“Did you feed the cat?”
“Yes, Dad. Doing it right now.”
Felix crouches on the floor nearby, his back humped up and his trunk-like legs tucked under his rounded mass. He looks more like a hairy toad than a cat. His ice blue eyes stare at me impatiently, like he doesn’t get why I can’t do this one thing fast enough for him.
Shaking my head, I scrape out the can of tuna. It’s just cheap canned tuna, but it was hard to find. The country is falling apart. World War III was bound to do that. What’s left of the media calls it a “limited” war, like that’s a good thing. The use of nuclear weapons has been “restrained.” Only millions dead, so far. While our leaders try to wipe out anyone who doesn’t agree with them, their people come a bit closer to losing everything, each day.
I finish with the can, set the plate on the floor. Before I’ve even let go of it, there’s Felix, crowding me out of the way. He gulps down his food, smacking and grunting. I swear, it’s more like I’m feeding a pig than a cat.
With another shake of my head, I fix supper for my dad and me. That means another can of tuna, split between us, over white rice, with a side of cabbage. To think, I only had to stand in line at the ration dispensary for two hours to get enough of this to feed us for a week.
“Dad, supper’s ready.” I scoop up a plate and head for the living room, careful to step around Felix, who, despite his apparent starvation, has scattered bits of tuna over a five-foot radius. Eventually, he’ll get around to licking up every crumb, but for now, he just glares up at me, as if willing me to stumble and drop the plate I’m carrying.
In the living room, Dad sits in his wheelchair, facing the dark TV. The rolling blackouts mean it’s off more than it’s on, but he’s just staring at it, his head wagging as he fights against sleep, lulled into a narcotic haze by the morphine drip. He rouses as I draw close, looking up with a dreamy smile.
“What’s for dinner?” he asks. “Steak?”
“Sure, Dad. With ice cream for dessert.” Taking a seat, I hold the plate up, fork at the ready. “Okay, open wide.”
I slide a forkful of food into his mouth. His smile turns to a grimace. “You know I hate tuna.”
“I think everyone hates tuna on some level, but it’s what we got, so eat up.”
He makes an effort, chewing and swallowing a half-dozen bites. Then he shakes his head. “I’m sorry, son.” One hand presses against his stomach. “I can’t eat any more.”
“Gotcha.” The cancer started in his pancreas, but it didn’t stay there. It’s been a while since he’s seen a doctor, so I don’t know for sure how far it’s gotten. But he’s sick to his stomach most of the time, so I’m guessing it’s gotten there. “Maybe more later?”
He shakes his head. “I think that’s all for today. Why don’t you give what’s left to Felix?”
My mouth compresses into a tight line. “That cat doesn’t need any more food, Dad. He’s fat enough that I’m tempted to cook him.”
“Just kidding.” Seriously, I’m not sure I’ll ever be hungry enough to put any part of that disgusting animal in my mouth. But we’ll see. “Anything I can do for you? Is the drip okay? Any pain?”
“No, I’m fine,” he says, settling back in his chair. “I’ll just rest here for a while.”
“Okay. I’ll be back in little while to put you to bed.”
With that, I head back for the kitchen. This little apartment has been the limits of my life for a while now. I don’t have a job anymore, my restaurant having been another victim of global conflict, and Dad needs someone to care for him pretty much 24/7. But, honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do without him to look after.
As I step into the kitchen, I hear Felix, still eating, his gulping and chomping audible from across the room. Funny, he doesn’t usually take such a long time with his meals, just hoovers it right up and sits there glaring at me, as if expecting more.
Then I see his hunched bulk up on the counter, crouched over my plate, eagerly munching away at my supper.
“You filthy, little…” I manage to hiss, lurching towards him, unconsciously adjusting my grip on the fork I’m holding. Not entirely sure what I’m going to do, but I’m not acting on logic and reason right this second.
Felix’s self-preservation instincts are still in top shape, however, and he bolts without even looking in my direction. Just pitches forward like a boulder toppling off a cliff, hits the floor with a thump I’m sure they heard in the apartment below us, and maybe all the way to the ground floor. For a moment, he seems unsure how to escape, since I’m between him and the door. He lunges one way, then the other, like a running back seeking to even a defender. I know I could catch him, but I hesitate, aware that I’m not sure what I’d do to him.
My moment of indecision is all the advantage Felix needs, and he slips around me, paws scrabbling for purchase on the linoleum, before rocketing out of the room. The halfhearted kick I aim at his retreating hindquarters goes well wide of the mark, and he’s escaped, scot-free.
Leaving me standing there, seething with fury, surveying the scattered remains of my supper, half-devoured and flecked with cat spit and hairs. For a moment, all I can do is stand there, shaking with rage, speechless. Then I take my ruined supper and dump it into the garbage, slamming the lid and dropping the plate into the sink. If I can’t have it, there’s no way I’m letting that… cat have it.
I lean against the counter, fuming. Oh, I hate that animal. Ever since Dad brought him home, more than a decade ago, Felix’s been the bane of my existence. Messy, stinking, rude, ungrateful, and just all around awful. I don’t understand why we’ve kept him so long. I don’t even get the name. As a long-haired Himalayan, he looks about as much like Felix the Cat as a refrigerator looks like a Lamborghini. Honestly, the beast has no redemptive merit whatsoever, beyond that Dad likes him. So we keep him, I feed him, bathe him, clean up after him. And struggle to not give in to temptation and smother the little monster in his sleep.
With no other viable alternative, I finish off Dad’s supper myself. I’d go hungry before I’d eat after the cat, and I need to keep my own strength up, for Dad if not for myself. Then I clean up, an almost depressingly easy chore, given that I didn’t really cook anything. Sweeping and mopping up after Felix is the not-highlight of the affair, and requires a superhuman exercise in patience.
When I head back to the living room to check on Dad, he’s fast asleep. And there, perched on his lap, is Felix. Dad’s hands rest on the cat’s fat, humped back, as if he fell asleep stroking the animal’s fur. Felix’s rumbling purr is audible across the room, an uneven, hitching drone, sounding like a lawn mower with bad bearings.
I pause, glowering at the cat. He returns the glare.
“Get lost,” I say, walking over to the chair.
Felix just settles in more firmly, tamping his feet against the throw covering Dad’s legs. It’s like he’s taking root, prepared to die on this hill before he lets me have anything resembling a victory in our ongoing struggle. I wave a hand at him, trying to get him to move. I need to put Dad to bed, and I really don’t need more Felix right now.
But the stupid cat doesn’t flee in terror like I want him to. He just hunkers down, crouching lower, his glare becoming something like a self-pitying grimace, like he’s a persecuted martyr or something.
I’m ready to swat him when Dad stirs.
“Oh, hi, son,” he says, blinking and looking around blearily. “What time is it?”
“Bedtime, Dad,” I say. “But Felix won’t move so I can get you ready.”
“Hmmm,” Dad grunts softly. His hands move, stroking the cat. The purr gets louder, and Dad sighs in contentment. “Son, can you wait a bit? I’d like to sit here, like this, for a while longer.”
A sigh escapes my lips. This is why we keep the cat. You know, I’d curl up in Dad’s lap and purr all night if it meant we could get rid of Felix. But that would be kinda weird, and no matter how I feel about his cat, it’s clear that the little beast brings Dad some comfort.
“Sure, Dad,” I say. “I’ll be back in a while to check on you.”
“Thanks, son.” His eyes close, his face peaceful.
I spare one last glare for Felix, who looks back at me smugly. One day, he’ll get what’s coming to him, and I won’t have to feed him anymore.
Everything has gotten worse. Rolling blackouts have turned into a complete loss of electricity, lasting for more than a week now. They’ve stopped picking up garbage, and they’re saying on the radio—our last means of receiving any sort of news—that we have to boil our tap water. Going down to the ration dispensaries is like gambling: you never know what you’ll get, or if you’ll get anything. It’s well and truly fallen apart, and I don’t see any signs that it’ll be put back together any time soon.
In the midst of all this, I’m giving a bath to the most undeserving, unappreciative creature on Earth.
“Hold still, you mangy furball!” I grate out the words from behind clenched teeth, as Felix thrashes in my grip, struggling to escape the washtub.
He’s fighting with everything he has, legs flailing, his fat, slippery body wriggling and writhing, like he’s suddenly become some sort of half-worm thing. Soapy, lukewarm water sprays everywhere, leaving the taste of dirty cat in my mouth.
I wouldn’t be doing this at all, except even Dad is complaining about the smell coming off the disgusting creature. Either Felix has been rolling in garbage, or he just naturally exudes a rotten, cloying stench when he goes too long with a scrub, but his reek is unbearable. So, here I am, the world ending around me, trying to hold a squirming feline in place while I give him a good wash.
Felix emits a low, drawn-out moan, glowering up at me, utter loathing in his gaze. When my only response is to pour more water over his back, working the soap into his fur with the fingers of one hand, he gives another heave, trying to break my grip and escape. I have him firmly by the scruff on the back of his neck, however, and this escape attempt ends the same way as the others: with both of us just getting more annoyed and a bit wetter.
“You know, if you could bathe yourself, we wouldn’t have to go through this,” I say, my voice breathless and tense. “But no, you’re such a lazy little mutt that you can’t even clean yourself properly.”
I scoop up a final cup of water, douse the struggling form, and call it good enough. I haul Felix out of the water, and he goes limp, transforming into a thirty pound sack of wet potatoes. I nearly drop him, wrenching my back as I stumble. Grunting out a curse, I thump him down on an old towel, which I use to rub him as dry as I can. He keeps struggling throughout the process, groaning and yowling, like I’m engaging I brutal torture instead of doing exactly what he’s wanted for the last fifteen minutes.
Finally, the ordeal is over, and I release my prisoner. Felix bounds free of the towel, trots away a few steps, his fur all fluffed, looking like he’s come close to a live wire. He spares me one last furious glare, then licks a paw and rubs it along his jaw, giving the impression of contempt for my efforts. Then, with a lazy flick of his bottlebrush tail, he slinks out of the bathroom.
Good riddance. I dump the water and use the towel to mop up the spills. Then, with a sigh, I follow the cat.
I know where Felix is going: to find Dad. He’s almost like a child, fleeing the parent that cares for him to seek solace with the one that spoils him. Well, that situation won’t last much longer.
I enter Dad’s bedroom hesitantly, wondering as I have for the past few days what I’ll find. He lies in bed, blankets drawn up to his chin, and I stare at him for a few seconds in mounting fear. But his chest slowly rises and falls. I let out a pent-up breath of my own. Dad is still with me.
Like everything else, he’s gotten worse, and there’s nothing I can do. The morphine’s run out, even with my attempts to stretch it, and the grimace etched onto his sleeping features tells me what kind of pain he’s in. I spooned rice water into his mouth, until he couldn’t even swallow that. It’s kind of a relief that he won’t wake up; at least when he’s asleep he doesn’t seem afraid.
I sink into that chair beside the bed, watching as Dad struggles for each breath, a sharp wheeze that’s painful to hear. I have nowhere else to be, and nothing else to do. Once Dad is gone, I don’t know what I’ll do. With no one to care for, what will be the point of my life?
What am I going to do?
My self-pitying thoughts are interrupted by a thump, as Felix leaps onto the bed. A scowl slips across my face. Of all the times I don’t want to see that cat…
In the gloom, all I can see is the cat’s eyes, glimmering with reflected light as he fixes me with his trademark glower. For a second, I meet that glare, refusing to look away, trying to let him know how much I wish he’d just disappear. Then Felix blinks, turning his head away from me, managing to make capitulation seems like contempt.
The faint voice, reedy and thin, cuts through my preoccupation. “Dad?” I lean forward, full of concern.
His hand scrabble across the blankets at the bedside; I reach out and catch hold of it, feeling the weakness of his grip, the sad tremor in his muscles. “Son?”
“I’m here, Dad.” I tighten my grasp. “Are you in pain? What can I do?”
“Son,” he breathes out the word, then gasps and grits his teeth together.
He lies there for a minute, panting. Then he takes another breath. “Son, remember… remember to feed the cat.”
Is he joking? Probably not, but I let out a choked gasp that’s as much a sob as a laugh. “Sure, Dad. I’ll feed the stupid cat.”
“Thanks.” His eyes close, and for a second, I think that’s it. But his chest continues to rise and fall, and the pained grimace spreads across his face again.
The mattress shifts under me, compressing as Felix moves closer. He clambers up onto Dad, then settles into his hunched, toadlike position atop my father’s chest. A spasm of anger courses through me, and I’m just about to shove him off, chase him away, when starts purring. That deep, arhythmic rumble that makes me think of a broken motor seconds before it explodes.
But at that sound, Dad seems to relax. His breathing gets easier, and the lines of pain on his face fade a bit.
I sit back, still holding his hand, and refrain from chasing Felix away. If it lets Dad rest easier, than I can put up with the cat.
So we sit there, the three of us, waiting in the growing dark for what comes next.
The shovel bites into the soil. I bend and flex, lifting one last blade full of dirt, and toss it onto the grave. Then I tamp it down, smoothing the crest of the low mound, before straightening and stepping back.
It’s over. Dad is gone, and my life here has ended.
The evacuation order is mandatory. I’m already packed, a single duffel rests nearby, full of everything left that I care about.
I glance at the sky, where the sun, hidden behind a thick overcast, has just cleared the horizon. The buses will be leaving soon. I’ve cut it close, but I wasn’t going to leave Dad unburied.
With a sigh, I set down the shovel, pick up my bag, and turn to go.
Then I pause, stopped in my tracks. There, sitting on the cold ground a few feet away from me, is Felix. He glowers at me, and I get the impression that he’s no happier than I about the way things have turned out. We’ve both lost the person we loved the most, and now we have to leave the place we’ve called home.
The only thing we still have is each other.
“Come on,” I say with a sigh, beckoning to the cat as I start walking. “Don’t worry; I’ll remember to feed you.”
Felix falls into step beside me, trundling along on his thick legs, fat belly swaying. He looks up at me, a speculative gleam in his eye.
I look away, staring straight ahead. “No. There’s no way I’m carrying you…”