The Little Black Cat This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Beep. Beep. Beep. Katherine lies holding her husband’s hand. The hospital lights are low. Her eyelids begin to droop... It’s a beautiful summer day and the young couple is driving away from their wedding with the top down. Katherine is laughing as her new husband imitates an old lady as he slows down for a stop light. The light flashes green and he takes off, imitating a race car driver now. Katherine’s laughter is interrupted by the screech of brakes and metal squealing on metal. She is thrown sideways out of the car, with the eerie sense of floating, suspended, spinning spinning spinning too fast to fall ... Katherine starts awake, heart racing and squeezes her husbands hand to reassure herself. She gazes at his still, silent form and gives the ceiling a sleepy smile before falling back into blissful unconsciousness.








***



Beep. Beep. Beep. The butterflies make odd noises here, the young man thinks. He sits, surrounded by a field of sunflowers, waiting. The warm sun beats on his face and he smiles, thinking how his new wife would love this place. His eyes snap open at a new sound. The soft sigh of the sunflowers giving way introduces a little black cat, stepping lithely towards him. The young man jumps up and moves to embrace the little cat. But she dances away nimbly, leaving the young man embracing the sunflowers. The little black cat starts to walk away, off into the infinite field of sunflowers. The young man follows her closely, wanting to hold her one more time, and tell her how much he loves her. The cat leaps higher than any natural being ever could and the sun disappears with a crash.









***


Beep. Beep. Beep. Katherine smiles down at her husbands tranquil face, lit so harshly by the hospital lights. Everything is sterile, she thought, no alien bacteria or emotion allowed here, she sighs, only grief. An old nurse quietly enters the room and smiles tiredly at Katherine.

“Back again?” she asks.

“I never left,” comes the reply. The old nurse nods curtly. Her eyes carefully hidden behind thick spectacles, the old nurse checks on the young man beside them and walks off without another word. Katherine watches her white uniform disappear before turning back to her husband. A lock of unruly blonde curls has been disturbed by the ancient nurse. Katherine brushes it back into place and the young man starts into consciousness, gripping her wrist. She tries to soothe him, but still covets these wild, unpredictable moments of madness that bring him one step closer to her. Still agitated but no longer trying to escape his invisible bonds, he begins to talk as though to a cat, his blue eyes never leaving his wife’s green ones.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty. It’s alright. I won’t hurt you. I trying to save you, kitty. Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

Katherine cups his face in her hands. “I’m right here darling. Kitty won’t run anymore. Kitty’s staying right here.” The odd exchange brings tears to Katherine’s eyes as she remembers a time long ago. Past, she tells herself firmly, not present. And present is all that matters anymore. The young man relaxes and his shaking stops. The light returns to his eyes, however dimly, and a hoarse voice, very different from the one sweetly calling for kitty, croaks out,

“I remember you. You were my little lost kitty, only you were the one that made up the signs. I kept bringing you kitties from the pound, just so I could talk to you again. You were my little kitty.” He smiles and cups a trembling hand around her cheek, which is slick with tears.

“I still am, my love. I’ll always be.” The man gives her a faint smile, the light of lucidity rapidly fading from his eyes.

“My little kitty Kat...” The young man’s head hits his pillow again, lost in the vague worlds of his damaged mind.








***


Beep. Beep. Beep. “I’m not hungry,” Katherine insists.

The old nurse stands in the doorway tapping her foot impatiently. She tired of this battle six months ago when they first brought them in. The young man’s mind stolen by a drunk driver. She’d seen it just too many times.

“You are either going out and getting something to eat or so help me, God, I will tube feed you!” the old woman storms out of the room angrily.

Katherine sits still, just watching her husband breathe for a while before painfully rising to her feet and padding out the door.







***


Beep. Beep. Beep. The young man walks slowly onward in a gray world. He can feel the little cat’s gravitational pull dragging him closer, but he can not tell if he wants to run forward or back. Black asphalt rises under his feet and a soft snow starts to fall from the gray sky. The young man turns his face upwards, remembering his wife’s fascination with the beautiful flakes. He tries to catch one on his tongue, recalling a magical day when her auburn hair was dotted white with snow and she was laughing. She was spinning, spinning, spinning too fast to fall. He catches one on his tongue and flinches at the shock of an unexpected taste. He looks more closely at the supposed snow. Not snow. Ash. A small feline figure flickers in the mist ahead and the young man quickens his pace, his unease making his palms sweat. There it is again! The little black cat barely visible on the edge of the wall of gray, pulls the young man onward. He wipes the sweat off his brow. It’s unusually warm here. A hazy shape slowly comes into focus as the young man draws nearer. Sweat starts pouring down the young man’s face. The mist tightens and curls around him in thick swirls of smoke. A hunk of twisted metal comes slowly into view, smoking...the remains of what used to be a car. With a cry, he falls to his knees and begins to dig through bits of red-hot metal and ash, ignoring his scorched hands. Desperately searching for the body he does not want to find. The inferno grows hotter as the young man pulls aside layer after layer of twisted steel. His frantic motions slow. She’s gone. His little kitty Kat. He sits back slowly on his heels and turns his face upward again, letting the ashes catch on his eyelashes, gray tears streaming down his cheeks.







***


Beep. Beep. Beep.The beeping follows her, telling her to hurry up, counting the seconds wasted. The bright light reflects off fresh snow and blinds Katherine as she trudges along a slippery walkway to the nearest Starbucks. She mounts the snowy steps, her mind swamped with memories ….He opened this very door for me the morning he proposed. He was acting funny that day. He wanted to do everything, go everywhere. She smiles to herself, thinking back on how he insisted on making it one of the most amazing days of her life. Still lost in a haze, she orders a coffee and a small meal. She looks for a seat and is shocked back into reality when a young man drops into the seat across from her. He runs his fingers anxiously through his hair and reaches into a leather case to pull out his laptop. He plops it on the table and is just about to open the screen when he notices Katherine. A look of curiosity follows the initial shock on his face and he smiles pleasantly at her.

“Hi. I guess I didn’t see you there. Are you waiting for someone?”

Katherine shakes her head mutely, clutching her warm drink like a lifeline.

“My name’s Eric.” the young man says, smiling. He looks at Katherine expectantly.

She dares a cautious smile and says in a voice hoarse from disuse, “I’m Katherine.”

Eric relaxes slightly more and opens his computer. “So what brings you to Starbucks alone on such a wintery morning?” Eric grins at her cheekily. “Needed a little pick-me-up?”

Katherine plays with a couple of different lines for a moment before finally deciding on the truth. “Nah, just needed a warm meal and some time away from...everything. You know?” She cocks her head quizzically, wondering how such an easygoing guy could ever get sick of, well … whatever it was that he did. “What do you do?” mutters Katherine, thinking aloud.

Eric pretends to think for a moment. “Well, I do get coffee. But sometimes a sandwich.”

Katherine laughs openly. “No, no! I meant what you do. For a living, I mean.”

“I’m an architect,” Eric says, playing with his sandwich. “Skyscrapers and such,” he says, talking too fast.

Katherine smiles, remembering how fascinated her husband had always been with architecture. He wanted to go to Beijing as soon as they had saved enough money, just to see the new skyline. Slowly the smile fades from her face and she stops listening to Eric excitedly explain about his work. “What do you do?” he asks, but she doesn’t hear it. Sombre and disconnected once more, Katherine rises quietly without saying goodbye and wanders out the door, forgetting all about Eric and his architecture, her mind filled with the image of another man.

Eric looks after her, confused. What a strange, beautiful woman, he thinks to himself before turning back to his computer screen.








***


Beep. Beep. Beep. Katherine wanders back into the hospital room. Has it only been an hour? She wonders distantly. She starts. What if he woke up and I wasn’t there! She drops into her seat by his bed and stares anxiously at him for any sign of change. As far as she can tell, he hasn’t moved. She settles back into her chair and clutches her coffee, thinking about her encounter with Eric. Then her thoughts turn again to the young man beside her and she smiles at the welling up of happy memories that each beseech her to recall a happier time, a happier place. Just as Katherine is submitting to the pull of her memories once more, the young man starts into consciousness, as though called by her thoughts. Katherine automatically captures his hands to still the initial thrashing. She scoots closer and lays a hand on his sweaty forehead. He is mumbling about cats and smoke and ashes. Katherine tries to soothe him, to bring him back to her.

“I’m right here, my darling. You’re little kitty Kat isn’t going anywhere. She’s always gonna be right here. She’ll always love you.”

The young man starts at the sound of her voice and comprehension slowly fills his eyes. “I remember you,” he begins laboriously “You’re my...my...girlfriend. You’re my little kitty Kat.” he says proudly.

Katherine’s confusion is replaced slowly with despair. He doesn’t remember our wedding! she wants to wail.

“Mhhh…” he sighs “I love you, Kat.” He mumbles the last words, fading once more into unconsciousness.

“No, no! Stay with me, stay with me! Come and talk with me again!” Desperate, Katherine calls to him. The young man’s eyes snap open again, alert and aware. Katherine’s silence lasts only a moment as she tried to find where to begin.

“It was May 2nd, 2007. I woke up to the smell of scrambled eggs and music coming from the kitchen. As soon as we were done with breakfast, you pulled me into the car and drove to Starbucks. You ordered me a latte and I got you a cappuccino. Then you placed a blindfold over my eyes and refused to take it off or tell me where we were going until we got to a park and you laid out a picnic on an old blanket. When the wicker basket was finally empty, you tied on the blindfold again and when you took it off, we were at a carnival on the beach. We rode the carousel until we were dizzy and ate cotton candy until we were sick. Then we took off our shoes and played tag with the waves. Somehow we both ended up on the sand, soaked and laughing. You grew serious and pulled out the blindfold again. You told me you loved me. I told you I loved you too.” The tears start falling faster now. “You led me down the beach, your arms around me. I couldn’t’ve tripped if I tried. The sounds of the carnival faded. Then you...then you pulled off the blindfold and as the sunset over the water behind you, you bent down on one knee and asked me a simple question.” The young man’s eyes are alert and fixed on Katherine’s wet ones. “And exactly…” Katherine cuts herself off with a sob.

The young man squeezes her hands and in the clear, beautiful voice she remembers from before the crash he finishes, “…exactly one year later you wore a white gown and I wore a black suit. We stood before an invisible being and begged his earthly servant to make us the happiest people in the world. And all I had to do to make you mine forever was say two little words. I do. I do, I do, I do. I do love you. My little kitty Kat.” The young man gave Katherine a weary smile, eyelids already drooping. In a fragile voice he murmurs, “Love you, Kat.” Katherine wipes her eyes and whispers back. “Love you, too.”









***


Beep. Beep. Beep. The young man sits unnaturally still, eyes shut against the soft sunlight slanting through the leaves overhead. A still mountain lake lies before him, coated with flickering memories. He smiles gently, eyes still closed, remembering his wife begging for a camping trip, to a mystical place exactly like this. He hears a rustle and his eyes snap open eagerly yet he does not stir. His eyes scan the nearby foliage for a glance of that precious little cat. The long fingers of stretching ferns flicker from a disturbance. The young man looks around wildly. Too late. Always too late. The little black tail disappears again. Disappointed, the man turns back to watch the floating memories of his wife playing like a film across the still screen of the lake. There she is baking cookies, the heat of burning dough fogging the kitchen windows. She never could cook, the man recalls with a smile. There she is playing poker, trying not to look too pleased. There she is singing along to the radio, her voice reaching across the distance. The young man stands up and runs toward her image, reaching out, desperate to embrace her again. In his eagerness, he tumbles through the surface of the lake--the image of his wife shattering into a thousand ripples of water. A rustling overhead startles him and he leaps to his feet, wiping his sodden hair from his eyes, only to be disappointed again. The little black cat is gone. As the young man looks from tree to lake to tree, tears begin to fill his eyes. His legs fold and the young man crumples to the ground.









***


Silence. Katherine sits back in her chair, absently stroking her husband’s hair and smiling distantly at the white walls, her mind far away. She’s thinking about the first time they met. She was still living in the Big City, in that little apartment on 34th street. Katherine laughs quietly to herself, recalling the arrival of Cat, her kitten. Just dumped outside her door and too overcome with lethargy to even protest when she lifted him up and carried him inside. She nursed that kitten back to health but refused to give him a name. Not one person failed to ask her why. Her reply was always the same:

“Don’t name anything precious given to you by chance. Once you name it, you’re doomed to fall in love. And one day, chance just might want to take your little love back again.”

So that kitten was always just called Cat. And until the day he didn’t come home, Katherine never would have admitted to loving him. Later that night, desperately knocking on every door in her building, she met her future husband. Katherine’s smile widens as she remembers how everyday from then on, he would bring her a kitten from the pound and ask if it was her Cat. Everyday the answer was the same. They never did find her kitten, but from then on, the young man called her Kat and warned her half-jokingly, every time she walked out the door, not to get lost. Katherine smiles down at her husband’s face and squeezes his cold hands. Suddenly she freezes. Something is wrong. Her heart starts pounding. It’s quiet, she thinks, too quiet. Her stomach drops through the floor and she realizes what is the matter. She looks with horror at his cold hands and lays them carefully, like a bomb about to explode, on his still chest. She kisses him on his blue lips for the last time and stands. Shaking, she makes it to the doorway before the world starts spinning, spinning, spinning too fast to fall. As she looks from her husband’s body to the door and back, tears begin to fill her eyes. Her lips part slightly, her eyes unfocus. She stares at the white walls, seeing only ghosts.

“Papa?” she whispers to the walls. “When’s the wedding going to start, Papa? I’m so excited…”





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