by Ethel Rohan
As a kitten, the almost-cat defeated me from the outset: in a metal cage on the street, the “adopt me” sign below, my daughters “please, please, please.” An orange, long-haired tabby, markings like a tiger, yellow-green eyes that swallowed me whole; flailing out of my depth. My daughters squealed “yes.” My friends laughed “you got a cat.” My husband washed his hands till they squeaked.
In nine months the almost-cat has ballooned: its tail like an arm; paws like my mother’s broad hands. The almost-cat’s hairs, dander, and fur balls are everywhere, infiltrating our house, sticking to our clothes and furniture with malice. He steals about our belongings, knocks over glasses and ornaments: some roll and spill, others have cracked, the heirloom blue china vase from my mother’s side he smashed. He won’t stay off the kitchen counters either. He can go anywhere in the house but the kitchen counters. Two hundred times a day I shout, shoo, push him off the granite, spray an ocean of water at him, and still, like the past, he keeps coming back.
The almost-cat doesn’t purr; he cranks. He growls too, can tell me off harsher than my own mother. We fight like my mother and I did too: jabbering, gesturing, rushing in and out of rooms. The almost-cat’s claws have ripped our silk curtains, scratched our leather couch, and cut lines in our daughters that bled. He won’t let me clip his nails. I have the marks to show how hard I’ve tried. At night, he sits outside our locked bedrooms and cries like a newborn. I don’t let our daughters take him in. We can’t sleep if he does. We can’t sleep anyway, not until he eventually goes downstairs, and sometimes not even then. In the dark, I hear him go at the good rug in the living room, scratching that sounds like tiny bones breaking.
The almost-cat smell is a spiteful presence that permeates everything. His shit reeks. He won’t cover his droppings. I’ve cleaned my own waste, my mother’s waste, my children’s waste, and now this almost-cat’s waste. I’m sick of shit. His droppings stick to his ass fur and I have to clean that too, wiping with Wet Ones, in extreme cases holding him by the tail and cutting at the fur. If I don’t get to his ass in time, he can smear his droppings on our floor, bedclothes, the kitchen counters, anywhere. I can’t eat in the house but wonder if I’m also ingesting his hair, saliva, spit-up, or shit. I choke on the dust clouds from his litter, scoop litter clumps that whiff of ammonia in my sleep, and daily cringe at the crunch of litter beneath my bare feet, deposits that the almost-cat carries throughout the house. I’ve even found litter in my hats and coat pockets. People at work, school, in stores, on buses, everywhere, sniff me. I am drowning in pot potpourri and bleach disinfectant. The almost-cat brings me dead and dying mice and birds, opens his jaws and drops them at my feet.
My husband wants rid of the almost-cat. I want rid of the almost-cat. Our daughters say that before the almost-cat they had only half-hearts. Now, with the almost-cat, their hearts are full. The almost-cat will surely drive my husband and I mad. My husband says we have to dispose of him before that happens. While our daughters have slept in their beds, we’ve driven far from home late at night and let that almost-cat out in the woods. He has come back, every time. My husband thinks he can get someone to run the almost-cat over for a pittance. He’s not entirely joking. It scares me how hard I’ve considered this, how angry the almost-cat can make me, how he's drummed-up in me a streak almost as vicious as my mother's.
Ethel Rohan can be read at: Straight From the Heart in My Hip.