always old, old since he started coming around.  He was a stray, and I adopted him because I always loved cats.  I loved that cat.  Linda, they told me, was allergic.  Over the winter, my face slowly changed and the birds finally flew away.  The mail began to come with her name on it, and I went into to work to report the problem, but they told me that a Linda Marten did not even work for them; they said I did not work for them.  They didn’t recognize me; I didn’t recognize me.  There was a time I didn’t leave the house or talk to anyone aside from Bobby because when you don’t know who you are, conversation becomes quite difficult.  A simple errand like going for groceries became almost impossible and was pointless because I no longer liked my favorite foods.  It wasn’t until I woke up at 6:00 to feed Bobby on the coldest day I can remember that I ventured back into the world.  My punctual cat was not at the door waiting.  He was missing.  The only part of my heart that was still mine broke in two.  I called the police, but the responding officer seemed less than concerned.  “Hey, what’s the difference between a cat and a dog?” the officer joked, “dogs come when they’re called; cats take a message and get back to you later.”  His inappropriate brevity did not ease my fears, and I told him, frankly, that I didn’t know about dogs, but Bobby never missed breakfast.  Bobby did not ignore my calls.  Without offering to come by and help, he suggested I check with the neighbors, but no one wanted to open their door to me.  Their faces were familiar, but mine was strange and dirty.  My reflection in the glass was strange and dirty.  I went home to wash my face and try to cover up my Linda mask when I noticed that I had a phone message.  Excitedly, I pressed the button hoping it was news about dear Bobby.  “Linda,” the message began, “you need to stop coming to look for my cat, you witch.  My daughter is crying right now, afraid you will take Putty away again.  Do you like making little girls cry, Linda?”  No, it seemed Linda did not, and with that, the transition was complete.  I gave up.  What choice did I have? When you have a cat named Bobby Mac and a job at the United States Postal Service, and then you don’t, well, you might as well accept yourself as Linda Marten.

Katy Whittingham has her MFA from Emerson college and teaches the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  Her poetry collection By a Different Ocean was published by Plan B Press, and her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in various journals and magazines.

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