The nursing home’s death cat approached Larry directly, sat just out of his reach, and studied him. The cat was well known for its ability to forecast death. Whenever it began to sleep on a resident’s bed, that resident would expire within a week. Scientists and newspaper writers came to study and report on the cat, showing far more interest in its activities than anyone did in the humans of the nursing home, though the oldsters often surrounded visitors with their wheelchairs and pulled at their sleeves. The cat, for her part, could care less about all the attention, possessing a haughty disregard for anything that falls short of eternal.
The scientists hypothesized that the cat had an extraordinary sense of smell and was able to detect the scent of death approaching. Moreover, being a cat and not subject to the same social concerns as people, it didn’t care how the residents felt about being singled out for demise. It didn’t skirt the issue, as folks will often do with the terminally ill; contributing not only to its uncanny ability, but its willingness to use it. None of the scientists shared the convictions of the ancient Egyptians who believed that cats were well connected spiritually. Though he was not an ancient Egyptian, Larry thought as they did about cats and believed that all the investigations into its sense of smell were just a misguided attempt by the proponents of the physical to discredit the metaphysical.
The death cat examined Larry’s spirit for a minute and began to wash itself. Larry had decided that if the cat sat on his father’s lap, he would follow through with smothering him with a pillow. On the other hand, if the cat curled up on himself, Larry would execute his original plan to commit suicide. Larry wished to avoid both another aborted suicide attempt and failed patricide. He depended on the cat to forecast success. As his father always said, if you’re going to do a job, then you should do it well.
Larry professed to not care about the cat’s decision one way or another, but his central nervous system was not in agreement. The cat was more interested in him than his father. Larry’s heart began to pummel the inside of his chest with apprehension that it might select him. His survival instinct was as strong as ever, despite his recent suicide attempt. The body goes on with life, he reflected, it will hunger and crave, digest and beat, metabolize and sweat no matter what the mind thinks. Indeed, it’s almost as if they, body and mind, never spoke to each other; like an estranged couple, living in the same house, but sleeping in separate bedrooms.
The cat may have sensed a powerful heartbeat from Larry, because it stopped its licking and sauntered over to his father. Dread surprisingly mixed with adrenalin for Larry as the creature leaned into a full body massage on the preacher’s chair leg. Larry had to acknowledge that he no more wanted to kill his father than he wished to kill himself.
Oh, he was still angry with the Rev and would silence that snoring mouth in a minute if he could just walk away and be done with it all, but he didn’t want to have to plan a funeral. More to the point, he didn’t want to have to sit there at the service with the knowledge that he had killed his father and listen to eulogies about the good Reverend Kincaid. He didn’t want to have to give a eulogy and deny how he really felt. He wanted to testify to the truth and call things as he saw them no matter the consequences. Just like the cat.
He might’ve considered a murder-suicide combination, but he didn’t know how the cat could confirm that choice. It’s not like the creature could sit on two laps at once.
Larry began to wonder why he was leaving such important matters up to the cat, as if a rural community were to give up voting and institute cow chip bingo to select its mayor. He was a human, after all, and possessed all the pride of species that you might expect of a living thing that went on about being created in the image of God.
On the other hand, if the Egyptians were right, the cat was only a conduit of information from the spirit world, a kind of Associated Press office, stationed in heaven; Reuters for the seraphim. The cat wasn’t making the decision; it was simply reporting the news. Even Reverend Kincaid might agree that one should seek the Eternal for guidance, although he might object to the anointing of a cat. But, why, Larry argued, is it any less absurd to believe that the divine would take on human form and sacrifice himself, or odd of God to choose the Jews?
He went on to speculate: had the scientists thought to look into other messages the feline might have for us? Could it be consulted regarding the meaning of life? Could Larry submit all those questions he had of the divine? Could it heal the sick? Raise the dead? Measure Karma on a ten point scale? Additionally, could fate be reversed once the cat selected its victim, or would death inexorably arrive no matter what the intervention?
The cat stepped away from the father’s chair, circled, and came back around to rub the other side. It caressed his father’s leg with its whiskers, stiffening its tail with a kind of orgasmic exclamation. Larry wanted to avert his eyes. He was certain, at this point, that the cat was preparing to mount his father’s lap. An anticipatory wave of grief washed over Larry. He tasted the salty brine of regret. He almost drowned in memories, good and bad, wistful and sad, amusing and enlightening, of his father; at the kitchen table, playing catch, yelling at the ref at his games. They say your life passes before you at your own death; do you review your victim’s before you commit murder?
The cat circled again and squatted down, preparing to leap. Larry gasped for air, as if a hundred cats were all sitting on his own chest. His pounding heart spoke into his temples, as a rock band’s amps will vibrate the floor. At last, the cat made its jump onto the father’s lap. The old man startled, grunted, then, recognizing the animal, gave it an eager pet. The feline arched its back into the caress and began to purr. Three more strokes of the cat’s back, a rub of its head, and a half dozen unsheathings of its tail and the old man was asleep once again, smiling.
Just as quickly as all that, the grief that had washed over Larry was replaced by an abrupt realization of horror. It was he that was the monster, not his father. All his father ever did was to act human, but he, Larry, was the inhuman. He grasped the arms of the chair, preparing to hoist himself up. He would not murder his father. He would leave the nursing home. He would travel far and never come back, least he have that impulse again and act on it. He might even kill himself despite the cat’s verdict, for the world would be better off without the likes of him.
Larry might have departed immediately, but the cat did something unexpected. It did not settle down in his father’s lap. It perched on his thighs and made a second leap onto a nearby table. The cat curled once about, weaving in and out of the picture frames, draped itself over an old-fashioned telephone, and went to sleep.
It was the kind of cat picture one finds on the internet, or on calendars hung in old ladies’ houses: a feline in an awkward, unlikely position, making itself comfortable against all odds. Larry struggled to compose a caption for the picture, but he puzzled over what it meant. Suddenly, with the loud kind of bell that those old fashioned telephones used, it rang. All of them startled, Larry, his father, and the cat, but especially the cat. His father jerked awake, Larry jumped out of his chair, and the cat scampered out of the room, tail held high and twitching as it left.
“Who could be calling this time of night?” said his father as he answered the phone to see who it was.