Kitten

by Lisa Bubert

The kitten demands to be fed. Never mind that her bowl is still full. (Always, without fail.) I still get up at 6 am every morning to re-fill it, even on weekends, even when I’m sick. I do this because she makes me. She makes me by standing on my chest and tapping my eyes with her paws, knock-knock, time to pay attention to me. I love her little paws. They are sweet and gentle and small. Sometimes I even kiss them. But this morning, she didn’t wake me. The habit did.

I go to the kitchen anyway to do my duty and when I fill the bowl and shake the food box to draw her out of wherever she’s hiding, the kitten that arrives is not mine. It is not even a kitten. My kitten is small and slight, almost a cat—a teenage cat so to speak. This cat is large, fat, and scowling. This cat slouches in like a golem, too thick with matted fur, dark circles under very perturbed eyes that remind me, unsettlingly so, of my grandmother. An aged cat. A cat who has seen some shit and maybe was still seeing it.

What is this? I ask my husband.

What do you mean? He is still half asleep, bleary-eyed and on the way to the bathroom.

This isn’t our cat.

He squints at the cat. Looks like her to me.

I look at the cat again. The lout had already eaten all the food I put out, slovenly and slurpingly, leaving a wet mess, and waddled away to lay in my kitten’s bed.

I search the house for my kitten while my husband swears up and down that he’s not sure what I think I’m doing—the cat is right there, in front of me. I stare at this demon. It sits at my feet, patiently waiting to be held. The kitten used to do this. I would pick her up and she would nuzzle my face as if she starved for touch, both paws clutched around my neck like a toddler. I bend to touch this cat and it walks away.

The next day, there is still no kitten and the food bowl is empty. I suspect the elderly cat. Gluttonous wretch. Whoever’s cat this is isn’t feeding it enough. I add food to the bowl anyway, but only the amount I usually feed my kitten and no more. This time, the cat that greets me is not a cat—I’m not sure what it is. An ocelot? A lynx? Something wild and beautiful and only vaguely cat-like. It hides in the corner of the kitchen and refuses to eat until I leave. Standing just out of view doesn’t work either—I have to go outside and peer through the kitchen window, but by then the creature is gone and the food bowl is empty.

Are you kidding me? I tell my husband.

This is just what happens, he says.

I like this iteration of the cat even less than the ugly one before. This animal is striking in its wildness, so as to make me completely uncomfortable. I feel this animal more than I see it. This beast watches me. It stalks me from every corner of the house, eyes ever-present on the back of my neck. I begin to avoid dark places, especially those with small gaps—the bottom of my bed, the stairwell in the basement, the crack of my closet door—dreading that a pair of claws should reach out and slash my Achilles’ heel. I genuinely fear this cat, and yet, I want to touch it. So badly do I want to touch this cat but I’m afraid of what will happen if I do. I start to worry for my kitten. But if I’m being honest, I start to worry more about myself. I sleep with one eye open.

The next morning, the kitten is still gone and now the food bowl is also gone. The food box I keep the kibble in is gone. The litter box, the toys, the bed—all of it stolen in the night.

Where did you put it? I ask my husband.

Put what?

I explain to him about the kitten.

We never had a kitten, he says. I spend this day in mourning.

The next day, I don’t get up at all. There is no reason.

Oddly enough, when I think hard on the kitten I miss, I can’t quite recall what she looks like, or if it was even a she to begin with, or if it was even a cat to begin with. Was there ever a kitten here? Did she ever paw at my legs to be picked up, sleep on my chest when she was cold? Whose paws did I kiss? Was there ever anything more than just me and my husband?

Even so, I buy a new bowl and a new bed. I go to sleep, expecting to be wrong again in the morning. And I am—the kitten wakes me at six, tapping my eyes as if knocking on a stranger’s door.

Lisa Bubert is a writer and librarian based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Washington Square Review, Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, and more. She works a day job as a librarian for the Nashville Public Library and a staff member at the Porch Writer’s Collective, where she leads Lit Mag League, a literary journal reading club, and Draft Chats, the Porch’s group for critique and writer support. She is currently at work on her second book. (The kitten is helping.)

Artwork by: Hannah Strong

Hannah Strong is an aspiring artist. From Traverse City, Michigan, she works with various techniques and mediums such as mixed media, digital art, watercolor, photography, illustration, and printmaking. She has been published in the Northwestern Michigan College Magazine, and had her pieces featured in Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.

Links
Website: strongh31.wixsite.com/mysite
Instagram: @strongh_art