(reading time: 5 minutes)
I Thought it was the Cat
Demoted for a raise. Strange I know, but it’s the only way to put it. They wanted me out of the building after the ‘softball incident’. I won’t go into detail about it other than to say they’re all sore losers.
It was mutual. I get an extra five K a year and I use it to pay the price of being near all our distribution centers on the East coast. Being equidistant from three truck stops in the middle of nowhere puts you, you guessed it, in the forgotten rusty storage shed of nowhere’s overgrown backyard.
No partner. Had one, but they also didn’t care for my gloating after the softball incident. So when I got there, town called Cracklebranch, my roommates were a pair of suitcases. Got a tiny house on the cheap. Couldn’t hear anything at night. No crickets. No birds in the morning either.
The bar in town was practically the city council too. All the decisions were made there, and usually by whoever ordered the next round. It was pretty easy to ingratiate myself even though I was the only one tucking in their shirt.
“I thought it was the cat,” I told my next door neighbor, my sixteen-miles-away neighbor, over a pair of cold ones. He’d asked me what the first thing I noticed about Cracklebranch was. Silly me, thinking there was just one cat. The one I was talking about was on the hanging sign outside the bar. A fierce face scratched in the wood, but so round that it had to be a tabby and not a cougar.
“Good eyes,” he told me, scratching his wispy white hair. “You can’t live here without getting a cat.”
“Why is that?” He adjusted on his stool. His formidable backside practically had the shape of the stool molded into it, so it couldn’t have been for comfort.
“Been here thirty years. People without cats just have a hard time. Bad luck. Lots of mice. Just get one, trust me.”
“I’m not a cat person.” It was true. Never liked animals. Nothing against them, I just don’t like cleaning up messes. I don’t even tolerate my leather suitcases once they’ve got a scratch.
“It doesn’t matter; you need one,” he insisted. “Make sure it’s a tortoiseshell. They’re traditional around here. Here.” He pulled out a card for an animal shelter. That was so strange to me. Who carries a card like that?
“I thought it was the cat,” everybody else told me when I tried to joke about my neighbor’s advice. That was what they said when talking about what helped them settle in the most.
‘Wait, you don’t have a cat yet?’
‘That’s the first order of business.’
‘Have you tried sleeping without one yet?’
‘If you want to last around here you need a cat. I’ve got an extra you can borrow.’ Fine. I got there by not being a team player, so I decided I’d be a team player this time.
At the shelter they had a hundred tortoiseshell cats, treated like royalty. Whoever was funding that place I had the feeling it wasn’t the government. I didn’t know how to pick one, so I closed my eyes and pointed randomly. The lady running the place didn’t take kindly to that. She actually told me to do it honestly, from the heart.
Team players don’t tell little old ladies that they left their heart back in their twentieth floor apartment. So I waded through the damn tortoiseshells for one that stood out. My cat. The cat. There was one, and I was amazed she was languishing there. She should’ve been lapping full fat cream out of a silver tin on the cover of a magazine. I thought it was the cat.
She was a smooth gold, something a less refined person would just call yellow, but I knew better. She was old enough to not care about scratching furniture anymore and her eyes glazed over when the others tried to play with her. Her name according to her, I kid you not, pewter tag was Banana.
The lady told me Banana was trained by her previous owner to use the toilet instead of the litter box. Sold.
We were fine for a while. She mostly ignored me; I loved that about her. It was a quiet existence, but quiet can be good… so I’m told.
Then one night I heard a sound and I thought it was the cat. Scratching. I hadn’t seen her in almost a day, so it seemed ruder than her usual. I got up from the baseball game I was watching, a real game, none of that softball crap, and went upstairs to look for her.
Fresh marks in the hardwood, the least cheap part of the whole cheap house. I thought it was the cat, so I started to fume. It’s hard to say the word ‘banana’ angrily but I gave it my best. She didn’t meow, but I heard scrambling a wall or two away. I thought it was the cat.
Opening cupboards left and right, there was no sign of her. A lamp tipped over. I thought it was the cat. I ran to it and found the cord chewed through, darkness sinking in. I thought it was the cat. More scrambling, like she had an extra leg and an extra claw on each adding to the sound.
She wasn’t a tortoiseshell, but I still thought it was the cat. A cat after my own heart, as opposed to something else after it. The tortoiseshells were bred to take care of something maybe, something worse than mice. The thing that makes the branches crackle in the first place.
A bang. I thought it was the cat, behind the crawlspace. Down I went, pulling it open. I thought it was the cat.