The Story of My Cat Tattoo

Shadow Cat was a gray kitten I found in an abandoned yard the summer before fifth grade. I visited him several times before deciding he was even more alone than me. The house was empty—an eviction notice on the door, dust on the windows, trash piled around the yard.

Shadow Cat was a tiny little kitten in a tan pet carrier at the middle of the trash pile. A mostly empty bag of kitten food and an empty water bowl were in there with him. I came, fed him handfuls of his food and brought new water. I read him fairy tales from the library. I told him my own stories too, the ones I wrote in my rainbow leopard notebook and kept hidden under the bed.

Eventually, he wasn’t afraid of me anymore and I found out why he’d been left. He was a tiny little gray kitten and his back legs didn’t work. He couldn’t walk.

When the food was gone, it was time for him to come home. I knew I couldn’t have any more pets—my older sister would not allow it.

I was nine, scrawny and hungry, most talented at moving through the world unnoticed. My sister, ten, a giant. She reached her full height at eleven. That summer she was almost there, a 5’9” ten-year-old who ruled the neighborhood, the head of its pack of bullies and a terror to all.

The year before, she had killed my turtle with our mother’s perfume. She took a beating for the perfume and I buried Speedy in a shoebox with his favorite rock. She killed Phoebe the Parakeet when I laughed at some silly little thing she said. Her friends laughed too. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember coming home to find my beautiful blue friend dead on my pillow, just like I remember the chemical stench and my turtle dead at the bottom of his tank. I knew Shadow Cat would not be safe if she found him, but that house wouldn’t be left empty forever.

When she was away for a sleepover, I went in the middle of the night to bring him home in his tan pet carrier. It was huge and heavy and too much for my little nine-year-old arms. I pushed it for part of the way. He knew to be silent, I don’t know how.

I hid the crate behind a broken old rocking chair in the corner of my room. Hidden under a mountain of stuffed animals, my Shadow Cat was safe and happy and my own little secret. I stole cat food left out by neighbors or fed him half of whatever I could find for myself. He drank milk when we had it, I figured out he didn’t like soda pretty quickly. Chicken nuggets were OK, but macaroni and cheese was not.

We had adventures. He was a lion or a panther or a small dragon in my stories. Sometimes I’d decide he was a girl and we had tea parties with the bears. He didn’t like clothes.

Months passed. Summer ended. School started.

My sister found Shadow Cat one day when she beat me home. She said he was meowing.

At first, it was OK. But, he liked me best. He was growing and getting stronger and better at walking. He was a happy cat who came scampering out from under the bed when I got home and liked me best.

This was not OK. Everyone liked her better. It was the way of the world. I tried to teach him, to protect him. But, one day, she picked him up and he bit her. She smiled, but I knew it wasn’t OK.

I watched him. I snuck him everywhere except school. I was careful until the day I wasn’t. It was Halloween. She was to go trick-or-treating with her friends and I with mine for the chance of a bag full of free candy. That was the end.

She killed him with a baseball bat. Beat him to death in front of her pack of henchmen. A dark cat on Halloween night. Thrown away like garbage because I wasn’t there to bury him.

I see Shadow Cat in every gray cat. This happy little kitten that could barely walk, under the dubious care of an elementary schooler. The world is a dark place if you only remember the bit about the baseball bat. Remember the summer we were not alone.

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Sunday Night–A story for my creative writing class

Sunday Night

The black car sails by as we sit here in the darkness under the large oak tree. Here on this street I doubt I have ever known the name of, we sit parked a convenient distance from the hospital as dictated by contracts between men I may never meet.

We sit here, as the hours slide by, waiting for the voice over the radio to bark out commands or the pager to give us the name of our next patient.

81-year-old male, general weakness, hospital to residence.

30-year-old female, hospital to hospital, suicidal ideation.

Two-year-old female, foreign body obstruction, ER to ER.

The names are not relevant; these are people whose lives we will intersect for a brief moment as they travel through our realm.

We are waiting for that glowing orange radio to tell us our next assignment. The clock insists the time is 11:39—two hours left in our shift. Paul is asleep in the passenger seat beside me, the orange glow between us. I am trying to find a comfortable position around the steering wheel and thinking fond thoughts of bed.

The radio comes to life, Steven tonight, his slow Tennessee enunciation frustrating as we are waiting for our summons. “Code 2 BLS.”

A short transfer, just across the street. Paul sputters to life as I put the rig into drive and roll away from the curb. “I was just about to fall asleep!” he says. I laugh. “You were snoring.”

The windows are dark at our destination. Paul is still pulling together his paperwork as I am pulling out the gurney. We coordinate again to lift over the curb. A thoughtlessly choreographed sequence, effortless. We’ve been together a long time now.

Finding our patient is easy. His is the only light in the dark hallway. Room 20, bed C.

A flurry of activity. A man in the bed holding ice to his forehead. A smear of blood on the floor. Information in a series of staccato sentences.

From the patient: I fell out of my wheelchair. My head hurts. Where is my phone? Don’t forget my jacket. I’m cold. Maybe 10 minutes ago. No, no pain in my back.

From the nurse: 56-year-old male. History ESRD, CHF, paraplegia, anemia. Allergic to penicillin. Full code. Ground level fall, approximately 2320hrs. Shallow laceration right temple. Transfer to ER for CT, medical clearance.

Signatures for the money people. Load and go.

Same short drive.

Park in the back.

The ambulance parking that still makes me pause. A red curb here for my use.

Inside, a flurry of activity as we walk by the nurse’s station. Whose turn is it? Anthony wins, Brian’s new patient. We get bed three. Again, the important information is repeated in a series of short, staccato statements. 56-year-old male. History ESRD, CHF, paraplegia, anemia… Here is the phone, the jacket.

Collect more signatures for the money people.

Passing by the nurse’s station again, this time with the empty gurney, it is time for different kind of checking in. Say bye to Andrew, the strongly accented nurse who always wants to give me his chair. Ask Will the ER technician about his classes; he’s almost ready to apply to nursing school. Wave to Ben, sneaking away again for a cigarette.

Clean. Sterilize. The careful folding of the paper sheet over the gurney so it does not rip. Paul appears again to join me in the rig. “129 clear.”

Back to the quiet darkness of the oak tree. 12:37, one hour left. The radio sleeps.

Just another Sunday night.

*I changed everyone’s names*