He Liked His Cats
By David Cole
Michael Harrison was a cat person and that was all there was to it. It wasn’t so much a choice between dogs or cats, or any other animal for that matter. It was more of an outlook on life. To him, cats represented independence at the most fundamental of levels. Cats would allow someone to pet them, and would purr contentedly throughout, but only when they wanted the attention. Unlike dogs, cats ate when they were hungry, not simply because their bowl happened to contain food. Cats drank when they were thirsty, slept when they were tired, and took a crap when they needed to take a crap.
Michael acquired his first cat just after graduating from Wesley University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. He longed to write the next great American novel and the idea of having a cat to sit at his feet while he labored over his ancient Royal typewriter had a certain appeal to it. She was the runt of the litter, a tiny fluff of white fur with splotches of black. In a moment of inspiration, Michael named her Rorschach.
A cat suited the carefree writer lifestyle he enjoyed as a young man. He could leave the cat while he wrote at coffee shops, filling pages with his brilliant insights into the world and the human condition. In the park, he could observe life without the demands for walks or the interruptions of loud barking whenever someone passed by. No, with a cat he was free to come and go as he pleased, needing only to make sure that Rorschach’s food and water bowls were filled and her kitty litter changed occasionally. Weekend escapades presented no problem. He simply set out more bowls of food and water before he left. In fact, with enough food and water left out, Michael could leave his rented flat for as long as eight or nine days.
Those were glorious days, filled with romance and heady dreams of the future. He waited tables at an Italian restaurant three evenings a week and wrote for long hours during the day. Rorschach grew from a tiny playful kitten into an overweight cat who filled the hours of the day by eating too much and then waddling into the bedroom to nap in the pool of afternoon sunlight which streamed through the window. She died in her sleep one spring afternoon. Two days later, Michael’s first book died in the hands of a young editor at Harcourt Brace.
Michael got another cat to replace Rorschach, a four-month-old calico whom he named Figaro after the owner of the restaurant where he still worked. He waited tables five evenings a week now and his writing became increasingly sporadic. Sometimes a week or more went by without the dusty typewriter cover ever coming off. Everyone from Atlantic Monthly to Yankee Publishing had declined his book and he had lowered his sights from the great American novel to the supermarket paperback rack.
Figaro was more energetic than Rorschach had been and possessed a curiosity that appeared to have no bounds. Michael found her closed up in cabinets and stuck fast behind the radiator, and in the two years, Michael had her he was forced to rescue her from behind his noisy refrigerator no less than two dozen times. Figaro’s curiosity finally got the best of her one warm summer evening. Trying to jump atop the metal railing on the tiny balcony, she slipped and fell to her death in the alleyway seven floors below.
A string of cats followed Figaro. A big tom named Yoyo. A Siamese named Ming. A pair of kittens named Hanz and Franz. They came and went as though his apartment had a revolving door. They ran away or were run over or simply died. Michael grieved over each loss, moping around the apartment for days before beginning the search for a replacement. The cats were the only reminder of his vision of becoming a great author.
He ceased writing altogether. He had been working at the restaurant for almost twenty years and he had resigned himself to a life that in no way resembled the dreams of his youth. He went to the restaurant at three in the afternoon, eating his dinner alone in the kitchen before preparing the tables for the evening crowd. He spent his days sitting on the worn sofa in his cramped living room, the curtains tightly drawn, the only light coming from the ancient black and white television set in the corner. The volume was turned off and the only sound in the room was the rumbling purr of the latest cat as Michael gently stroked it behind its ears.
On the morning after the restaurant shuttered its doors for the final time, the victim of a sluggish economy and mediocre food, Michael picked out his last cat. It was an old grey male, with a permanent limp in one hind leg and one eye that was closed to a narrow slit. The young girl at the Humane Society had first thought he was joking when Michael had pointed at the cat.
“Wouldn’t you prefer one of these little guys?” she inquired, scooping up a pair of kittens and offering them up to be held.
Michael shook his head and wrote a check for the six-dollar license fee. The check would probably bounce, but did it really matter at this point?
“Come on, Dr. K,” he said as he gently cradled the worn old cat in one arm. “It’s time to go home now.”
When Michael arrived back at the apartment, he opened the curtains for the first time in months and cracked the living room windows open an inch or so. He cleaned out the kitty litter box, filling it to the brim with fresh clay. He then began filling bowl after bowl with cat food and water. When he ran out of bowls, he poured the remaining food onto the small kitchen table. He placed the rubber stopper in the sink and let the tap run until water overflowed onto the floor.
He sat for a long time on the couch and stroked Dr. K, occasionally scooping him up in his arms to cradle him like a baby, cooing softly to the cat all the while. When the lengthening shadows told him the afternoon was almost spent, Michael rose and walked into the bedroom. Dr. K stirred from his napping place on the sofa but did not follow.
Over a week went by before the landlord entered the apartment and found Michael Harrison’s body. Dr. K was curled up in a tight ball in the hollow between Michael’s body and his outstretched arm, purring softly to himself. He watched the landlord suspiciously out of his one good eye.
Two hours later, the landlord paused for a moment in his statement to the police as he watched the medical examiners wheel the body out of the apartment.
“You were saying, Mr. Timmons?” the officer prompted.
“I’m sorry?” he asked in puzzlement. “Oh, yes. Well, I was just saying that Mr. Harrison always did like his cats.”
About the Author
David Cole is the author of the forthcoming Math Kids series, which begins with The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars. He pursued degrees in math and computer science and has shared this love of math at many levels, including teaching at the college level, coaching elementary math teams, and running a summer math camp. He also has a love of writing and has written a number of plays that have been performed. Find him on LinkedIn.
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