They don’t look anything alike. They’re simply two cats, existing separately but parallel in my mind.
Content warning: animal death (graphic), blood, insects
A cat’s dead by the side of the road. Just lying there, bloodied and flat-faced. Looking at it, I think it might be a fox or a possum. Might even be a wombat. I think, though, that it is a cat.
It reminds me of the neighbour’s cat from when I was a kid. They don’t look anything alike. They’re simply two cats, existing separately but parallel in my mind. I suppose the fact that they’re both cats ties them together in some way.
This cat is brown, made burgundy and tawny from the dried blood and pulled flesh. My neighbour’s cat was white, pristine and blue-eyed; its thin pupils carved vertically through shallow pools of iris, black tears rupturing clean through clear waters. The cat lived on my neighbour’s windowsill, blurred by the sheer curtain. This cat’s a corpse. It doesn’t have a collar. It probably never had a home. I wonder where it came from.
A child slows on their bicycle, stopping to look at the cat alongside me, then to look at me.
“Did you do that?” the kid asks.
Brazen. They’re looking right at me, considering my role in the death of the animal, not three feet away. I wonder what they’d do if I said yes.
“I think someone ran it over,” I say.
They don’t ride away. They just stand there, their glossy red bike helmet reflecting the sun into my eyes. We stare at the cat.
“What was it?” they ask.
I realise the child’s probably never seen a cat before. They used to be commonplace—household ornaments, companions to the lonely or strays roaming the streets, hunting birds, fighting each other by day and night. That’s what I’m told. When I was a kid, the domesticated cats were kept in houses. They’d poop in litter boxes and occupy their days staring out windows like my neighbour’s cat did. The only cats you’d see outdoors were strays—if you were lucky to see one at all. No one let their animals out then, not after the criminalisation of domesticated household predators—that’s what they called them. You had to be brave—or stupid—to let them out of the house.
“A cat, I think.”
In an effort to save the dying bird species, outdoor pets were the first to go. We were allowed to keep them so long as they stayed indoors. Then we were paid to turn them in. I vaguely remember having a dog when I was very young; a little white thing with brown patches over his eyes—couldn’t tell you the breed even if I wanted to. He was put down when he shocked a bird to death. Mum turned him in. Not that it was the dog’s fault; birds are easy to shock.
Felicide Friday was the final reckoning. People hung their dogs and cats up by their necks at their windows, on their front porches, from the streetlights. The blood dripped down their gullets and to the ground beneath them in puddles as if they were being prepared for butchering. I’m not really sure what happened to their bodies. By the time morning came around again, they had all miraculously disappeared, and we all went on as if that horrific day had never happened. The sounds of whining, dying cats and dogs, screaming and choking on their own blood, still haunt me.
“Where did it come from?” the child asks.
For a fleeting moment I think that the cat will catch flame from the heat of our combined gazes and the beating sun. Dried out and rancid, it is flammable in my mind. Or inflammable; flammable and inflammable being one and the same.
My neighbour’s cat died of old age, lucky thing. She buried it in the front yard with a small wooden cross plunged into the earth where it lay. The grave was robbed by birds about a week later. I remember them swarming, pecking at the earth, deranged and wild. I think a dog had dug it up and the birds found it ravaged by insects; the worms were probably the first to find it, to dig inside it and make a meal of the wretched thing. It was a crude display, watching those birds striking into feline carcass like some godless inversion of fate and evolution. None of that exists anymore, no dogs or cats. Nothing domesticated. The birds remain. And the worms remain. The worms always remain. I suppose the only places you’d find those animals now are in the earth and in the worms. Ironic.
“I haven’t got a clue.”