the cat family – by Carter Becerra

 

The first cat was named Jasper.  He died after a year.  He had a tumor in his head.  He died on the older boy’s sixteenth birthday.  Sweet sixteen.  He was the family’s first real cat.  The older son considered him ‘his cat,’ despite arguments from the family.  Even the mother liked Jasper and she was not a cat person.  She was a dog person.  Jasper would sit with her in the morning while she drank her coffee and she would pet his long-haired tail and he would purr like a tiger.  Tigers don’t purr.

Jasper was a tuxedo cat.  He was a sleek midnight black with a white splotch on his chest.  He was small and never got bigger as he got older.  Jasper never meowed.  He was quiet.  He moved with stealth.  He had slanted green eyes.  He always looked either stoned or pissed off.  He was a good cat.  He chased bigger cats out of the yard.  That is, until he started running crooked and falling over.  He still chased them though.  They just stopped running away.  The father put Jasper down.  The family couldn’t bear to watch him suffer anymore.  The father took him to the vet.  The vet looked at Jasper and knew.  The vet petted Jasper’s small black head and shook his own.

The father fed him old pills that were kept in the freezer.  The father didn’t know what kind of pills they were, but he didn’t need to.  Jasper bit and clawed and the father did not fight back whatsoever as he endured the natural razors that all cats are built with.  He knew Jasper had endured a lot already.  The father was helping Jasper.  The father held him before, during, and after.  He buried Jasper in the backyard.  Then he went and picked up his oldest son from school.  It was his birthday.  Sweet sixteen.

The oldest son knew the cat was sick.  They all did.  It was obvious.  The cat couldn’t walk straight.  He couldn’t lie down straight.  He couldn’t stand up at all.  His uncaring green eyes were now scared and nervous.  That was the saddest part.  He was not the same animal.  He was not ferocious as he once was.  He was helpless.  Jasper dying was like the family losing a protector, a guardian.  For both boys it was like losing a role model and a baby brother.

When the father told his son about the cat, he had just checked him out of school and was taking him to lunch. The boy’s eyes grew bleary.  The father chuckled and asked if he was crying.  The boy said ‘no’, but that was only because he had quickly wiped away the only tears that came.  He knew he shouldn’t be crying over a cat, but Jasper was more than just a little black cat.  Jasper had the heart of a panther.  He was a big cat.  A big cat in a little body.  Jasper was gone.

The second cat was named Mosby.  He died after two years.  He had a spider bite that never healed.  He disappeared the day before Christmas Eve and was never seen again.  The younger son considered Mosby ‘his cat’.  There were no arguments from the family.  They all loved Mosby, but the younger son was attached to him.  The younger son treated Mosby with care, Mosby responded with loyalty.  The younger son would play tricks on the cat, but after would give him treats.  The mother liked Mosby as well, because he had a cute, fat face and was more like another boy child.  He depended on her for food and was obnoxious in this manner.  This made the mother love him.

Mosby was a gray cat with white cheeks and paws and golden eyes.  His eyes were big and round.  Mosby was a fat cat.  His stomach swung when he trotted across the yard for his dinner and he would constantly let out obnoxious ‘meows’ in the morning as he walked around the house, awaiting his breakfast.  The mother would make the boys tuna fish sandwiches for lunch on Fridays.  She said it was because they were Catholic, but really it was just so she could give Mosby the leftover tuna juice.  The mother would laugh at the cat as he slurped it up and the boys would chuckle about the mother laughing about the ‘tuna juice.’

Mosby was a sleepy cat.  He enjoyed his naps.  If one of the boys was taking a nap anywhere in the house, Mosby would find them.  Mosby would climb on the boy’s chest and rub his face against theirs and purr.  After the boy had awoke from his slumber, Mosby would begin flexing his claws into their chest to soften up his resting place.  Then he would lie down and go to sleep on that boy’s chest and rub his head against their heartbeat.  But that was before he got bitten.

Mosby could purr so loudly that if he was lying on the floor, the family could hear his chest vibrate and echo in the other room.  When they heard this, the family would know Mosby was happy, and they would smile to one another.  The only time anyone saw him run was to the door for dinner and away from other cats.  It was not that Mosby was afraid of other cats, he was just too lazy to fight.  Mosby was a lover.

Mosby disappeared before Christmas.  When he did, the family was sad but they knew it was for the better.  Mosby had a spider bite on his forehead.  It started out as a small scab, but it grew larger with time.  It would develop a yellow purplish crust, then that would break off from the wound and would drip bloody mucus all over the floor and in his eyes, until another yellow purplish crust would cover it up.  During this time, only the younger boy would hold Mosby.  No one else wanted to touch him.  Mosby knew this.  He knew his wound was gross and was making him disfigured.  He was not his usual lazy happy loud self.  He would sit quiet in the corner, all alone.  That was the saddest part.

Mosby was different from Jasper.  Even though he was much larger, he was not a warrior.  He was not a ‘larger than life’ cat.  He was the usual fat, lazy, loud, ‘Garfield’ cat that people love.  He was obnoxious and cuddly.  He was fluffy and stupid.  But when he died he was none of those things.  He was quiet, isolated, cold, and smart.  He was smart to leave.  It hurt the family, him not saying goodbye, but it left him some dignity.  The family understood.  The older son was still hurt.  Hurt in the fact that he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.  But he was mainly hurt because not saying good bye reminded him of Jasper.

The younger son was hurt, but he did not show it.  All those extra times of him holding Mosby, those were his secret goodbyes.  All those times of being the only one to clean up Mosby’s bloody mucus as the cat ran around the house, screaming meows of unknown terror, frightened because he got gunk in his eye and could not see.  Those were the moments the younger son cherished the most.  For in those moments, he was the only one who cared for Mosby.  In those moments, Mosby only cared for him and they both knew it.

The third cat had two names, depending on which son you were talking to.  The third cat was also a girl.  This was new for the family.  She was neutered unlike the first two and she was also brought in from the Humane Society, while the first two were strays.

After the first two, the family wanted a cat that would be more stable.  When Jasper was not at home, he was roaming the neighborhood by himself.  He was looking for fights or hunting.  Jasper would go in the woods and kill birds and snakes and leave them on the family’s doorstep when they got home.  Mosby was also a roamer, as most male animals have a tendency to be.  Mosby did not go looking for fights though.  He went looking for food.  Mosby would scavenge food from trash cans, and eat food left out for cats and dogs in the neighborhood.  Then he would come home with scars from running away.

According to the first son, the third cat’s name was Chaka Kan.  According to the second son, the third cat’s name was Bathsheba.  The mother just referred to it as ‘that cat.’  The mother was not happy to have another female around.  It was competition.  For with the third cat being a girl, all three men of the house were nice to it.  They did not antagonize it like they did with the feisty Jasper to get him riled up and ready to fight.  They did not play tricks on it like they did with the goofy Mosby to laugh at his obnoxious meows and silly antics.  They treated her with softness.

Chaka Kan a.k.a. Bathsheba.  Bathsheba a.k.a. Chaka Kan.  She was as small as Jasper, though she grew to be larger than he.  She was black, but she was not a sleek black like Jasper.  Her black had small highlights of caramel that glimmered in light.  Her eyes were golden, but not like Mosby’s.  His eyes were bright golden like an orange sunrise reflecting off the ocean.  Her eyes were of dark gold like honey dripped on brass.  Her eyes were slanted in the day like Jasper’s, but big and round like Mosby’s at night.  She did not walk like either of them.  Jasper would roll his shoulder blades like a hunter as he strutted to and fro, like a big cat, like a predator.  While Mosby would bounce as he trotted, almost doglike.  His belly swung, his head bobbed, and he would meow without pause.

Bathsheba was different.  She would dart everywhere, her steps like small gallops; both legs moving in unison.  She hardly ever walked and when she did, it normally led to her running, darting.  She was like Jasper in the sense that she did not meow, and if she did, it was small and barely audible.

Yet Chaka Kan did do something unique, something that not even the father had encountered and he had had many cats in his lifetime.  She chirped.  She would keep her mouth closed and make a chirping noise as she ran.  She always made the noise in doubles as well.  It was always a ‘chirp, chirp’ as if it was her own little siren for announcing her presence or the appreciation of the family’s presence.  The father appreciated this the most and thought it to be comical.  He would laugh, and pick her up, and cradle her.  He would kiss her small head as if she were a baby, which in many ways she was.

As the boys got older they grew restless, as most men do.  They felt the need to walk the neighborhood at night and discuss things on their mind.  When they got older they would drink or smoke and forget the things on their minds as they walked.  It was these walks that they discovered the secret to the third cat.

The boys had walked around the neighborhood growing up.  It was nothing new.  Sometimes it was done out of boredom, or because they had extra energy, or simply because it was a good day to go for a walk.  When they had Jasper, sometimes in the early afternoon he would accompany them for close to mile.  He would walk in front of them, as if leading the way.  He walked with his ears laid back helping him pronounce his small rolling shoulder blades, as if saying, “Don’t mess with us, don’t mess with me.”  But being the predator that he was, sooner or later he would venture off on his own for a hunt.  Mosby on the other hand never walked with the boys, but they would see him around when they rode their bikes or went for jogs and walks.  Sometimes he would be sleeping in the middle of the road on a sunny afternoon, soaking in the warmth.  Sometimes he would be eating food out of a bowl on the front porch that belonged to another cat.  Mosby would meow with an echoing loudness when he saw the boys and they would call to him, but he never came.  Mosby only came home for his meals.

Chaka Kan was unlike the other two.  When the family got Bathsheba, the older boy was about to graduate high school and thought of himself as a man, even though he was still a boy.  The younger boy was just a freshman in high school but took advanced classes and thought of himself as a man, but he was still a boy too.  They would walk the neighborhood at night and discuss the problems that plagued their minds.  But they were not alone.

The small black girl cat would walk with them.  Except she would run around them.  She would dart ahead fifteen or twenty yards in front of the boys as they walked.  As they caught up, she would run away and disappear into the darkness.  They boys would get to the spot where she was and look around and not see her.  They would keep walking and several seconds later, they would hear the ‘chirp, chirp’ as she ran between them, only to run twenty yards ahead of them again and vanish into the night.  She would do this for the entire walk.  She never walked near the boys, but she never left them.

It was this that let the boys know who she really was.  Jasper was the guardian and Mosby was the companion, but Bathsheba was different.  Her world encircled the boys and timid cat felt safe with them.  When she accompanied them on walks she was adventurous because she was no longer worried.  Bathsheba only traveled with the boys because she trusted them.  This gave the boys a different sort of feeling.  They felt responsible for her.  They felt as if she were more than a cat, but small speckling black feline princess. The older boy would give her treats, while the younger boy would comb her weekly.  Bathsheba was different from the other two.

Most cats get pompous as they get older and Bathsheba was no different.  She began to develop an authoritative air to her stride as she darted about.  She was fond of attention, but only when she felt it necessary.  After a year or so, she no longer would come when called to, but only when she felt like being held.  This bothered the boys to some extent, but they saw it more as annoyance and all in all, it did not matter.  She was still just a cat.  They still cared for her and late at night when they walked to clear their head, she still walked with them.  But Bathsheba’s arrogance did bother someone in the family, to an extent not known by anyone.

The father tried not to let on too much, but deep down he really cared for Chaka Kan.  He relished the fact that the boys had their own names for her.  He thought it was funny and depending on how he was feeling, he would call her either one.  He always made sure to pick up Bathsheba at least once and hold her between the time he came home and the time Jeopardy came on. The father liked the fact that she had dark coat, but was not technically black; while also enjoying that there was no white on her either.  He liked that she chirped.  He had never encountered a cat that had done that, and he thought it to be cute.  But as she got older, she put more distance between herself and the father, more than any other family member.  Chaka Kan cared for the mother because that is who fed her and she cared for the boys because they pampered her.  There was no reason for her to really care for the father.  He spent the least amount of time at the house and when he was home, he was busy fixing things, reading books, or cooking large meals.  The father still wanted the cat to like him though.

There was more to this though.  The father had deeper connection to the cat.  A connection that was invisible to the other family members.  A connection that was only apparent on the subconscious level.  The father felt the connection, even though he wasn’t aware of it.

The father had secretly always wanted a daughter.  He was proud when he had his first son, so there would be a way to have his name passed down.  He was happy when he had his second son, because his first son would have brother and they would be brothers forever.  But deep down, he wanted a third child and he wanted it to be a girl.  He knew they could not afford a third child, two was plenty, but he still wanted a girl.

Chaka Kan a.k.a. Bathsheba was the daughter he never had.  It was unconditional love that did not challenge his authority.  It was softness.  It was something gentle.  Even though Bathsheba was just a cat, the fact that she was a girl gave her a different kind of aura.  An aura of innocence and obedience.  This is what the father saw in the cat, and it was what made him secretly care for it, even though it was unbeknownst to anyone.  But now the father’s sons had spoiled his only hope at having a connection with her, for she no longer needed his love, and they both, cat and man knew this.

As they boys got older, the tensions within the home got higher.  Both boys considered themselves men, and the father did not.  Clashes happened and the more the father and his sons were around each other, the more dangerous every breath felt.  It was not a happy place.

The boys had never known their grandfather and the father had never known his dad.  Therefore the father’s job as a mentor and teacher was more difficult.  He wanted to help his sons grow, but in some way he could never loosen his grip on the role of the alpha.  He had to maintain superiority at all times, because during his childhood there was no one to instruct him otherwise.  There was no one to teach him life, so like most children, he developed defense mechanisms.  Complete dominance at all times, at all cost, despite surrounding feelings was one of them.

One drizzly day in the early fall, it all came pouring out.  The boys were home when a fight developed between the mother and the father.  The father was looking for a fight, so sooner or later he would find one.  It had something to do with the dishes.  Neither one of them really knew.  The father began to shout.  He shouted about respect and lack of it.  He shouted about the boy’s laziness.  He shouted about the mother’s lack of discipline.  He shouted to hear himself shout.

When the boys came out of their rooms to see what the commotion was about.  The father locked eyes with them.  The father despised seeing them.  Their presence alone was testament against his authority, though no faults were committed.

Right then, Chaka Kan a.k.a. Bathsheba walked across the room, directly in between the boys and the father.  The father looked down and snatched the cat up by the extra skin around its neck.  The small feline let out a loud panicky meow, which did not stop once it began.  Both boys looked at the round scared eyes of their cat then to the eyes of their father.  They both felt ice trickle through their veins.  Their cat was in danger.

The father claimed to have hated the cat the entire time, which was lie.  He claimed that it was a nuisance and must be rid of.  He told the boys to take one last look at her, as he extended his arm towards them still holding the scruff of her neck.  The small cat’s ears were pinned back in fear and her eyes were bigger now than ever, as she no longer chirped, but screeched for her freedom.  Then the father snatched her back to him and walked into the garage with the cat, still crying out and trying to flee; its attempts futile against the father’s strong grip.

The boys heard him rummaging around.  Though the older boy was approaching the legal age of drinking and the younger boy was approaching the legal age of smoking, they both knew not to challenge their father in this state.  In his state of anger, he was unpredictable and that was always the scariest part.

When the father came out of the garage, he was holding a medium sized cardboard box with duct tape wrapped all around it.  Inside the box was Bathsheba a.k.a. Chaka Kan, still meowing.  She was crying, calling, screaming out for her big brothers to come and help her.  She was chirping for her protectors to do their job.  But there was nothing they could do.  The father was looking for confrontation.  He knew this was the deepest pain he could create without physically harming any person.  He wanted to see if they would retaliate physically, for if they attacked him first, in his mind, he would only react in self-defense and they would be in the wrong.

The sons knew their father was ill and they watched in silence as he stormed out the house, box in hand.  The box’s meowing got louder and louder as it got further away, until it died off with the close of car door.  That was the last time any of them saw her; inside a cardboard box that was encased in shiny silver duct tape.

The car sped out of the driveway and was gone for several hours.  When the father came back, there was no cat with him and no one said anything about it. Bathsheba’s cries for help still echoed around the house, through the hallways and continued within the heads of the boys, as they went back to their individual rooms for the rest of the evening.  They were both hurt, but neither one showed it.

That night the boys took a walk around the neighborhood.  It was long walk, longer than usual.  For the first mile, neither one of them spoke.  They were too busy seeing flashes of Chaka Kan and Bathsheba run past their ankles, only to realize that they were just memories.

The second mile, the boys began to open up to one another.  The bottle of cooking wine they had snuck from the cupboard played a part, for neither one could speak while completely sober.  It was too painful.  So they passed it between them and told stories about the cat that they both already knew.

They walked slower to let their minds become ignorant to reality.  They relished the happy memories.  They relished all of them to the extent to the point of her existence being a fantasy.  They did this because when they got home, they knew they would never speak about the cat again.  They would think about that cat again.  Chaka Kan was gone.  Bathsheba was gone.  Gone like Jasper.  Gone like Mosby.  But gone in a different way.

Several months after that, the older boy got offered a job opportunity on the other side of the country.  At the time, it seemed too good to be true and he moved there and never found a reason to move back.  The younger boy joined the navy and told himself he was going to do twenty years.  They both made it home for Christmas.

A year after the loss of the third cat, the older boy had left and the younger boy had moved in with a friend before he left for the navy.  At this point, something unexpected happened.  A dog showed up, an old puppy to be exact.

A Labrador-Pitt Bull mix puppy showed up at the front door, the second day after the younger boy left.  The puppy was several months old and very skinny.  The puppy had no collar or tags.  The mother, being the mother that she was, took in the puppy and tended to its empty stomach.  The mother put signs up around the neighborhood to see if someone had lost a puppy, but no one responded.

The mother who was always a dog person and just religious enough to be mystical, took this as a sign.  She saw it as her opportunity and her responsibility to continue to carry out her motherly roles.  She now had something that offered, loyalty, obedience, and unconditional love without question.  Apart from her regular dog qualities, it was a gorgeous dog with a blonde coat, dark eyes, and a big jaws.  She looked like a small canine version of a lion.  She had the size of a small Pitt-Bull with the gleam and demeanor of a Labrador.  Even though the dog was still very young and skinny her jaw size and stature were still very mature.  She looked intimidating to anyone who dared cross her but loving to everyone she met and smelled.

The mother secretly hoped no one called.  She had even contemplated putting an incorrect telephone number on the flyer, but she put herself in the owner’s shoes and did the right thing.  So when no one called, she was happy.  The mother adopted the dog and named it Brandy.  The mother loved the dog and the dog loved the mother.  The boys were not home, though they played with the dog each Christmas when they visited and the father was indifferent altogether.  The boys were gone, and though the father missed them, he was happier.  The mother loved Brandy, and that was all that mattered at this point.  The cat family had a dog, and though nothing was right, all was well.