Cats don’t go to heaven. They go to our basement after my father accidentally chews one up in the engine of his baby blue 1965 Ford truck. That’s a terrible image, I know, but I had to see it and for the rest of that day I wanted everyone else to see it. I told my third grade teacher, Mrs. Love, and she made me stand outside the classroom door. That’s not a nice thing to talk about, she said. When my mother, also a teacher, walked by, she asked me what I was doing standing outside the classroom. I told her it was because I told the story of Booty, our one-eyed cat who climbed onto the engine of Dad’s truck to escape the cold, and when he cranked the engine, Booty got chewed up in the belt thing and I saw it, I saw her one eye, still open, still looking at me. That’s an awful thing to tell your teacher, my mother said and she coughed for a bit. She coughed all the time, and after she wiped her mouth, she told me to apologize as soon as Mrs. Love opened the door. I did apologize, but then at lunch, I told my friend, Annette, and Annette started crying. That got the attention of Mr. Rickman, the principal, and I had to throw my lunch, a ham and cheese sandwich, in the trash can and go wait in his office. My mother came. I told her what happened. She told me again it was wrong. She coughed. I apologized, and finally, the school day ended. When we got home, my mother asked me to fetch three potatoes from the basement. I said it was too dark down there. I couldn’t see anything and that the light switch didn’t work. Charlie, she yelled. Go right this minute. You’ve been nothing but trouble today, and she coughed again. Her face, so bony by then, turned red, then pale. God, I hated hearing her cough. Eventually I agreed to go fish the potatoes out of the sack, but while standing in the basement, in the black nothingness, I saw Booty perched on the top step. She was purring and no longer had that one emerald eye. She had both her eyes then and they glowed like the sea under a full moon. Her gray and white tail swished back and forth the way it did when she watched birds in the bay window, and I told her I felt really awful for telling everyone her story. Then I heard Mom coughing again and I sat down beside Booty to give her a good petting. It was nice, having Booty around again, petting her, the darkness, but Mom never did stop coughing.
Daniel W. Thompson’s work has appeared recently or is forthcoming at publications like Bartleby Snopes, decomP, WhiskeyPaper, Wyvern Lit, Third Point Press, and Cheap Pop. He works as a city planner and lives in downtown Richmond, VA, with his wife and daughters, cleaning up diapers and dog fur.
Lead image: “creepy cat 2” (via Flickr user the_quick_nick)