A psychological pseudo-horror story about a family whose trauma seems to coincide with the arrival of a strange cat.
My dad didn’t like cats much. We were always a dog family, and even though my mom had had cats when she was growing up she didn’t complain about their absence. My mom didn’t complain much. She didn’t see the point. She was a solid woman who both men and women treated with deference and respect.
Her relationship with my dad wasn’t passionate but they really seemed to love each other, sharing quiet moments together and laughing at old, corny jokes that made thirteen-year-old me cringe and roll my eyes. It was that year that my dad got his first cat. They say you can never really own a cat and this one came to us, appearing in our yard as we prepared to take some crap to the dump in Dad’s old green pick-up truck.
“Shoo,” my dad said. The cat looked at him severely with penetrating amber eyes. “Stupid cat.” It yawned, blinked at him sleepily, and started to lick itself. Then it sauntered over and brushed against his legs. My dad looked surprised as he reached down and touched its rusty-colored haunches lightly.
“Weird. Don’t you have a home to go to?”
It didn’t have a collar but it didn’t have a look of neglect either. Its fur was clean and well-groomed and you couldn’t see its ribs.
“Maybe it belongs to Sandra.” Sandra was our resident crazy cat lady. She was a middle-aged lesbian whose girlfriend had left her for a man, and she fed every cat in the neighborhood. Her yard smelled like a urinal.
“Maybe.” My dad frowned. Sandra’s cats weren’t well cared for. Most of them would let people go anywhere near them.
After that day, the cat kept coming back almost every day. Despite ourselves, Dad and I started to like the little guy. He was enigmatic and polite. He’d come up onto the porch and knead against us, mewing contentedly. But he especially seemed to like my dad. We called him ‘Mister’ because of his gentlemanly demeanor and a vaguely mustache-like marking on his upper lip. He was brown with orangish streaks and walked with a slight limp.
But he stood so still and was so patient that he’d occasionally manage to kill something, dropping a bird or a chipmunk at our feet and looking proud of himself. Mom bought a 10 lb. bag of cheap cat food and started feeding Mister on the front porch. He didn’t come into the house because of the dogs and they barked like crazy every time they saw him, but they eventually started to get used to him. We had three of them, all mutts, each one dumber than the last- Ziggy, Luna, and Dale. Then something weird happened.
We went outside to feed Mister and noticed he didn’t have a limp anymore. He’d been practically living in our yard for almost a year and we’d assumed it was a permanent injury, that maybe he’d been hit by a car or something. And now it was gone. Mister moved smoothly and effortlessly through his hunting ground (i.e. our yard), no longer given to a slight but persistent wobbling like a car with one punctured tire. It was obviously the same cat with the same distinctive markings. We shrugged it off as one of those ‘things we’d never truly understand.’
Then one night I had a nightmare that left me sweating and unable to fall back asleep. It was hard to explain why it was so scary and disturbing. It was the feeling it gave me more than the actual content. In the dream, I walked into my parents’ room and saw Mister sitting on my dad’s chest. He was a black silhouette and his yellow eyes were blazing in the darkness. Mom and the dogs weren’t there.
I got a tight feeling in my chest and then the cat’s shape gradually unfurled and became amorphous, wrapping around my dad’s body like a snake. My dad opened his eyes and looked at me, expressionless. The cat-thing coiled tighter. I woke up and went to the bathroom to refill my water glass. I found my dad sitting on the toilet with the seats closed and his pants pulled all the way up.
“Sorry,” I said quickly. Then, when he didn’t respond, I asked “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know.” he looked fitfully around like he didn’t quite recognize his surroundings. Later this felt like a dream too even though I could see in the morning that my water glass had been freshly filled.
My dad died of a stroke later that day. I got a call in the middle of class and my mom’s friend Betty drove me to the hospital. Before I made it to the room he was in he was already gone. My mom and I held each other and cried. It was so sudden. He wasn’t even forty yet. We didn’t understand how something like this could happen.
During the funeral I thought I saw Mister in the foliage beside the graveyard. Just for a moment, and then he was gone.
I became afraid of cats. My girlfriend teases me about it but I never told her the full story. The thing is, I don’t know if Mister was a portent of evil or if he was anything at all. Maybe he was just a cat. We never saw him again after that, but every anniversary of Dad’s death when Mom and I went to pay our respects there was a freshly killed bird on the packed dirt of the grave.
And several years later Mom told me about a dream Dad had just before he died, which he shared with her over breakfast. “He dreamt that that goddamn cat was sitting on his chest and he couldn’t breathe. It was weird, and I remember it because it was the last conversation we ever had.”