It only cost one dollar.
She’d picked it up on a whim from that popular Japanese variety store, Daiso. It was a shiny, gold-painted plastic cat with a solar-powered waving arm.
Noticing them in people’s cars, she’d always thought these cats were so cute. Her best friend from Japan told her that it was a “Maneki Neko” or “beckoning cat”; a talisman of good luck and fortune.
Now she had a lucky cat of her very own sitting on her dashboard.
As soon as she removed it from its packaging, the cat’s arm immediately started waving. Amused, she said to it, “Why, hello there! You’re going to be my little travel buddy and keep me safe when I drive, won’t you?”
In response, the cat waved its arm up and down vigorously, as if saying yes.
The lucky cat kept her company in her car from that day, never ceasing the swinging of its arm even at night after the sun went to sleep. She found this a bit odd but chalked it up to the brilliance of Japanese innovation.
Her one-dollar toy became a centerpiece for conversation when friends and family rode in her car. Her young nieces would chant, “Kitty arm moving! Kitty arm moving!” over and over as she drove them around town. She loved the way she could spot her boring white Honda Civic from a mile away among a sea of similar cars as the cat’s waving arm beckoned to her from behind the windshield.
She kept the lucky cat through college, graduate school, and a string of boyfriends, the latest of whom was named Scott. In fact, she was pretty sure she would marry Scott, even if he made fun of her cat. He tried to convince her to get rid of it.
“It’s a distraction when you drive,” he fussed. “You’re not supposed to have things on your dash that block your view. Also, it looks stupid. Its face is grotesque.”
She listened quietly and stayed muted, a technique she often used when he was difficult. She knew he would forget about it after a while. After all, he rarely drove her car, and when they went places together, he usually insisted on driving his.
Scott proposed to her that fall, and she said yes. They would get married in six months.
One morning, a month before the wedding, she gets in her car and feels in her gut that something is wrong. Looking all around her, nothing seems out of place, so she shakes it off, looks over her shoulder, and begins to back out of her driveway.
As she turns back to maneuver the wheel, her hand accidentally brushes the lucky cat. Immediately, its head falls off. She stifles a scream and picks it up. Tears fill her eyes, and she brushes them off fiercely. She hadn’t realized how attached she had become to her cat.
She places the head carefully back on, but to no avail, the kitty arm no longer waves. Then her subconscious catches up with her, and she realizes what had felt so wrong when she entered the car a few minutes before:
The cat’s arm had been motionless before she broke its head off.
That evening, she casually mentions the incident to Scott. “You should be real happy now, honey, cuz my one-dollar cat you hate so much finally broke this morning.”
He looks at her, unfazed, and says, “Oh right, I broke it last night when I took your car to pick up dinner. I tried to stick its head back on.”
She stares at him, anger rising. “What? Why didn’t you say something about it?”
He rolls his eyes at her, “My arm accidentally knocked it down. What’s the big deal? It’s a stupid dollar toy.”
“It was MY stupid dollar toy, and I loved it,” she snaps, tears rolling hotly down her cheeks again.
“My god. Just buy another one already.”
He turns back to his football game.
She lets it go, knowing there’s no use; he’ll never get it.
That night, she carefully hot-glues the head back on the cat. It might no longer wave its arm, but it can still keep her company in her car.
The next day, she walks out to the driveway and spots the cat dangling by its neck from her rearview mirror. Rushing to it, she sees that someone has used the phone charging cable in her car to tie a noose around the cat’s neck as some sick joke.
Choking back wrath, she calls Scott on his cellphone. “Did you hang my cat from a cord?”
He starts guffawing into the phone. “Hahaha. You saw it, huh?! Isn’t it hilarious?!”
“No, it isn’t,” she says coldly.
But he’s laughing too hard to hear her.
Knowing she’s not going to win this one, she hangs up, trying to convince herself that this is indeed just a one-dollar toy and not worth getting mad over. She carefully loosens the cat from its’ noose and places it firmly back in on her dashboard.
It isn’t even a week later when she gets the phone call. Scott has her car out on a beer run that evening. On the way home, he wraps her car around a tree.
His death is instant.
In the days to come, she finds no answers from the police about how the wreck happened. The best they can determine is that he somehow lost control of the car. The cause is a mystery.
She moves through the aftermath in a daze, devastated over Scott and wading through the necessary paperwork and legal details accompanying death.
But in her darkest hours, lying awake at night, she can’t deny that a tiny part of her is relieved the wedding isn’t happening.
Her car is totaled. After three weeks, they call her to retrieve whatever personal belongings she can get out of it before it goes to the junkyard. It will be a tough day; she doesn’t want to see the vehicle that Scott had his final moments in.
As they lead her to the remains of the car, she sees the lucky cat from a distance glistening through bright sunlight in the windshield. Is it… can it be? She can’t believe it.
The cat’s arm is waving.
She runs over and pries it from the wreckage and holds it tight, sobbing. She cries for Scott, for his life and death, and she cries for the chance she now has to reclaim the part of herself that she allowed Scott to shove aside.
She sits in her new car at the parking lot of the dealership. It’s a beautiful, bright yellow Mini Cooper — her dream car. The salesman hands her the keys and congratulates her.
Turning the key in the ignition, she reaches into her purse and carefully retrieves her lucky cat, its arm still mysteriously waving since the day she got it back.
She places the cat on her dashboard, in its rightful place.
As she drives off, she says to it, “Glad to have you back with me again, travel buddy. You’ll always keep me safe, won’t you?”
In response, the cat waves its arm up and down vigorously, as if saying yes.