Sandpaper Kisses.

Submitted into Contest #211 in response to: Write a story involving a friendship with an adorable animal.... view prompt


Fantasy Fiction

Language alert- swearing.

My favorite dreams are those where I’m flying. They give me a sense of control and are exhilarating but tend to be in short fragments, and before long, the dream’s landscape has shifted, and it moves off in an alternate direction. Let me preface this next part by saying I am only thirty-one, but sadly the older I get, the less I experience them. There’s a message in there somewhere. Could it be that as we age, we feel less freedom from the constraints of life, and with that comes an acceptance that we have little to no control over our journey?  Or is it that we lose our capacity to imagine the impossible?

The dream in this tale doesn't fit any of the usual patterns. It’s simultaneously real yet contrarily surreal.  A dreamscape I often revisited in recent weeks, or perhaps it revisited me in the way of a premonition of something to come. Whichever way it was, the sequence of events unfolded similarly and ended as a fluffy orange tail disappeared in the mist. I attributed the haunting nocturnal stirrings to losing my beautiful cat and gold statuette—Oscar. The loss of my little buddy of twenty-one years occurred a short time before their onset. I missed his furry hugs and sandpaper kisses. It was so difficult to accept that Oscar no longer existed in my life when the memories of him were everywhere. There remained after this peculiar dream an inescapable feeling that I was being drawn back again and again to the dark street, where fog came out of nowhere, where I felt mired in quicksand as I tried to catch an elusive tail. It ended in the same way, leaving me wanting to see what was attached to the orange tail fading from view around what looked like the dark corner of a building. 

When I think about it, what is the dream state but a chemical reaction in the brain’s neurotransmitters that create mysterious, disjointed scenarios? We find ourselves out of nowhere, transported by the unconscious mind and dropped in the middle of a scene already in progress.

In this instance, the dreamscape paralleled my reality in many ways. Grieving, even for a pet, leaves one weighted down, lost in brain fog, looking outside oneself for something, a new direction, some hope. Not many people in my circle of friends and acquaintances or even family understood. Close friends would mutter some sort of something about knowing how I felt. Family members expressed the usual obligatory concerns. 

Others acknowledge the loss by saying, 

“It was just a cat; you can get another one.” 

Yeah, right, I thought. It’s just a leg. You can always get another one. But I supposed that might be a little harsh and politically incorrect. Lyrics from a favorite Prince tune conveyed best how I felt; “

It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song.” 

Losing a beloved presence in our life is one of our most challenging experiences. It makes sense our minds would use the subconscious as a vehicle for working through grief and the ensuing struggle to reach acceptance.

 On one morning recently, I hurried to dress for work, donned a winter coat, and tucked my blonde bob under a stocking cap. It’s several blocks from my house to the Home and Commercial Architectural Design firm where I work. As I walked, light snow began to fall, and before long, it covered the sidewalk and boulevard. Along the way, colorful lights adorned the small boutiques and shops for the holiday season. I stopped briefly to watch a Christmas train in a shop window circling a snow-covered village. There were horse-drawn carriages carrying holiday shoppers along the cobblestone streets, and I could almost imagine the excitement that filled the air.

The owners were likely hoping for more foot traffic this year. The unfortunate truth is that buyers like the convenience of online shopping, and soon, drones will deliver orders to our doorsteps. 

“Ugh... Drones, nothing says Merry Christmas like a cold piece of technology knocking at the door,” I grumbled. 

I longed for my childhood when we rushed from store to store with the treasures we’d found. There was the sound of the bell ringers and caroling on every street.

The decorations reminded me of happier holidays when my family lived nearby and the laughter as I watched Oscar knocking ornaments off the tree and chasing them around until he lost them under one piece of furniture or the other. 

Tears welled up in my eyes, and I told myself firmly—Emery Blake, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Save your pity party for later. 

I was confident tear-sickles hanging from my nose and eyelashes would not demonstrate my professionalism to clients I planned to meet for the first time that morning.

It seemed like I had walked for hours and was no nearer to the office. The snow changed to thick fog as my feet grew heavy. Somehow, I found my way to a storefront, and I placed a hand on the brick facade to steady myself. The street was eerily quiet now.  Car lights were no longer visible through the thick fog, nor was there the sound of disgruntled drivers beeping their car horns as they impatiently made their way to work. I felt disoriented and a little afraid, but mostly I worried that I would be late for my day's first appointment with a very wealthy couple. They were valuable clients to my firm. How would I explain the situation to them and my boss? My heart raced as I rifled through the purse I carried for my cell phone to call the office.  

Once I found it, the locked screen opened, and I anxiously commanded, “Alexa, call work,” but no matter how I contorted my lips to form the words, it was to no avail.

Suddenly, the shop’s burglar alarm ripped through the dead silence that had settled around me. Paralyzed and struggling to move, I reached up to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock, as is my habit. It was then I realized that it was just a dream.  I turned off the persistent squawking of the alarm clock as I recalled arriving at the office on schedule yesterday. The firm’s valued clients were happy with my design ideas for their new home. For my diligence, I expected a nice bonus in my Christmas stocking this year. 

Nonetheless, I felt disappointed because the dream never reached the point where the orange tail appeared or, more precisely, disappeared. But the whole thing was an odd departure from my usual dreams of late, I thought. 

“I need a strong cup of coffee,” I said aloud, even though no one was there to hear me. 

After sliding my feet into fuzzy warm slippers, I went downstairs and walked over to the Keurig on the kitchen counter. Of course, as happened every morning lately, I looked over at Oscar's empty bed, still on the couch where he spent most of his last days. The realization of it struck me again, and the shock felt like it did the first time.

My forty-hour work week has turned into a forty-five-hour work week. Most days start with new client meetings or meetings with existing clients who wish to modify previously approved plans because they’ve changed their minds. Soon one blueprint blurred into the next on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle.  Long before the current ramblings of my subconscious started, I’d begun to experience something similar to what researchers call an episodic dream format. I don't care what experts call them because, in my opinion, a nightmare is a perfect description. They are reminiscent of plot lines in a movie in which someone, namely me, is running for their life from an unknown person or persons pursuing them. They don't, on the face of it, relate to any one thing that occurs during the day. But in any event, I’ve concluded they are disturbing manifestations of daily stress usually associated with my work.

Therefore my question is, am I to interpret these particular dreams as meaning deep down, I feel like my job is hunting me down and trying to kill me?

Whatever the answer to that question is, I have, on a number of occasions, asked myself if this is what a five-year undergraduate degree in architecture and an additional three years of internship with a busy architectural agency have afforded me. Any modicum of success probably means more hours, not necessarily much more pay.

One evening several days before Christmas, I stopped at a neighborhood pub after work with friends to have a glass or two of chardonnay. We sipped wine and talked about our career choices in a dimly lit booth near the bar. Soft ambient renditions of seasonal tunes mixed with the Jazzy Blues blend known as the Chicago Blues wafted over the crowd. I prefer the moody soulfulness of Southern Blues, but the Chicago Blues scene started right here in Chi-Town, and it always provides a pleasant backdrop to an evening with friends. I was anticipating a late night. So I used the Lyft App on my phone to schedule a ride earlier in the day to ensure a safe return home. Feeling a bit tipsy, I unlocked the door and stepped into my empty house, knowing my only greeting would be the echo of tomorrows that would never come, but I hoped the wine and the late hour would aid me in quickly falling asleep. But as it frequently happened since losing Oscar, a terrible feeling of loss flooded over me. I clung to my pillow, waiting for it to pass, determined not to cry.

As I started down the familiar dark street as fog rolled in, billowing up from... Well, I wasn’t sure from where. I tried to hurry, but my legs couldn't support my efforts. I needed to find the corner and see what was attached to the tail once and for all. Finally, I saw in the distance a figure. It felt so close and yet unreachable. The fog dissipated, rising upward, dispersing like smoke from a burning cigarette. In doing so, it left a slightly hazy effect around the outline of the red-orange image. As the fog lifted, I could see the street in front of me more clearly. The figure pivoted to face me, and I recognized it as a fluffy reddish-orange cat with the most startlingly Amber eyes staring back at me. A white patch ran from the tip of the nose over one eye to the ear on one side of his face. I tried to call out, hoping to coax him closer, But the dream started to vanish, not all at once but in slow motion, like a puzzle, lifting and floating in midair, as the pieces separate, disseminating in all directions until they’re gone from view. 

Sometime later, I opened my eyes, and I swear what happened next is true. What felt to me like a tiny spirit animal, a kitten possibly, jumped on the bed. I felt the imprints of its paws pressing the bedding to my flesh as it moved decisively across the bed and pounced on my shoulder. I could feel the weight of it resting there. I wasn’t afraid; however, I held my breath, not wanting to move for fear of scaring it away. At the time, I knew it wasn't Oscar, although I’d caught glimpses of him now and then a few days after he died, and I still feel strongly that his spirit lingers with me and will for a very long time.

Christmas Eve this year was like most other work days at the office. Year-end projects required finalizing for building to start after the new year. Following a small celebration in one of the large conference rooms, most of the office was cleared out by noon, except for a few architects who had blueprints to rerun through computer programs for final checks on dimensions, measurements, and design accuracy. By one o’clock, the rest of us wished each other a happy holiday as we exited the building. On my way home, I stopped for a few last-minute gift purchases in the Little boutiques not far from the row house where I’ve lived for the past three years.

I didn’t have any plans for the evening, but I planned to have Christmas Day brunch with my parents. They flew in from their retirement home in Taos, New Mexico, that afternoon. They’ve made plans to spend the evening with old friends, celebrating Christmas and the New Year. It was a good time for them to catch up while they were in town. While I pondered my parent’s priorities, I looked out the window at houses up and down the block decorated with festive displays of Christmas lights. 

I decided, in my somewhat pessimistic frame of mind at the moment, that the infamous Taos Hum, which some of the area’s residents characterize as a constant low buzzing of unknown origin, must have some effect on one’s gray matter.  My mom's and dad’s in particular. Although, to be fair, I always knew the senior Blakes were artists, old hippies at heart, never allowing society’s norms to dictate their lives. 

“Oh well,”

I sighed; my older sister, her husband, and three kids were driving in from Rockford for the gathering tomorrow following a Christmas Eve celebration with her in-laws.

After I made a cup of The Good Earth Tea, I snuggled up with a soft red and green throw blanket a friend gave me last year for Christmas. It was the only thing I had that came close to holiday decorations this year. Maybe next Christmas, I will get into the spirit of the season again. Meanwhile, I settled back and watched the Yule Log on TV. This year featured kittens playing in front of the fireplace. It felt good to have four-legged friends close by, even if it was only on the TV. 

I made a mental list of how I might trim the house for the next Yuletides season.  Undoubtedly, I’d put up the old fake tree I had stored in the attic. For the last few Christmases, I’d promised myself that I would get a live tree next time, but life happens, and things lose their importance as time passes. 

    Christmas music accompanied by the crackling sounds of the Yule Log was hypnotic, lulling me to sleep. A short time later, the screeching of car brakes jolted me awake, followed by doors slamming and, finally, the car speeding away.

 “Wow, someone had too much Christmas cheer,” I mumble sleepily. 

The Yule Log was still burning brightly. The kittens were gone, presumably all tired out and tucked in tight, waiting for Santa Claus. 

I was finding it hard to keep my eyes open, that is, until there was what I thought sounded like a faint scratching at the window screen outside, followed by a soft meow. It wasn't entirely clear that the sounds came from outside. They might have come from the television. To make sure, I turned to check the Yule Log one more time. Just as I thought, the kittens were nowhere in sight.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I went to the window to raise the Roman Shade just as a bitty tail disappeared from the window ledge. At first, I thought it must be another part of my recurring dream; to be sure it wasn’t real or that it was real, I ran to the front door to have a look around. For some reason, I started shivering uncontrollably, probably from the rush of emotions I was experiencing, as I opened the door to find a dark orange fur ball huddled on the porch. He was no more than a few weeks old. Why was he outdoors on a cold night, I wondered. Suddenly, rage flashed through me, stabbing me like a knife in the chest! 

“The fucking ass-ho… in the car,”

I snapped crudely. 

The little guy eyed me calmly, and I apologized for my language. I leaned forward to kiss the tiny little rosebud of a nose and peered into his Amber eyes, just like the cat in my dream. 

“Is that a patch of white on the side of your face,” 

I asked in a squeaky high-pitched voice that sounded somewhat foreign. 

The kitten licked what remained of the melting snow off the pink pads on the bottom of his paws while I held him in my arms.  After a quick peek, I realized he was a she. 

“Whoops, my mistake,”

I said, placing her on a rug while I went to the kitchen to get one of the last cans of Oscar’s favorite food.

Sitting back in my chair, I watched her eat. She looked like a Main Coon, the same breed as Oscar. Only his fur was a mixture of gold tones with touches of white. From across the room, I heard a familiar sneeze. I remembered that sneeze. Oscar suffered from mild allergies from dust or something; I wasn’t sure. 

“I’m so sorry you’re not here, sweet Oscar. I will never forget you, little buddy,”

I whispered as I felt the sting of tears filling my eyes. But my attention was averted by the little kitty’s loud purring as she wattled toward me and climbed on the chair to leap to my shoulder, settling down to wash her face. I had a feeling that it would be her favorite place. It was kismet, meant to be. Her lovely color reminded me of warmer days on this cold Christmas Eve, and I decided to name her Summer.

August 13, 2023 22:05

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Cliff Pratt
08:17 Aug 26, 2023

I'm not sure what to write about this, as I enjoyed it very much. I did wonder about the 'spirit animal' para, but I guess was meant to show the kitten getting closer. I like a strong timeline, and this one wandered a bit. I suspect that is a personal preference though. But these are minor quibbles. It's a good story.


Judith Jerdé
04:32 Aug 28, 2023

Thank you so much for reading the story. Yes, the spirit animal is kinda of a premonition. The story is a compilation of true events and fiction.


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Michał Przywara
22:33 Aug 19, 2023

You very well convey that kind of aimless, hopeless frustration, that follows the loss of a pet. To be sure, it comes with any kind of grieving, but like it was pointed out in the story, losing a pet can be extra lonely as not everyone *gets* it. The dreams are the other big feature of this story. Partly, they're prophetic. We don't know if that's true or if the kitten was just a coincidence, but they sure seem prophetic. Then there's the musing about no longer dreaming of flying - this story is a coming of age. The cat dying represents the...


Judith Jerdé
14:04 Aug 22, 2023

Michal, thank you so much. Your take on the story is very fitting and thoughtful.


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Delbert Griffith
11:21 Aug 19, 2023

Your first paragraph pulled me in immediately. I have often wondered why I don't dream of flying anymore, and I've come to the same conclusions you had. It was a terrific way to get into the MC's inner mind and emotional state. I really liked the arc of the tale. I'm not a cat person, but you wrote this with such skill and understated pathos that my heart felt for the MC, and I was very pleased with the resolution. Not syrupy-sweet, not dark: just right. You showed great skill in writing this story. Nicely done. Cheers!


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Judith Jerdé
13:53 Aug 17, 2023

Thank you so much.


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Tom Skye
07:30 Aug 17, 2023

This seemed very personal, so pulled me in. Like the other reviewer, I sensed some truth. I loved the way it shows how the sadness associated with a single thing can affect every aspect of your life, and even your personality. Nice timely (and possibly intentional) Sinead O Connor reference. Really enjoyed this. The tone was very different and was quite an immersive read after just waking up. I also love cats 😂 Really nice work. Thanks


Judith Jerdé
13:58 Aug 17, 2023

Thank you, I really appreciate you taking the time to read the story. Yes, there are some truths in it.


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Mary Bendickson
15:19 Aug 16, 2023

This doesn't say so but has to be creative nonfiction. Much too real. I lost my 21 year-old cat, Blacktop, on news years day last year so know exactly how you feel. We have another cat and can tell he still misses her. So sorry for your loss. Sounds like the newbie will be fun. Ps I live the other direction from Rockford Thanks for liking my story 😊


Judith Jerdé
17:45 Aug 16, 2023

Yes, thank you, it is based on some truth, names have been changed to protect the innocent as they say. I’m so sorry for your loss. Even after getting a new Kitty, it isn’t quite the same. We love each one differently and for different aspects of their personality.


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