Words By Anne Rieman, Art By Arthur Heyer
The following piece is the flash fiction winner of F(r)iction’s Summer 2017 Literary Contest.
When I call my mother now, she only wants to talk about the Cat—his beautiful white fur, his green eyes. She tells me, “He’s sitting in the sun,” or, “He’s lying under his blanket.” At night the Cat reads books about WWII by the light of a silver lamp shaped like a cantaloupe. She brushes his fur, cleans his litter-box, and feeds him only the best wet food. They are still very much in love.
But I know the Cat.
Thirty years ago, he moved into my mother’s house. He meow’d by the door one night until she opened it and he slid in with his books and briefcase. Not long after, my mother said, “I love him. If I die, he will never be with another lady, and if he dies, I will never be with another cat.”
When I sat down to breakfast that first day, he squirted grapefruit in my eye. “You didn’t cut all the sections. It was hard to eat,” he hissed.
I said, “So what! So what. Cut it yourself then.” I was angry at my mother for loving the cat so much when the Cat wasn’t very nice to me at all. When I stood up to go, the Cat jumped up on the table, his whiskers fanned out like wings, and scratched me right across the cheek. Blood streaked along the underside of my chin, down my neck, and into my training bra. I didn’t expect him to apologize. That is what the Cat is like.
One day when he was very old and had been living with my mother for many years, the Cat had to go the vet. He was very sick with a tiny hernia deep in his belly. He screeched and flailed in the car and on the stainless steel exam table.
“Does he have all his teeth?” the Vet asked. The Cat was moving too much for the vet to see into his mouth.
“Yes, I have all my teeth, goddamn it,” the Cat said.
When my mother told me this part later, she said the vet was pleased and complimented her on how well she took care of the Cat.
While the cat slowly recovered, I came to visit him.
“I’m sorry you’re hurting, but you’ll be okay,” I said to him.
“I have to get out of here. No one will let me get out of here. I don’t have money for the bus. If I ride it without paying I’ll get arrested,” the Cat said. He was delirious with pain pills. He put his paws up to my cheek. They were smaller and pinker than I remembered them. The skin of his arm bagged at the elbow.
“I’m sorry we never got along.” I said, “I don’t hate you. I hope you know that.”
But the Cat just hissed and fell back asleep.