Short Story: My Best Friend in Feline Form
Short Story: My Best Friend in Feline Form
I didn’t want you at first. The runt of an abandoned litter. A little ball of black fluff curled up behind glass, smudged with small, sticky handprints. Your green eyes momentarily catching my unimpressed stare before nestling back into yourself.
“She’s got cat flu,” the teen sales assistant with Amy Winehouse eyeliner and pink flaking nail polish said.
“Ah, well.” I replied because I wanted a black-and-white cat anyway. “We’ll call you on Monday if she is available, leave your phone number at the counter,” she added before heading off to wrangle a small child trying to feed some Burger Rings to a rabbit.
The phone rang on Monday, “She’s good to go,” the male voice said. My daughter was ecstatic. Papers signed. Bed, food, toys brought.
We took you home in a little white cardboard box with a cartoon picture of a cat on it, your tiny meows reverberating around the car. My daughter, sticking her fingers through the small holes, placating you. “It’ll be okay, little one,” she said. “You’re coming home with us.”
We opened the box and let you out, all big ears and wild green eyes. You hid under the couch for a few hours before gingerly coming out to play.
We called you Stevie. You could have easily been a Brenda or a Vanessa or a Mary. Some human name that wasn’t all fluffy and sweet like Cupcake or Cuddles or Cookie.
You are named after Steven Gerrard. The greatest English Premier League footballer the world has ever seen. The man who made me believe in miracles. We stood around and stared at you for hours on end. What an excellent way to pass the day, I’m sure someone, somewhere, once said.
I was pregnant and worried about toxoplasmosis, but, as it turned out, that was the least of my worries.
We arrived at the five-month scan, excited to find out if we were having the little boy we’d already named. Jelly applied to my swelling belly, squelching under the pressure of the radiologist device.
I desperately needed a wee. Heart, lungs, fingers, toes, sex – a boy – head. The squelching stopped. “I just have to check something,” the radiologist said.
“Okay,” I replied.
Encephalocele was the diagnosis. A neural tube defect. Her words swirled, strangling my mind in a vice-like grip. I walked out in tears, held up by the arms, like a blues singer from the 1950s who’d given their all on stage.
The other expectant mothers in the waiting room could not hide the terror in their eyes. They had heard the gut-wrenching wail from the occupied scan room. They looked down at their magazines or phones as we passed. No one wanting to meet my stare for fear I might curse their unborn child too.
The days went by in a haze of tears and anxiety, cups of tea, well-meaning advice, sleeves caked in snot. Lying in bed on my side, my pillow wet from crying, you jumped on the bed and sat next to me, all big ears and green eyes.
I slowly lifted the covers that had become my home and let you in. You lay, curled up in a big black ball of fluff next to my belly. Your purrs and his heartbeat becoming one. We spent weeks like this. You and me. You taking your place next to the son I didn’t know if I’d ever get to meet. My hands brushing through your fur as I cried myself to sleep. You giving me all the support I needed without a single word spoken.
I refused to give up.
I googled stories of hope, while you sat next to the heat of the laptop, licking your paws and cleaning your ears. I prayed to the stars and the moon and the universe.
I took to wearing a silver cross, even though I’m not particularly religious.
We found a lucky penny on the black sand of a wild West Coast beach. I took it as a sign. That I would hold him next to my bare skin, that I would kiss his little forehead while his tiny fingers wrapped around mine. That we would have birthdays, and write letters to Santa, that I would wipe his face covered in ice cream as it dripped down his chin in the afternoon sun.
Our life revolved around hospital appointments and MRI scans. I brought my mum to the appointment so her ears could listen to the words mine refused The specialist, a man with a kind face and solemn blues eyes, confirmed our worst fears.
They had to sedate me when they stopped his heart from beating. Of course, they did. For three days, I carried him. When you jumped onto the bed that night, you were confused. I was on a different side because I couldn’t stand to be in that space without him. You found me, clinging to the duvet like a life jacket. You cuddled up, under the covers, next to the life that was no longer there.
He was born sleeping a few minutes before midnight on a Saturday. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
We brought him home in a little wooden box, not much smaller than the one that housed you. We had to borrow money for the cremation, the injustice of it all was too much to bear.
I went back to work a week later, “We don’t have anyone to cover you,” my male boss said.
My colleagues looked at me with sadness and guilt, quickly averting their gaze if my eyes met theirs. No one asked about him. What would they say? What could they say? I wanted to scream in their faces. Their silence was deafening.
Life went on in my place of work as if he had never existed
On bad days, as I sat and stared at the wall, or read the line of a book five times over, you would bring me out of my swirling mind. Falling off a chair you were trying to clamber on. Playing with a hair tie you found on the floor. Running into a room with skipping legs, standing there for a moment like you’d forgotten where you were.
At the end of the year, we went on holiday. A little light relief. Time to get away from it all. The cattery couldn’t take you the day we left; my mum took you the next day instead.
The phone rang in the morning as we were getting ready to go to the beach, a much-needed cure for the hangover from the night before. My mum, on the other end. Hysterical.
“I’ve … I’ve … I’ve lost Stevie.”
Her words struck me down. Like the house landing on the Wicked Witch of the West. Nothing left but stripy tights and shiny red shoes.
“How? Where? Why?”
The cage hadn’t locked properly.
A dog barking had spooked you.
You escaped through the swinging metal opening of the cat cage outside the cattery.
You jumped over the fence.
You haven’t been seen since.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
We drove home in silence.
My eyes struggling to see the road through a steady stream of tears.
We searched for you in the house, opening cupboards and lifting blankets. Of course, you weren’t in the washing machine, but still I looked.
We pounded the streets where you had gone missing, calling your name and rattling a plastic cup of cat food. Carrying your favourite toy, a metal laser gun with a key chain that made you coming running when we shook it.
The weather was unusually bad for that time of year. The wind was howling, and the rain falling. I was sure I heard you meow. A small sound from under a fence.
“It’s just the wind,” my husband said.
That night, as fireworks lit up the night sky and rarely-kept promises for the New Year that lay ahead were made, I lay in bed and cried.
All the grief and pain and horror that I had been carrying around deep in my bones for the last eight months was like a tsunami.
It came out in a force so violent it shook my entire body.
The next day we walked the streets again, casting the net further afield, putting up posters. Large pieces of wood spray-painted in neon pink ‘LOST BLACK CAT. PLEASE CALL IF FOUND.’
People said you would probably try to make it home. A woman called. I thought she’d found you. Instead, she said we should leave your favourite blanket and food outside, that the smell would help you find your way.
Five days had passed. Whispers between friends.
“She isn’t coming back.”
“Hasn’t she been through enough this year?”
Again, I refused to give up hope. I wanted to save your life. Like how, in those small insignificant moments, I felt you had saved mine.
We came back from another search, and I checked under the couch again.
Lying on the hard wooden floor, my hand feeling blindly inside the gaping hole you had ripped in the bottom of the blue velvet couch. A place you liked to hide when the lawns were getting mowed, or friends and their kids came to play.
My hand felt something soft and squishy. I pulled it out and burst into tears. In my hand was a little cotton toy shaped like a horse. Red with white polka dots. The first toy I had bought for the son I never met. It hadn’t been there when I had checked the couch a million times before. I was sure of that.
I knew, at that moment, that you would be okay. Your name is Stevie. Not Brenda or Vanessa, Cupcake or Cuddles. We named you after Steven Gerrard. The man who made me believe in miracles.
Around an hour later, the phone rang. A man we had talked to earlier on the other end.
“I think I might have seen your cat.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Yes, it is little.”
“Yes, it is black with green eyes.”
“Yes, you can come over now.”
The rain that fell that January had finally stopped and the sun came bursting through the clouds. You came out from under the house gingerly, big ears, and wild green eyes blinking in the bright sunlight.
“Stevie!” we cried in unison.
You were one house away from where you had gone missing. You had been under that house for five days. You hadn’t tried to make it home or crossed the road or found another family. You were not dead.
We brought you home. You were skinny and thirsty and hungry. We stood in the kitchen, staring at you in wonder like we had done when you were a kitten. Watching you gobble up your food like it was the best thing on earth, and at that very moment, it was.
That night, like always, I lifted the covers for you. You slunk in next to me, turning around a few times until you finally settled. Cuddling into my belly, that was flat and preparing itself for the little girl with the huge blue eyes that would soon come to light up our life.
Your purr and my heartbeat becoming one.
The cat I thought I never really wanted.
My best friend in feline form.
AUTHOR SARAH WILLIAMS
Sarah Williams is a British-born former sport and travel journalist who lives in the small Northland town of Kaiwaka with her husband, two daughters and four cats. She loves to bring life to the mundane moments in life through poetry and prose and finds writing a cathartic and healing experience. She can often be found with either a pen, a coffee cup or a crochet hook in her hand.
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