Nemo at the Café

by Gary Inbinder


“The alarm rang. Nemo got up at five a.m., wrote a story and submitted it to the Super-Duper Internet Flash Fiction Writers’ contest. Estimated word count, 20. The End.”

Nemo went online and submitted what he had written to the contest. Then, he left his furnished studio apartment, waddled down three flights and entered the red brick courtyard. A friendly tabby cat rubbed against Nemo’s leg and meowed, “Good morning, Mr. Nemo.”

“Good morning, friendly cat.” Nemo rubbed the cat behind its ear, and looked up at clouds encircling a full moon. “Nemo predicts a fine day.”

The friendly cat rolled onto his side and licked its privates. “It will be a fine day when it rains sardines.”

“Nemo agrees that a sardine shower would benefit cats, but I fear it might inconvenience humans.”

“I would not wish to inconvenience humans, although many of your species would appreciate free sardines.” The cat stopped grooming, stretched, shook his tail and began padding in the direction of the garage. Nemo followed him.

“Nemo has just submitted a story that is sure to win a prize.”

The cat stopped, and cocked his head. “Is it about a talking cat?”

“No, alas, all Nemo’s stories about talking cats have been rejected.” Nemo frowned. In the past two years, he had collected one-hundred and twenty-two talking-cat story rejections.

“The editors have no imagination and do not appreciate the variety of experience within the natural world.”

Nemo nodded and changed the subject. “Have you a name?”

“My mistress calls me Cleopatra.”

Nemo raised his bushy eyebrows. “Does she, indeed? Nemo does not wish to be indelicate, but he has observed that you are a neutered tomcat.”

“Mr. Nemo, I am presently the submissive in a Nietzschean master-slave relationship with my mistress’s other neutered tom, Mark Antony. Cleopatra seems appropriate.”

Nemo knew many talking cats but this was the first who had evidenced familiarity with Nietzsche’s Toward a Genealogy of Morals. “I see. Nemo agrees that Cleopatra is a fine name, but he would prefer to call you Kafka. That is, if you do not object?”

“A friendly, submissive cat is hardly in a position to object to a human. Call me what you will.” The cat spied a songbird on a tree-branch. “Please excuse me, Mr. Nemo. My cat nature compels me to make an attempt on that bird’s life. Auf Wiedersehn.” Claws extended, the predatory cat scampered into the bushes, leapt onto the tree-bark and began his stealthy ascent.

Nemo observed the drama. He admired the cat’s hunting skills, but suffered a twinge of sadness for the doomed warbler. A rustle of leaves, a flurry of feathers: Nemo composed a haiku, and then proceeded to the garage.

* * *

Nemo parked in his usual spot by the café. Drizzle spattered the shop’s awning and drops dripped into rippling puddles on the pavement fronting the café. His friends, Kafka the insurance adjuster, Kafka the bureaucrat, and Kafka the unemployed sat at an outdoor table under a yellow umbrella. Kafka the insurance adjuster cried, “Good morning Mr. Nemo. It looks like we’re in for a fine day.”

Nemo smiled. The rising sun lit the garbage-strewn parking lot; scavenging crows screeched and circled overhead. “A fine day, indeed.”

Nemo purchased his coffee and joined his friends. “Nemo has just written a prizewinning story.”

“That’s wonderful. Is it about a talking cat?” asked chipper Kafka the insurance adjuster.

“No, Nemo fears that talking cat stories are in bad odor with editors, unless one happens to be a best-selling, prize-winning writer.”

“That goes without saying,” averred Kafka the unemployed. “Could you tell us what your story is about?”

“Of course. Nemo’s story is a twenty-word flash fiction contest story about a writer who submits a twenty-word story to a flash fiction contest.”

“Sounds brilliant, not to mention tautological,” Kafka the unemployed replied. “I’d like to link a five-word excerpt to my blog.”

“Nemo would be grateful, but it will have to wait until they announce the prizes, and since I am certain to win you will need the contest administrator’s permission at that time.”

“When will they announce the winners?”

“No later than the end of the next century, or Judgment Day, whichever comes first.”

“How expeditious,” Kafka the bureaucrat interjected.

“Yes, it is.” Nemo replied. Nemo noticed the bureaucrat’s frown. “Kafka the bureaucrat seems troubled. Is something amiss within our bureaucracy?”

The bureaucrat sipped his coffee, looked down at his soggy shoes and muttered, “After thirty years of dutiful service, I have been forced into early retirement.”

“But surely, after all those years you will receive a substantial pension and other generous benefits?” chimed in Kafka the unemployed.

“It is not so much the pension and benefits but the work that I will miss.”

“By the way, what was it that you did all those years?” the insurance adjuster inquired.

“When I started, I sat at a desk reviewing papers. Those papers I approved, I stamped in blue and passed on to another department. Those papers I disapproved I stamped in red and returned to the department that sent them. Then we got computers and e-mail, so I began reviewing, stamping, approving, rejecting, forwarding and returning online.”

“Nemo can understand your regretting the loss of such a job.” Then, Nemo smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder. “How about another round of coffee?”

The friends bought Kafka the bureaucrat a latte to cheer him up, and even Kafka the unemployed chipped in.

* * *

At six a.m. at the end of the next century, or Judgment Day, whichever came first, Nemo reviewed the prizewinners of the Super-Duper Internet Flash Fiction Writers’ contest. His name was not on the list. Perhaps editors did not like stories about writing stories unless written by a best-selling, prize-winning writer. He shook his head and began typing a story about his friend Kafka, a talking cat who read Nietzsche.


Copyright © 2008 by Gary Inbinder

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