The Cold Cat Distribution
by Sam Bellotto, Jr.
I do not like cats. I have never liked cats. Since yesterday, I like cats even less. I know this puts me at odds with hordes of my fellow humans who dote on the feline presence, its habits, and so-called independence, but... well, let me explain.
My name is Leonard Bristle. I’m 57. Unmarried. I used to be a chemistry teacher, but now I’m retired. I live in a sleepy bedroom community, about ten minutes’ drive from the center of town, where nothing ever happens, usually.
I have a cat. I did have a cat. Yes, I acquired one many years ago under wholly inauspicious circumstances, and, as a result, have spent countless hours vacuuming kitty litter off the sofa, rescuing once potted plants from an early unpotting, and searching for necessary articles of daily life that the creature determined to hide.
The other morning, Halloween day, broke strange. At dawn, although it may have occurred earlier, there was an imperceptible shift in the natural order of the universe. Like the moment you realize you’ve gone from being young to being middle-aged. Like a loss of innocence. I can’t put my finger on it, but eternity hiccupped. From that second on, none of the rules applied. I know this.
That Halloween day, the beast, in a fit of feline curiosity, decided to wander into my open refrigerator, perhaps after a bit of cheese or milk. I’d left the door ajar as I was putting away groceries I’d just purchased. I didn’t see the cat walk in. So I stuck the butter in the butter tray and slammed the door shut.
That was that.
I had many other errands to do; the most important of which was getting to the bank. There is, however, a law which dictates you cannot go out on any errand and return within a few minutes. Even the simplest chore somehow expands to take all day to accomplish. This was no exception.
I returned past dark, tired and very hungry. After complaining about the time, I went to the refrigerator to put together a quick pepperoni and cheese sandwich. I opened the door and saw a rather stiff cat crouched over the head of lettuce. The cat in its desperation had apparently jiggled the thermostat to well below freezing. It was something of a shock. The lettuce had cost me $1.89 as it was late in the growing season. The pepperoni and cheese could probably be saved, however.
Grumbling, I gingerly removed the fast-frozen feline. What can you say about an iced tabby? Solid fur retains a slick layer of frost not unlike partially melted popsicles. My hands were warm, and that didn’t help. The cat slipped, struck the linoleum floor, and broke into dozens of multicolored pieces.
“Darn!” I swore.
I had no great remorse over the fate of this unfortunate creature, but I did resent cat fragments strewn all over the kitchen. Well, I couldn’t vacuum — the chunks would undoubtedly ruin the Hoover — so I’d better sweep up before everything melts and makes the situation worse. Strange, though, how the now glistening and many-faceted shards of this broken animal looked a lot like sugar candy.
I’d gathered all the bits and pieces of the shattered cat into an empty chocolate sampler box and was on my way to dump them when three costumed urchins, whose one big night every year had finally arrived, waylaid me on the front porch.
One of them tugged at my sweater.
“Guess what I am!”
He was, clearly, older than the other two and looked like a pirate. “A pirate?” I ventured.
“A cyclops!” he protested, pointing to a third eye lipsticked onto his forehead.
While this was going on, a little girl/ballerina pirouetted herself within chin’s distance of my macabre cargo. “Sweets!” she announced giddily, and scooped up two chunks before the word had even dropped out of the October air.
“It’s not—” I grabbed at an image; she’d danced away.
The cyclops came in for the kill. I knew he was a pirate. With a practiced maneuver, he jostled the box so the cold cat crackings fell neatly into his booty bag. Only a few pieces spilled to the ground, and the third child recovered these in a flash. The kids took off.
“Come back!” I yelled. “That’s my cat!”
The cyclops boy, doing a victory jig, squealed in response, “Trick or treat!” Like jackals, fairy figures of other children limned in the moonlight, blue against purple, came from nowhere to share in the prize. I could barely make out a kind of pagan celebration moving into deeper inkiness. Then, memory.
“Trick or treat,” I uttered in a breath.
I wondered, looking at the empty candy box, how cat tasted.
The night drifted on like a dry cloud across the face of the sky, and I didn’t get to sleep until well past twelve.
In the morning, I was rudely awakened by an awful commotion out on the street. There was crying and even some screaming going on amidst an unearthly caterwauling of police cars and ambulances and rescue trucks, all arriving and departing. People were thronging out of their homes, I saw, as I looked out the window. The object of this great concern was the children. The children were being examined by medical personnel, prodded, stethoscoped, and subsequently loaded into the waiting ambulances to be driven away while fear-wracked mothers agonized in various postures.
I threw on a jacket after quickly dressing and went out to the street myself for a better view. I heard snatches of explanation.
“... right after coming home from trick-or-treating, doctor...”
“... ate something...”
“... soon as they woke up...”
One youngster, wiping the tears from his eyes, blindly ran smack into me. I steadied the child by his shoulders and stared into his face. Could he have been the pirate from the night before? Just under his nose, which was moist and pink, I could see long white whiskers twitching in the air. A triangular patch of gray-black fur shot down over his forehead. And his eyes — his eyes were huge, yellow, and crescent-shaped. A second little creature, a girl with similar catlike features, danced up to me, opened her mouth to reveal a devilish row of needlesharp teeth, and bit my arm.
It was going to be another one of those days.
Copyright © 2012 by Sam Bellotto, Jr.