Upon hearing a scratching at the front door, she gets up out of bed, half asleep, to answer it. She doesn’t ask who’s there, because in this instant, her body seems to know that there is an immediate need to open the door, and so when she swings the door open and sees in front of her a cat meowing in earnest, she feels the settling of the predilection and prediction that there was a significant reason to open the door, a calling perhaps, and yet she doesn’t recognize the cat, which is brown with stripes and is almost completely covered in blood and is insisting with the curvature and weight and movement of its feline body on getting into the house, and yet she knows too that she was waiting for a cat, just not this one perhaps, and yet, perhaps it doesn’t matter which cat. She ought to be concerned for the animal, ought to wonder about the source of the blood itself and whether the cat is okay, whether it needs help, which of the cat’s faculties remain intact with the tremendous amount of blood that seems matted to its fur and legs and backside, but at the moment her only concern is the existence of all the blood itself, the color of it, the amount, the imagining of having to clean the stains from the furniture if the cat were to enter and contaminate her home, and with these notions of concern she instinctively feels that she should block it from entering the house, and yet as she tries to communicate with the cat to keep it on the other side of the threshold, screaming, No, no, no and gesturing with her arms wildly, attempting to position her body and legs to create a moving wall between the cat and the currently immaculate abode, it manages to slide past her legs, leaving a thick trail of blood on the door frame and her pants, and successfully, enter the home. The cat is insistent, and doesn’t stop once it is inside, scampering down the hallway, up the stairs, then another set of stairs, and then through several rooms full of furniture.
This is what happens in her dream although she hasn’t fully given into the idea that this didn’t actually happen in the middle of the night, in some version of an alternate reality and that she should currently be dealing with the repercussions of the previous night’s events but is instead lying in her bed with her eyes wide open, regretting so much about this week and failing to keep herself from attributing the outcomes of her decisions to her own stupid predilection for trouble and can’t help but make a connection to what it is that she feels she deserves in life and what she unconsciously or consciously chooses for herself. What did it matter if she had gotten out of bed yesterday, or today, or tomorrow, what did it matter, she thought, if she didn’t in fact finish her book and instead disappear into one of the walls or take a train out to the desert where she might find something resembling the meaning of eternity, something she had been looking for ever since as a little girl, a dark priest had narrated to her that there was a heaven and a hell, and that in one of these dark or beautiful places, her mother’s soul would rest for eternity. It wasn’t the idea of a hell that terrified her, she felt intimately familiar with a place like this, dark and hot and fiery and full of death, she knew this place already, but it was the concept of eternity that she couldn’t wrap her mind around, couldn’t picture, couldn’t fathom, and as she stretched out her legs, extending them as far as she could into the air as she felt the muscles grow agitated and restless, she imagined what it might feel like to sleep like a dead person, the kind of sleep that only a corpse could have, and wondered if that might be a restful sleep, one that she could wake up from refreshed and ready to face the day, or that if the pull of death would manifest in the form of desire and presence and that she would instead awake more dead and cold than before, and still be bound somehow to the obligations of waking life, and just be thankful that the sleepless night had somehow still yielded her some moments of respite, the constant overwhelming feeling of being suspended in the air, a transitory figure or intermediary between realms, still tugging at her lungs and her feet and she couldn’t hear anything but she could feel herself breathing and the gentle pulse emanating from the cartilage of her ear, and she tried to breathe in and she tried to breathe out but choked on the air and gave out a cough and the dog raised his head to see if she was all right, and seeing that his owner was still in bed, returned his head to the ground, patience being one of the capacities he relied on most regularly.
She remembered in the dream how the cat kept going, further into the labyrinthine and seemingly multidimensional framework of her home, up the stairs, up another set of stairs, down a hallway, down another hallway. The cat let a thick and bright trail of blood on everything it scampered upon, everything it touched, and though she was distressed, her obsessive tendencies for cleanliness flaring up constantly as she chased the cat through the house for what seemed like forever, she also felt intimately connected to the cat, like perhaps the cat needed something from her, and she needed to give whatever it was that the cat needed. By this point she had figured out that the blood didn’t seem to belong to the cat, but the volume of blood that the cat had been carrying in its fur seemed endless, the blood almost pouring off its body in all directions, like enormous red sentences that perpetrated unreadable sins or like red cypress leaves falling off a tree after a particularly strong set of winds, and every time she managed to catch up to the cat, she would only get more blood on her hands and the cat would slip ahead further and further, the strangely regulated system of hallways and rooms in this house as familiar to her as the lines on her hands, that is, both intimate and ever present but also unseen and hardly ever known with open eyes.
The cat eventually stopped in the bathroom, and inside, let itself be picked up and set down in the sink. How did she know that this was all to be finished so soon? How does a belief like that just arrive and even though she is only a few sentences into her manuscript (she has lied, has claimed she is farther along than she really is, has been writing and rewriting the first few sentences over and over again), how does she know that it is more important to wash the blood off of this cat, than to wash the blood off of her own hands?
Of course it is now morning, and in the bathroom, she can’t help but study her hands closely and still holds on to the belief that she was visited by a bloody cat in the middle of the night and this morning she notices all of the lines on the palm of her hand, the way her fingers bend, the lines on her fingers, and recalls a story about siblings dragging the bodies of other siblings and a brother that only knew how to say goodbye over and over again but never leave, and though she does not have a brother, she feels she understands the gist of this gesture of farewell and washes her hands in the sink, if only to return to this world, if only to remember what it is she needs to get done today, if only to gather the motivation to persist in the dragging on of time, if only to face the day and attempt to be free for these small moments as the water quickly turns from hot to cold, and with the feeling of a plastic pen against one’s teeth, sees the first time her relationship with cats really began: it was not the mew-mews outside her window, nor the bloody cat of her dream, there was, she could not recall, another bloody cat of her past that has eluded the role of haunting her, and she had managed to elude the role of being haunted.
She remembered not being able to sleep well for many days, in that new house where she learned to pray and to use a rosary, she learned first the arbitrary-ness of ritual but also its necessity to the sanity of spirit, and then the absorbed significance of it, how it allowed certain details to come into vision, how it allowed her to pay tribute to certain cracks in her worldview, that is, she didn’t want the death of her mother to cloud over everything and prevent her from maturing into a young woman, and from what she learned sitting in the pews every Sunday with her new family, and from what she learned reading the Good Book in her room at night, invented her own ritual for exorcising the silent trauma of her mother’s death, that is, she did not want to be weakened and made prey-like by allowing one violent event of finality define her—she could already see the looks in their eyes, the round blacknesses that only saw her as a victim, poor thing, she will get over it though—and the way to do this respectfully, to not tarnish the memory of her mother in living form, was to blame her own young and compromised body of being possessed by the demon-like entity of a wound so deep that it melts you, it turns you into ash, and then, like the miraculous revival of a patch of moss that has been stored in a petri dish for a decade, with the addition of water is reinvigorated, reinvented, and then, resurrected.
The cat was old, its once jet-black hair now graying and matted, clumps of it had been lost and there were scabs that oozed puss when she tried to pick them off. She had procured a candle and sharp knife from the kitchen, and in preparation for the act she closed her eyes to see the not quite black, the darker black strings and lines in a tangle that darken and stretch on the almost translucent but utterly dark background, and she realized that this was space, twists and knots forming from the viney particles in the air, the darkness of dark space spinning and weaving and wrapping, and then a strangulation, beautiful but suffocating, and she wondered how she would ever return from this, how she would ever open her eyes after seeing the beginning of the universe (or the end, because the same processes that create also destroy, the same hands that make also undo) and after having seen it all in just in the shadows of her eyelids, the magical performance of it all, she didn’t know how to open her eyes again, or perhaps they were already open, and, looking down at her bloodied hands, realized that all she had to do was to close them again. She felt the cat’s final breath move through her like a colonizing presence, and the unsettling of her body helped her recognize the presumed sphere of influence around herself, and what she wondered most was what the cat could offer her that a person couldn’t, wanting to know what it was about intimacy that a human is so capable of hurting someone else that a cat wasn’t, not in the same way at least, and though she knew that she had taken something from the cat, she was grateful for what it had given her through its message of finality, that she was purged of the pluralized tremors and here was the normalcy finally imposed upon her flesh and she had kept her eyes closed until her stepmother had walked through the door, seen her there kneeling with the knife still in one hand, the dead cat at her knees, and even when she heard the blood-curdling scream ring through her head and vibrate the cartilage on her ears, even when she felt the ground shake from the collapse of a heartbroken body falling to the floor, she did not open her eyes, no not even for a second.
After that bargain, a bargain she felt she had made with the Devil himself but was a bargain well-paid for nonetheless, she did grow up and mature into a capable, young lady. She learned to live by herself and to not depend on others because she had seen that other people could never be counted on, not for very long anyway. At some point, they were all bound to disappoint and she just didn’t have the emotional capacity to be disappointed anymore, or at least the patience. One might think that the life she had led would have hardened her emotionally, and though she appeared tough and capable, the reality was that she felt too much and had not found a way to sufficiently dampen her feelings, the daily heartbreaks of life, even the cold, which she savored with a sinister smile. There had been a period of coldness, killing another living being does that to you, and yet the coldness dissipated quickly and she felt even more than she had before, all of the destroyed intimacies like blunt needles trying to pierce her skin. There were many examples of heartbreak: the dead bird she had seen on the street the day before, the many other dead birds she had seen on the street the days before that, the changing color of the sky, the last man she had loved (she couldn’t remember now if he had really existed), the cats, the inability to sleep, the inability to stay awake.
Here was the thing, it had happened before, that is, she had seen the deterioration of a person, a soul, the slow and gradual fading away of the motivation to get up, to open one’s eyes, and because she had been too tired, too tired of trying, too tired of the abuse sent back her way, she had stopped doing anything, she had stopped trying to stop them. This didn’t stop the feeling though and after days of silence, passing by each other inside various architectural spaces, namely, their home, the silence had become just that, real and actual silence, and then, they were gone, just like that, as if blinked out of existence by her own stupid apathy and her own stupid sentimentality and her own stupid self, and though she knew it wasn’t her fault (though in reality, she knew it was, and no amount of being a “victim” excused her from the ritual killing of her stepmother’s oldest and best friend) and yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had been the lynchpin for it all, not just the disappearance of something called “family,” but her mother’s death, the birds, all of it, and if she had kept trying she could have bought more time for something to happen, for something to intervene, for a spark to be started, and as she remembered the bloody cat again and again, all she could think of was the phrase, one for one. The cat for her mother. The cat for the return of her self. The cat for her own damnation. Because in the end, salvation or damnation, they were the same thing.
Untitled Photograph - Amy Badgett Beck
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