paranormal romance, kittens and cats|
short story collection by Zelda Leah Gatuskin
1. The Owl and the Pussycats
I met Freddy at this all-night joint called The Black Hole—not my usual sort of place. My shrink had told me I should explore my dark side, that this might help cure my Felinefilia. So there I was, all decked out in black leather and a pouty face painted on by DeRoy—the best—at Sensuale Day Spa. DeRoy also made hell out of my hair—Pebbles meets Bride of Frankenstein—which, now that I think about it, is exactly what Dr. Agatha had in mind.
I sat at a table for one with an Extra Black espresso, pretending to read a magazine about tattoos. I was paging through the back-pages ads for novelty designs when Freddy dragged a chair over and threw himself into it, bumping my knees and just about turning the table over. As I grabbed my EB and held it in the air, he put a huge paw on the table to steady it. Then he set down a drink that looked and smelled like mud, and tucked himself all in so he seemed almost normal-size.
"I'm Freddy. This is my table," he huffed.
"Oh, that's fine. You don't mind if I don't move." I tried to connect to my inner tigress, like Dr. Agatha had taught me. It was pretty easy. Freddy looked good—big and furry, like a big pussycat...
Oops, I wasn't supposed to be thinking like that. I had to switch mental gears fast. I have no idea what that did to my expression—getting hot for him and then thinking about kittycats and then feeling guilty—but Freddy was staring at me like he was the tiger and I was the baby bunny.
"See anything you like?" he asked, snagging the magazine. If he had any tattoos, they weren't showing.
I thought, 'What the hell. If I take him home, he's going to find out anyway,' so I said, "No, I was looking for something with a kitten, maybe a few of them, and a ball of twine, some hearts and flowers..."
Freddy laughed real hard, a good laugh that reminded me of Santa Claus, though it was more Hoo hoo hoo than Ho ho ho. Then he looked me over and said—as if he knew me already, had figured me out completely from one snarky comment—"I bet you look good in pink."
I look great in pink. Freddy liked it. He liked the kittens too. I only had half a dozen at the time. Dr. Agatha had helped me cut back.
It wasn't merely a matter of self-discipline. The doctor and I both knew better than that. I have a disease recognized by the AMA for about five years now. I am physically unable to resist kittens of ten weeks and under. Felinefilia. There's this gene that causes mammals to want to protect the young of other species, and some of us have a double dose of that, or a scrambled dose, or something. We have such an affinity for baby animals—especially kittens—that we can't see one without wanting it. Dr. Agatha tells me that, among themselves, the docs refer to my condition as Acute Cutesiness.
Only it's not that cute when the baby animals grow up and you have a house full of cats, dogs, bunnies, gerbils—I only ever succumbed to kittens, and I like cats well enough to keep them, but they don't satisfy in the same way. So I was up to my ears in cats and kittens to the point that no one would be my friend anymore, unless you count the folks at the humane association—I was starting to see them quite a lot. In fact, it was the citation from Animal Control that led me to Dr. Agatha. I didn't think I needed treatment, but it was that or pay a very big fine.
Dr. Agatha is a good person even if she does hate animals. Maybe she just puts that on as part of the treatment—that's what I tell myself. She has a way of affirming you without displaying a whisker's worth of sympathy. Tough love all the way. So she mocked me about how disgusting my house was—not cute at all—until I'd cleaned it from top to bottom. The shelters had taken all my cats and, when Dr. Agatha said I was ready, I got to start over. Two kittens. The doctor was right that I could care for my pets better and enjoy them more by not having so many. Logically, I understand that. But I went into the pet store for kitty treats—against orders, I was supposed to only buy what I could find in the supermarkets—and came home with two more kitties.
I didn't tell Dr. Agatha. I was near the end of the required counseling period and felt confident that I could manage my condition on my own. I was taking one-half the prescribed dosage of FurzReflux and figured I could keep five to ten kittens and cats without going into shock, so long as I vacuumed frequently. FurzReflux is like the medication they give alcoholics that makes them deathly ill when they drink; this stuff causes an allergic reaction to high levels of pet dander.
So I brought Freddy home to my freshly cleaned and recently redecorated house with the three sets of kittens—brand new tiny ones, perfect little scampering six-week-olds, and the original pair, almost grown. They romped over everything and shadow-boxed with Freddy while I gave him the tour. I had a 60s-pop-flower-power motif going in the living room, checkered gingham in the kitchen and dining room a la "Little House on the Prairie" and a classic cartoon decor in the bathrooms—only art and accessories featuring kittens, of course. My bedroom was ruffled chintz. Freddy played with the kittens while I changed into a vintage pink pajama set—complete with a short sheer robe trimmed in fake feather fluff—just so Freddy could enjoy removing it piece by piece.
It was magic. The attraction of opposites. We each found everything about the other utterly arousing. On Freddy's upper arm—one of the few parts of him where skin showed through his copious body hair—I found the tattoo. An owl framed against a full moon. It was too realistic to be either cute or creepy. The owl looked out from Freddy's arm as if it could actually see, as if it might spread its wings and come sweeping out of the flesh to take flight. But before I could ask, the arm itself swept forward to embrace me and I was out of my mind with passion. The pricking of playful little claws only added to the thrill of our love-making.
Did we wake up at noon the next day to look at one another and wonder what ever had possessed us? Did one or the other or both regret that last espresso and the impulsive folly of our over-caffeination? No, not even for a second. I asked Freddy to move in. He agreed. He had a night job as a security guard for one of the office buildings downtown, and an apartment he shared with a couple of buddies and would be happy to leave. He liked cats. He even had a friend out in the country who would take the overflow, he told me, if I wanted to keep getting kittens. Just to prove it, when Freddy went out later to get his first load of stuff, he came back with two more pussy-babies for me. I was in heaven.
I can't think of a happier time in my life than those three years with Freddy. He slept during the day while I was at the office, then we'd spend the evening together before he went to work. With Freddy away, I'd enjoy my adorable kittens—always the right mix of them. Freddy kept me in kittens—never too many, never too old—and I kept the house in its perfect playhouse state. We were a team. Dr. Agatha was out of the picture, and I could eliminate the FurzReflux too, since I had Freddy to manage the pet situation. That owl tattoo suited him, I decided—he said the owl was his "power animal"—because he noticed everything and was very wise about it. If I so much as crinkled my nose at the litter box in the evening, the older cats would have been taken to his friends in the country by the time I came home from work the next day.
Best of all, I was being given time at work to pursue my "pet" project. Not everyone had a Freddy. And I had no delusions about "the country." I convinced my employers that a treatment that would keep kitties and puppies from maturing would be a goldmine for them, and would reduce pet over-population: More people would adopt pets if they could get a kitten or a puppy that would stay a kitten or a puppy. Plus, those pets wouldn't reproduce. I knew the science was already out there. I'd read about the parents of a disabled daughter who asked the doctors to stunt the girl's growth with a hormone blocker so they could keep caring for her as she got older—she would be their child forever. It was a controversial treatment, to say the least. So why not back up and reformulate it for cats and dogs? I did my homework and put together a proposal for my bosses at the veterinary supply company. Not only did they go for it, they fast-tracked it. My proposal was repackaged as the Visioning Phase Report and, since my name was on it, I was put in charge. By the time the pet food companies and other manufacturers of pet products got wind of what we were doing, we already had the patents registered.
But that's all old news now. You may even have your own adorable "forever kitten" in your lap as you read this. The scientists got all the cred, of course. I was in the background, though I was included in a few interviews. And there's about thirty seconds of me, Freddy and our eight kittens in the documentary "Puppy Love" that came out last year. But the proudest day for me was when the humane association let me cut the ribbon on their new Fountain of Youth wing. I was honored by the same crew who used to fill out all those citations and harangue me about the cats.
It was the beginning of the end for me and Freddy, though. He kept taking the kittens away and bringing me new ones. I told him I didn't need new ones anymore, in fact I liked keeping the same batch. I think it made him feel like I didn't need him. He'd prowl around and hunt up all the kittens, hold them, examine them as if maybe the treatment would stop working and he could show me they were growing and needed to go. He'd bring me kittens as a gift, like in the old days, but I didn't go crazy over them the way I used to. Sometimes he'd spirit one or two away and I'd be mad at him. He became irritable, he lost weight.
The end of the end came without much fanfare. I came home from work to find Freddy's stuff cleared out. Three kittens were missing. The note on the kitchen table said, "Gotta fly, sweetheart. Feel penned in. Sick of security (and the job too, ha ha). My friends in the country say to come out—they miss seeing me. I'll drop you a line when I get settled somewhere."
So far, no line. And the kittens—I don't know, I miss seeing them grow up. I'd get a regular cat, but they're hard to find now that the unwanted pet population is way down. Someone told me that I should've had a baby with Freddy, that a baby would have solved everything. I actually had that idea myself—after the patent came through and I got another big raise—but when I mentioned it to Freddy he said no immediately, and I could tell from the look in his eyes that he meant it.
He said, "Don't do it, honeycakes. A little baby—I just don't trust myself to be a good dad. I'd hate to have to take it out to the country." Then, quick, he went and got himself some chicken nuggets—the things he liked to snack on!—and I could tell he was sublimating (I learned that from Dr. Agatha) so I didn't bring it up again.
I'd like to find a guy to have a baby with, maybe get out of the kitten business altogether (FurzReflux is sold over-the-counter now). I've been getting out a little bit, testing the waters. But The Black Hole is out of the mix, especially after hours. I'm ready for someone who keeps the same schedule I do, so we can be real partners, not just a relay team. No more night owls for me.
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from DIGITAL FACE|
© 2015, Zelda Leah Gatuskin