Fiction Speculative Sad

A Cat’s Cage

           Whisky taps the window with his paw. It's still there, the invisible barrier that keeps him inside, trapped, that separates him from the animated and lively world flowing before his eyes. Outside, dogs, squirrels, birds, other cats all live their lives. They see things Whisky will never see, taste things he'll never taste. They have access to scents that only come to him in their faintest form, like a hallucination, buried under the smells of moisture and trash that soak the atmosphere of the apartment.

           Footsteps stomp up the stairs. Whisky jumps from the coffee table under the window to the chair, then on the floor. He waits by the front door.

           It opens. His master enters. He pushes Whisky aside with his large, steel-toe boot. The sole is covered with sawdust and mud that sticks in the cat's hair.

           Whisky tries a meow. The man trudges by and goes into the kitchen. Whisky follows, leaving discreet paw prints in the dust. The man forgot, or didn't bother, to feed him this morning. Yesterday too.

           The man snatches a Tupperware from the fridge and drags his feet to the living room. He drops on the couch, turns the TV on.

           Whisky sits by his sweat-soaked socks and hopes for food to fall. When tomato sauce splashes on the floor, he licks it clean. This does not satisfy his hunger, only ignites it, awakens it. Now a lawn mower rolls across the walls of his stomach.

           He lays his paw on his master's left foot. Maybe he will share.

           The man shouts something, those strange human sounds of which Whisky can only understand the tone—anger—and the cat dashes out of the room and hides under the bed. The big dust balls that live there look like grey, deformed cats. He tries to play with one, but it crumbles under his paws.

           When enough time has passed, Whisky crawls out and slips into the bathroom to drink from the toilet bowl stained with brown.

           He heads for the kitchen, sniffs the floor for crumbs. There's food in the cabinet near the sink. He knows it. He can smell it. The door is uneven and its side sticks out a little. With his paw, he scratches at it, struggles to pull it open. It's heavier than it looks, but he manages to pull the door enough to slip his paw behind and open it. He sneaks in the cabinet. The door closes.

           In there are a pot of old flour that was never opened, glass containers with metal lids filled with rice or raw pasta, and empty bottles of liquor. And a cereal box.

           He rips the cardboard with his claws, mauls the bottom of the box with his teeth, and when he finally makes a hole large enough to reach the Lucky Charms, the door opens.

           The man pulls him out by the tail. Whisky shrieks. A kick sends him flying above the floor. A wooden chair breaks his flight, hits him in the ribs.

           Whisky rushes out of the kitchen and turns to see the man, fuming, shoving cereals back in the box.

           When his master's gone, back to the living room with a beer in his hand, Whisky hops in the litter box. He searches for a clean spot, digs a little in the corners, but only finds more leavings or balls of damp agglomerated litter.

           He tiptoes to the living room. His side hurt. The man is watching TV. Maybe if Whisky's nice, he would pet him. The cat jumps on the opposite side of the couch, approaches slowly. On the screen, a tiger leaps on a sambar deer. Images of wide open grasslands follow one another. Whisky can't grasp the vastness of those landscapes in the contained box of the TV, but the craving of freedom pokes his animal instinct.

           Nature gives way to a mop commercial. Whisky gets closer to the man. His paws barely sink in the couch's leather. His whiskers brush against the man's arm, the one holding the remote. The cat knows better than to touch the one with the beer, that moves up and down at regular intervals. There's warmth in there, there's a beating heart somewhere in that man. Whisky rubs his head on the arm.

           Before he can understand what happened, he lands on the floor and the beer can hits him in the face. He lifts his nose in the air, stunned. Then the man growls and Whisky runs away, his claws scratching the wood.

           He spends a couple hours in the tight space between the oven and the wall behind it. Boredom and inactivity have numbed his joints. He has nothing to do all day except pacing between the three much too familiar rooms and looking through the window that endlessly taunts him.

           The next day the man cooks Kraft Dinner and burns it. He opens the upper panel of the kitchen window to ventilate the room. Whisky salivates at the smell of food, but it's the window that mesmerizes him. Opened. Letting in the autumn smells, the songs of birds, the distant voices of neighbors.

           Whisky goes for it. He jumps on a chair, then climbs up the curtains. His claws tear through the fabric. He almost makes it to the opening when a hand grabs him by the skin of his neck. He tries to hold on, dragging the curtain with him, but the hand yanks him off, and the man throws him against the wall. Something cracks and Whisky squeals, falls along the nicotine-stained tapestry to the floor. An outlet of rage. A revenge for the torn curtains. Maybe just pure hatred that found an excuse to get out. A cat always falls on his paws, but it's the paws that hurt this time.

           His master attacks again and Whisky runs to the bedroom, under the bed. The man, belly on the floor, reaches for him. Whisky claws at his hand, and a whirlwind of angry sounds comes out of the man's mouth. The hand creeps closer, closer, until it grabs Whisky's ear and drags him out. The man lifts him so high he almost bumps the ceiling fan, carries him across the apartment, shoves him in a closet, and shuts the door.

           Whisky doesn't understand why his master hates him. Why he liked his curtains more than his cat. Even with a human brain, he wouldn't comprehend that.

           In the dark, he licks his paw. A strange, damp smell enters his nostrils. He looks around and finds a thin row of mushrooms growing along the back wall, half hidden under the unstuck extremity of the old, rough carpet that covers the floor. He eats them all.

           When the man returns from work, he opens the closet door. Whisky waits until his steps are far enough before coming out.

           He sleeps on the carpet at the foot of the front door, curled up, with his head on his tail. He dreams of grasslands, long runs, a giant bowl of overflowing food between trees populated by hundreds of tasty birds.

           In the morning, as usual, Whisky goes for the living room window. When he jumps on the chair, it breaks, and he falls with a loud bang that shakes the lamp in the corner and the CDs in their rack.

           His master rushes into the living room to investigate the noise and punish its source. Whisky can already feel the slap, but the man freezes in the doorframe. He tries a meow of capitulation, an attempt at peace, but what comes out is a strong growl that makes the man step back, trembling. 

           Whisky puts a large, heavy paw forward. The man runs for the front door, slams it behind him. Whisky breaks through it. In a second, he catches up to the man sprinting down the street, but keeps running, leaving the pathetic human behind. His paws barely touch the concrete. People scatter and scream as he passes by. The squirrels, the dogs, the birds, the trees... It's all there, an overload of possibilities. So many that Whisky doesn't know where to start, so he keeps bounding on the sidewalk, relishing it.

           He rushes into a park and heads toward a dog, wanting to play, but the dog and the human with him run away. Whisky only stops when he reaches the artificial lake. In the water, his large face stares back. He stretches his muscular body covered with dark stripes and drinks.

           A sting pokes his thigh.

           When Whisky wakes up he hits his head on the bars. His cage is dirty and smells of rust. Once a day, a zookeeper throws in a piece of stale meat, not nearly enough. Visitors fling sticks at him, or plastic utensils from the food court. He spends his days looking through the bars, trapped. 

November 05, 2021 23:31

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