Before And After Your Cat Died
Your cat sits on the stairs behind an old baby gate. He’s very sick, though you swear he won’t bite. It’s more for the other cats. They’d get at him.
“They’re not so nice,” you say, explaining to me the vampirism of felines, that infected blood is infected blood no matter how it’s drawn. Your mother’s cats, the other cats, have drawn my blood before tonight, but I didn’t learn, so I reach down to pet one of them and he bites my hand, draws the blood, licks the blood.
“There is something in blood,” your mother says, “that drives them wild. Go wash your hands.”
On my way to the bathroom, I eye the other cats with the courage and disgust I reserve for eyeing dangerous animals at the zoo. I will not suffer a tiger in the form of a farm cat. I point at my eyes and then at the other cats and I mouth, “I’m watching you all.” But I’m wrong. They are watching me.
The downstairs bathroom is hidden between two other rooms. Your mother’s farmhouse is like this. Each room is connected to at least two other rooms. All these rooms are full as flea markets. Some of them are closed off to visitors. They are your mother’s time capsules. The other cats get in these rooms, but fuck if you know how.
As I wash my hands, one of the other cats comes in from a connected room and paces the clawfoot bathtub. He looks like a grey ghost behind the film of the shower curtain. I flick the vinyl and he spins on it like a nest of hornets, rending a section to frays. The things that come undone before your very eyes.
Back in the kitchen, you argue with your mother about the whereabouts of your father. No one’s seen him in weeks. You roam the acres looking for his truck. You thought you heard it once, but then the sound died like it does when your head is being pushed underwater.
You tried calling him, but his cell phone went straight to voice mail — the sure sign of a dead battery.
“He’s in a ditch,” you say. “I know it. Nothing else is real.” You talk like the dazed people in movies.
Your mother gives you this look like you should know better. “Sweetie, your father does this all the time. It’s nothing new. Feed that cat of yours before I go crazy.”
Your cat is mewing for food behind his gate on the stairs. It’s the sound of a yawn gone audible. He knows you’ll trundle up sooner or later with a plate of meat. He’ll make the effort to eat it, though later he’ll get sick on your pillow, your desk, your laptop, your books. Not your books, Lord God, not your books.
“It’s the twilight of his years,” you say, but you don’t really believe it; it’s in the drama of your voice. You think we’re watching you for emotion, so you tremble your words like a wobbly table leg. “Everything’s slipping away.” Your hand jets to your lips to hide your disgusted smile.
Your mother is shaking the lemon juice and giving you this look. She says, “Daughter, don’t be so morbid.”
The other cats are pacing the big window by the kitchen table. I point a finger just to see. They hiss in unison and the closest one swats.
Your mother grabs a wooden spoon and a pan and bangs the air above the other cats, “Shoo!”
The other cats scream a line to the living room and peer from behind a couch, a chair, a plant. They give your mother a look that bares fangs.
Your mother says, “Like I care.” She gets back to cooking.
You get back to looking out the window. All those cows out there and not a one of them terminally ill. “They’re gross,” you say, “and they should die first, but they won’t.” You’re not joking.
I make a joke about how good you’ll feel when they’re slaughtered and you get to eat one. You say, “No more dying animals, OK?” But when the cows do die and when you do get to eat one at this very table, you will feel some satisfaction. It won’t be enough to assuage your grief, though, because nothing is ever enough for all that.
In the hint of spring, you’ll take the binoculars your mother uses to watch the cows, and you’ll climb a rise to survey the acres for a place to scatter your cat’s ashes. You’ll spot the bed of your father’s truck sticking out of a frozen pond like a rusty erection. You’ll not go down there yourself, but you’ll send your mother and she’ll act surprised.
You’ll never hear how right you were to worry. Instead, you’ll hear about the cows and the cats and how they followed your mother down there in a line. You’ll see the blood on their noses. Your mother will make you wipe it off with your t-shirt. She’ll say, “They’ve been at him all winter. Damn beasts.”
You’ll call to tell me all this, but your mother will treat it like any other thing on the farm, so you will not cry. You cannot cry.
You’ll say, “What can I do, short of biting everything I see?”
And I’ll say, “Maybe that’s just the thing.”
Your mother will pick up the phone in the kitchen and she’ll say, “No more biting anything.” She’ll clap her teeth together as if we didn’t know and she’ll say, “None of that.”
We’ll wait for her to hang up. We’ll anticipate the click. But the only thing we’ll hear is the tap of ice falling into a novelty glass and the sigh of your mother as she picks up the binoculars and sits down by the window, scanning the farm as if for a ghost.