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“Creatures My Mother’s Cat Killed Last Summer” By Meredith Jeffers

15 December 2017 on Nonfiction   Tags: ,

Dozens of Shrews

plucked from the gaps in our neighbor’s stone steps. Her patio has all but collapsed; thick weeds sprout in its cracks. The shrews dug their burrow in the disrepair. From where he sat at the base of the steps, tail thumping, the cat wiggled his paw into the hole and scooped a shrew out of the burrow, into his mouth. He always bit too hard; his fangs punctured its heart.

But the cat had no use for the shrew after he killed it. He sought the struggle, the panicked shrieks as it wriggled against the force of his jaw. After the shrews went limp, the cat dropped the corpses on the driveway for Mom to shovel into the garbage can. Once, after she laced her sneakers for a brisk morning walk, Mom slipped outside, locked the door, and crushed a shrew under her foot. Its tiny spine snapped. Its guts burst out.

She texted me: Bad day. 

*

Two Bunnies

both weeks old. We discovered one after crows swarmed our backyard, flying low circles near the lilac bush. I stepped close enough to see tan fur, flies, blood, before I shouted for Mom. I don’t dispose of the bodies. Mom once asked me to kick a stiff dead squirrel onto her shovel and I screamed just looking at it.

Of the bunny, Mom said, “I don’t think the cat killed this one. It might be roadkill he scavenged.” She wiped her glasses on the hem of her shirt, sweat dripping in her eyes. “Poor thing’s missing its middle.”

The second bunny we assume died, but we never found its body. We have only circumstantial evidence: a smudge of blood by the backdoor; the cat, often so ravenous after a night prowling the neighborhood, with a startling lack of appetite; the white pom-pom I found by the bushes and rolled in my palm, wondering how it escaped our stash of craft supplies; the horror that hit me hours later when I was bored at work and realized it wasn’t a pom-pom I held, but a tail.

*

A Bat

that we found flattened to the pavement, its wings spread, body bent. Mom beckoned me to the kitchen window and pointed to its crumpled body along the fence. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked, voice shaking. Every two or three summers, a colony of bats infests the eaves in our attic, only to emerge at night and soar through our home. Mom fears bats more than anything. When we wake to bats in our bedrooms, we call our neighbor Ed to catch them with a butterfly net.

After she dropped the body in the trash Mom said, “How could the cat possibly catch a bat? Unless the thing is. . . .”

I spent the day scanning my phone for the signs and symptoms of feline rabies: excessive aggression and hunger, yowling, foaming at the mouth. He’s a nasty cat, and mean. Always aggressive, always hungry. We think he might be a little bit feral. Still, I cupped the cat’s face in my palms and stared into his shining green eyes, searching for any sign he’d gone mad.

*

A Baby Bird

maybe. When the cat kills birds, he stashes their skeletons under the shrubs. At the change of each season, Mom rakes out the birds, their ribs catching in the tines. Early in August, as the sun rose pink, Mom yelled, “Drop it, drop it,” and the cat pushed inside the back door, a little brown bird fluttering from his mouth. Mom grabbed the cat by the scruff of his neck and kicked the door closed.

“I think it’s still alive. Go check.”

Even when they survive the cat, the birds never live long. They bleed out on the patio. Their small hearts startle to a stop. I snuck out the front door as the cat wailed at the back. The bird had fluffed its feathers up, shrinking itself into a ball. Its leg was crooked and twisted. When it tried to take flight, it stumbled. “It has a broken leg, but I think it’s okay,” I said. It clicked its sharp beak at me. “Do we just let it die?”

Mom watched through the screen and shrugged. “What else can you do?”

What I did: I called animal control, twice, because the first time they recommended I dial 911 to report an animal in distress. But that seemed wrong. “It’s just a bird,” I told the operator.

The operator huffed, annoyed: “I heard you. Call 911.”

So I obeyed, and sheepishly admitted I was calling about an animal in distress, but it wasn’t a buck dead in traffic, or a raccoon with wild eyes. “Only a bird,” I said, and the dispatcher said, “We’ll send someone right over.”

The van pulled into the driveway six minutes later, its driver my age, maybe a little younger, with an eyebrow piercing and a gap in her teeth. I showed her the bird and apologized for forcing her to drive over so early for something so small. “I’m more than happy to help!” she said, speaking in all exclamation points. She carefully squatted and cupped the bird in her palms, bringing its heart to her cheek.

“Wanna pet his little head?” she asked.

“I think I’ll be okay.”

Back at the van, she tucked the bird into her shirt pocket and said, “We can give him a cast for this, or at least end his suffering.” It’s just a bird. But my face seemed to register something much different. The rescuer touched my elbow hesitantly, gently, and added, “I bet he’ll be okay.”

Mom unlatched the screen door as the van pulled from the curb. The cat lumbered outside, toward me. “So?” she said.

“So,” I said, too, and then I looked to the sky, squinting against the stunning summer sun, the cat purring and twisting between my feet.

-----

Meredith Jeffers grew up in snowy Rochester, New York, and now lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at West Virginia University. She is the assistant nonfiction editor for the Cheat River Review. You can follow her on Twitter @MeredithJeffers.

Loren Marple received her BFA in painting from UNH in 2013, then traveled extensively, working as a Peace Corps volunteer math teacher in Lesotho and WWOOFing in Norway, Scotland, and Ireland. She now works as a graphic designer in UNH’s Communications and Public Affairs department, has exhibited her work nationally, and frequently provides illustration for the UNH alumni magazine. You can follow her on Instagram at @lorenmarple, on Facebook at Loren Marple - Art and view her work at www.lorenmarple.com.

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