The barn door creaked open. Patches looked up from his bead of old work shirts and yawned as the Goodman ambled inside. Sunlight poured in and washed over Patches. He stretched, raising his hind into the air, and grasped out with his front paws. The warmth filled his bones and a satisfied purr leapt from his throat.
“Ki, ki.” The Goodman said with the voice of scratches and creams.
Patches plopped down from his pile and a nagging bite chewed at his hips.
“There’s my baby boy.” A smile lit the Goodman’s face.
Patches weaved between his legs and rubbed his cheeks on the Goodman’s boots.
The Goodman reached out a hand and ran it down Patches’ back. Their eyes met and Patches blinked slowly at the Goodman. He rolled onto his back and showed his belly.
“That’s a good kitty.”
Patches stood up and jumped onto the table where the Goodman kept his pounders and twisters. He licked at his paw and rubbed it across his face and ears.
The Goodman made his way over to the table and opened the table’s topmost mouth. Clings and Clangs spewed from it as his hand fished back and forth.
“Have you seen my hammer, Patches? That whore lovin’ board popped up on the porch again.”
Patches watched as the Goodman fumbled and mewed into the table drawer. Not for the first time, he caught a smell in the air. In recent days the smell had grown stronger. It was the smell of spoiled guts and bad blood. The smell that came from his mother and sisters before they took the long nap. The smell was stronger when the Goodman was around, but a small amount lingered around Patches no matter where he went. Soon he’d find a nice dark place to join his kin in the long nap. Would the Goodman do the same?
“There it is.” A satisfied smile stretched across the Goodman’s lips as he pulled a small, clawed pounder out of the table’s mouth.
Patches glided the space between them and nuzzled against the Goodman’s wrist. In return he received a scratch between his shoulders. He kneaded the wood and his tongue stabbed out of his mouth and hung there like a limp mouse.
“All right, boy. I’m going to go beat that crooked board till one of us breaks.” The Goodman turned and Patches watched as he ambled back toward the door. But, before he reached the warmth of summer sun, the Goodman dropped the Pounder and stumbled against a tall beam. He clutched his chest. “Woo got a little woozy there. Maybe I’ll take a sit with you for a while.”
Patches leapt down, ignoring the bite in his hips this time, and pranced over to the Goodman as he sat in the “Ol’ Rocker,” as he called it. He gasped and his chest heaved. The Goodman’s lips had turned blue, and he quivered like when cold-sky-water falls. Patches sprang onto the Goodman’s lap and brushed his cheeks against the Goodman’s. The scent was stronger than ever. It was like he’d walked into a room filled with buckets of long curdled cream and fly eaten fish.
“That’s my good boy, Patches.” The Goodman’s voice was haggard and distant. “I’m feeling mighty tired. I think I’ll just catch a few winks if you don’t mind.” The Goodman ran a gnarled finger against Patches’ cheek and then rested his hands in his lap.
Patches felt an odd sensation on his back. A well-known pressure of being watched. He turned his yellow eyes onto a young woman standing at the barn door. She didn’t block the Sunlight or cast shadow. It bled through her like light through the water pitchers the Goodman brought out on hot days. He somehow knew that she was there and wasn’t all at once, like a memory brought to life on the glass box the Goodman stares at sometimes. The one with the small people inside.
The Goodman didn’t seem to notice. His head rolled back, and his eyes closed. Patches watched the see-through woman enter the barn and cross the dusty floor to the “Ol’ Rocker.” Patches was ready to make himself big and to hiss at the woman, but a breeze broke through the air and carried a long-ago familiar scent. In his mind, flashes of a smiling woman played. He heard her sweet bird song, and could taste the sweet cream she brought, and the nice scratches behind his ears. She smelled just like the Goodwoman. He meowed eagerly, she didn’t look the same, but he wouldn’t mistake that sunflower and melon smell.
She smiled at Patches and scratched him behind his ears like long ago. Cracking purrs rolled from his throat, and he kneaded at the Goodman’s faded blue denim pants. She didn’t speak, but he heard her in his head. She called him a sweet “Ki, ki,” and thanked him for staying with the Goodman after her long nap. If the nap could turn the wrinkled and greyed Goodwoman into a bright blue eyed, brown haired kitten, he wondered if it would take away the peppered grey in his black fur and bite in his joints. He blinked slowly at the Goodwoman, and she blinked back.
The smell of rot exploded from the Goodman. It was enough to break Patches from reverie and jolt his muscle into recoil. The Goodman mumbled. His whole face was blue, and his breathing shortened. The Goodwoman placed her hand on the side of his head and caressed his cheek. A long sigh and with it the Goodman spoke his final word, “Charlotte.” A fine blue mist escaped the Goodman’s lips, and the smell was gone.
The Goodwoman smiled, patted Patches, and strode back across the room. Patches looked up at the Goodman and admired how peacefully his long nap had come. He knew that not all were as lucky. He also knew that things had changed now. There would no longer be sweet creams, or “Ki, ki,” calls followed by good scratches. And his heart felt heavy at that.
The barn door creaked wide open, and another scent mingled in the air. There was the smell of hickory and vanilla, the smell of the Goodman. He looked back to the door and a young man reached out his hand to the Goodwoman. He smiled at her and kissed her knuckles before sweeping her up into a spinning hug. There were no sounds, but Patches felt the echoes of laughter and kisses in his head.
The young Goodman looked over at patches and gave him an inviting smile. Patches wondered for a moment how nice it would be to go with them. To be in that warmth and get scratches and creams and to be young like them. His heart fluttered, but his eyes grew heavy. There was no cold. How could one be cold before such light and warmth? He decided then to put his head down and nap in the Goodman’s lap. To him, it was as good a place as any and in fact—it was the best place to be. Before the sleep came, he heard the last sounds he would with his cat ears. “Ki, ki.” And he knew no more.
On the Goodman farm out in Godsfield, Indiana, a small black cat with square white patches on his back bounded out of an old red barn. He raced up the dirt trail leading to an old white farmhouse with a covered porch. He jumped all three steps in one mighty leap and ran over to the porch swing occupied by two smiling lovers. He leapt up into the young man’s lap and curled up for a long nap.