Margot collapsed on the table, laying her head in her hands. She felt as though a leech, grown heavy and swollen with her blood, had at last popped off her skin, leaving a tender, bruised spot behind. But why should she feel this way? Perhaps she was being unfair to Robert, who really had done nothing wrong, except like her, and be bad in bed, and maybe lie about having cats, although probably they had just been in another room.

Margot has this reaction of extreme relief after Robert responds to her break-up text by wishing her well and hoping she will contact him if she changes her mind. The animal imagery of the story functions here not only to describe how Margot now sees Robert, as a leech attacking her flesh, but also brings the title back into play. He texted so much about the cats, and even reminded her, “darkly,” that they were in the house before he unlocked the front door, yet now their apparent absence is one more unanswered question. Not knowing who Robert really is, or even if he is a “cat person,” has been sucking the life out of Margot, leading to the collapse described in these sentences.

On the drive, he was quieter than she’d expected, and he didn’t look at her very much. Before five minutes had gone by, she became wildly uncomfortable, and, as they go on the highway, it occurred to her that he could take her someplace and rape and murder her; she hardly knew anything about him, after all.

Just as she thought this, he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to murder you,” and she wondered if the discomfort in the car was her fault, because she was acting jumpy and nervous, like the kind of girl who thought she was going to get murdered every time she went on a date.

These lines highlight the story’s horror motif to express Margot’s uneasiness not only with Robert’s behavior but also with her inability to understand it. Something has to explain the silence in the car, and conditioned by horror stories in which women are often the victims of violent crime, Margot comes up with this explanation, which is both extreme and imaginable. When Robert speaks, it’s almost as if he has read her mind, and to dispel this notion, Margot feels the need to blame herself.

And, as though fear weren’t quite ready to release its hold on her, she had the brief wild idea that maybe this was not a room at all but a trap meant to lure her into the false belief that Robert was a normal person, a person like her, when in fact all the other rooms in the house were empty, or full or horrors: corpses or kidnap victims or chains.

The gothic motif is at work in this section, which occurs after Margot enters Robert’s house, where he is in control and holds the car keys as well. The front room looks normal, yet she wonders whether the house and its owner are what they seem. Her imagination is primed to think of “corpses” and “chains,” and the language is over the top. How many “other rooms” can be in this average house? If Robert is not a “normal person,” what kind of monster might he be? Margot’s previous misgivings have her on high alert for anything amiss, and she knows that Robert is watching how she reacts.

She was starting to think that she had misunderstood him—how sensitive he was, how easily he could be wounded—and that made her feel closer to him, and also powerful, because once she knew how to hurt him she also knew how he could be soothed. She asked him lots of questions about the movies he liked, and she spoke self-deprecatingly about the movies at the artsy theater that she found boring or incomprehensible. . . .

These lines spotlight how hard Margot feels she must work to manage Robert’s feelings and to assuage his ego. They have spent only a little time together—a few moments at the convenience store earlier in the story and a few hours in the car and at a movie. Margot has carefully observed Robert during this time, noting words and actions that cause him to withdraw and those that cause him to open up a bit. Margot seems to assume that it is her job, as the woman in their relationship, to track Robert’s behavior and adjust her own approach to him as they talk. Her efforts benefit him at her own expense, as she goes so far as to put herself down to build him up. Yet her progress in massaging his feelings pleases her because she mistakes it for actual intimacy. Notably, he does not do the same for her.