Skip to content

The Golden Hairball

by Coleman Bigelow

His mother had pleaded from her hospital bed and you’ll take good care of Marmalade? All Harold could do was nod and smile. He’d held his mother’s brittle-boned hand and squeezed his assent. 

Soon after moving the unwanted cat into his apartment, hairballs accumulated in a wet glop on the carpet. After two weeks of dealing with the cat’s offerings, Harold reconsidered his promise. But every time he got close to putting the cat up for adoption, there was an aching in his gut. As much as he’d resented his mother, he still felt indebted.

His mother had spent years working on a children’s book but found no publishing success. Harold, who was also an aspiring writer, considered trying to clean up her mess of a manuscript. He decided that tending to her cat’s mess was enough. He recommitted himself to his odious caretaking duties, even leaving out the dustpan and the rubber gloves. When Marmalade wasn’t throwing up, she would often curl up in Harold’s lap as Harold stared for long periods at a blank computer screen. Then, one day, the cat began an unusually vociferous coughing fit. 

Harold stroked Marmalade’s soft fur and moved her from the carpet to the linoleum floor. The cat heaved and wretched and out came a crumpled up piece of vellum. Words covered the papery material – words that formed the first page of a shockingly engaging story. 

Every day after that, Marmalade produced page after page of remarkable literary mastery. Soon the cat was delivering entire stories in as little as three days. And there was minimal editing required. Harold simply had to retype the brilliance. His fresh stories were quickly snapped up by some of the world’s most famous literary magazines. Harold told no one about his golden goose, but for his author photo, he chose a picture of himself with Marmalade. 

Thrilled by his newfound success, Harold was also petrified it would end. He took the aging cat to the veterinarian to see if there was anything that would prolong Marmalade’s life. The vet, who had witnessed Harold’s initial reluctance with the cat, shook his head. When Harold started to cry, the vet squeezed his shoulder. Sometimes it’s hard to find the words.

A few months later, Harold woke to discover Marmalade’s stiffened body. He thought about requesting an autopsy, but there would be too much to explain. So, gingerly, Harold began his own examination. He pulled the cat’s mouth open and shone a penlight down Marmalade’s throat. There it was – one more crumpled page lodged just at the back. With a pair of tweezers, Harold carefully extracted it. 

The paper was inscribed with only two words: The End. 

Coleman Bigelow is a Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction nominated author whose work has appeared or is upcoming in: Your Impossible Voice, Cosmic Daffodil, Jake, and Heavy Feather Review. Follow him on Instagram @cbigswrites.

Lead image: “orange Persian cat sleeping” (Photo by Ludemeula Fernandes on Unsplash)