mapehe's short fiction.

The cat

Cover Image for The cat

And, just like that, the cat inserted itself into my existence. It boldly arrived at my door, spreading its claws in the sun, a collection of twinkling patterns and alert eyes, staring at the dance of the seagulls above the rooftops. It claimed a small corner of my home, a slight area shadowed between the couch and chest, from which it would scrutinize the universe. The days it slept. In the night, it would slip across the wooden floor, a spectral presence flitting past my bedroom door in synchrony with the rising sun.

It was a solitary time. The summer had been difficult. In October I found myself ruminating on the immutable past. In retrospect, I thought if the cat was destined to be my ally during that period. Was its whimsical disposition a deliberate design, a beacon to guide me through the relentless march of weeks that descended upon me like slabs of frigid concrete?

There were occasions when it vanished for a time, reminding me, that it was a solitary voyager that could never fully be mine – and every time it returned, I was grateful for its cruel friendship. Our evenings were shared watching as the world outside muted into gray and as civilizations and people surrendered to their despair. From time to time, the cat would bring me small animals as trophies of its ventures. I tried to act grateful towards my only friend.

The old lady next door was waiting for the world to end. She said, there would be a time when the snow would quietly fall in the untouched valleys, and the skies would be so lucid, that, on clear nights, every single star in the universe would reveal itself. She said the cat was evil. One day, she left me a note, explaining that I needed to get rid of my feline friend, or the whole neighborhood would suffer a disaster. Left without a response, she started to annoy me by developing increasingly sophisticated plans to steal the cat. Somehow, it always slipped elsewhere at the right moment, and from time to time, her plans were foiled by the well-timed escape of my little friend. All this was, to her, simply further proof of the creature’s malice, and, to my misfortune, further boost to her perseverance to get rid of it.

The others, naturally, knew her and responded with laughter: yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of an elderly woman, her mind lost in madness. They extended their empathy. Occasionally they even lent a hand, warding off her persistent intrusions at my door.

It was all fine, until the news started arriving. The world had gone mad: There were fires and floods, strange abnormalities, a little too frequent for anyone to brush off as mere coincidence. People went missing, some of them were found days later, malnourished, without recollection of their temporary oblivion. The transformation of the neighborhood was nearly imperceptible, like an eclipse casting a slow, gradual darkness. As if in silent agreement, the residents withdrew into a self-protective solitude. The familiar faces I once engaged in spontaneous conversations with now raced past with hurried strides, barely able to offer a cursory bow in acknowledgment. A shared premonition seemed to press upon our collective being, like an invisible leaden cloak, oppressing our spirits and casting a sullen hue on our lives. They started talking. Behind my back, they agreed that I should never have given a home to the cat, for maybe the old lady was right after all: Maybe it was that unassuming creature, that had brought all this misfortune upon us.

In December, they came to my door. They forced their way in only to find the cat missing. I told them the truth: The cat had left that morning, as it often did, and I didn’t know where. They insisted I was hiding it. They hit me. They tied me, and threatened to hurt me until I would surrender the animal. And they would have, had the old lady not stopped them.

“He should be pitied, not punished,” she said. “He’s unable to understand that thing is evil.”

After they left that evening, I never saw the cat again. Perhaps it fell prey to one of them. Perhaps it perceived the animosity clutching onto us and eloped out of sheer sense of self-preservation. I don’t know. What I like to think is, that it knew it had helped me enough. Because, when the winter came to an end, the days gradually returned to their habitual flow. With the arrival of spring, the isolation of that phase of my life was abruptly broken, replaced by the comfort of familiar faces that sought my happiness. I like to think that the cat knew that I would eventually thrive, that I would pull through on my own, and it was free to go. For it’s a solitary voyager that could never fully be mine.

It's been many years since I lived in that place. I still think about the cat sometimes.