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The Blackout of '17 | 2017 | Our Digitally Departed


Elephants feel the fatal footfalls of poachers a hundred miles off. Cats exit the room when oysters are opened. On and on, and on and on. The unseen exists and has properties.  

-Richard Ford

Our Nameless Cat

I get home from work. Amber hops in front of me.

"Guess what I saw?"

I cannot imagine and tell her so.

"I saw his balls," she tells me with pretended awe. "Now I have to catch him and get them cut off."

She darts off to return to her blanket outside our dark apartment, where she is grilling herself tea on the Rocket stove.

"He" in this conversation is an ownerless cat who dwells outside our apartment. Along with our immediate neighbor, we have been feeding him for at least a year. Near the laundry room, there is a plastic storage container with a hole gouged in its side just a little larger than a cat's head. My assumption is that, in belonging to no one in particular, he belongs piecemeal to all of us.

This is the first confirmation we have of his certain sex. He does not love us, but lingers outside our door, sleeping either on our doormat, our neighbor's, or the camp cushion Amber leaves out for him. Every morning, he looks petulantly at the window when I wake up, then to the plastic dish he had some responsibility in emptying (along with a raccoon, possum, two skunks, and an astounding variety of birds). He removes himself enough that I couldn't catch him if I tried, but close enough that I am not cheating him on kibble. If I dare to exist outside the act of pouring him dry food, he hisses at me.

This is what I imagine life is with a teenager.

We call him, simply, "The Cat." When he has gone a solid day without hissing at either of us, he is upgraded to "Kitty Cat," but these are designations, not names. These are his rank and serial number. To name him would be to take liberties more than we have any right.

Amber thinks he had a proper home once, before he happened upon two buildings of suckers intent to keep him fat and happy. I estimate he was a kitten fostered by kids from the local private college, handfed milk and organic wet food until graduation, then abandoned like so much else they discard when starting new lives. I have no concrete evidence beyond the familiar chord of his hissing; the cat is not in the least frightened by humans. He resents that he is reliant upon them but too entrenched to do anything about it. I can envision few better origins for this than being left behind by a Bard student.

His face shows scars from battles recent and ancient. He has a ripe tick hanging behind his neck on the right side and thin patches on this fur. I have blamed him for the infrequent dead birds I find in the yard, but Amber discounts this utterly. He is too coddled to remember being descended of predator stock.

I find nothing special about this half-feral beast except that he holds a specific hatred of me no matter what I do. I cannot help but respect such shrewd insight.

I would not have thought to feed him when first I noticed him wandering about in the yard. He was neither skinny nor injured, so I assumed he belonged to someone else and wasn't my problem. Amber, however, exists for trying to tame nature. Or, if not tame, she exists in a fairytale world where it is a sadness if she cannot pet something fluffy, a quality which the cat just barely possesses. To me, he was like any other creature who lives outside my home, an independent agent whose life or death is his own intimate affair.

I do not love him. It might be weeks before I realized he was not the creature emptying his bowl. But I accept the obligation of him. That is quite enough for him as that fills his belly. My love would not warm him. Still, I appreciate the routine of something surly depending on me.

He does no one the least bit of good. He doesn't catch and dispose of vermin that we can tell, nor do I expect they would perceive the furry lump as a threat to their lives. He will never care to cuddle against us, even if it meant a warm place in the winter. If he happened upon us in mortal peril, he would barely wait the appropriate mourning period before testing to see what our faces tasted like. But we continue to feed him, pretending to ourselves that this resourceful tomcat cannot manage without our daily interference.

Some day, neither close nor far, he will haul his ageless bones into some forest and die among trees without even giving us the courtesy of seeming sick. We won't know and may tell ourselves that he merely found a new enclave of people willing to put up with his hissing, but we'll know it happened. Some other cat may stumble upon us and realize his lucky break, and we will persist in not asking him his name so as to not take too much possession of his fate.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: 1984
listening: Great Big World

The Blackout of '17 | 2017 | Our Digitally Departed

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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