[Short Story] The Cat in the Chair

IMG_0323Billy finds it harder and harder to get to sleep these nights and even harder again to get back up in the mornings. Some nights he think of Misty, the cat he had when he was a boy. Misty the cat, who would sit in her chair and survey the room through half lidded, watchful eyes as if she were the queen of all creation. His sister Kate had been the one to name her: the cat was hers and the dog was his. Or so it was supposed to have been, but it quickly became the reverse.

With the amount of pets they both had their parents were fond of calling the house more zoo than a home. But of all of them Misty was his and he was hers, they fit together like Lego. If ever you had a pet like that then you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, well… it was like she was family or shared a piece of his soul or… something. She was always there when he was feeling down, nuzzling in beside him and licking his wrist with a sandpaper tongue that tickled. Ever at his side when adventure needed to be sought out or there was a tree that just had to be climbed.

A cat can live a good and long life. With luck they can live for, oh, 14 or maybe even 15 years. Or else a father can run them over with the car when he brings you home from school. Such happened to Misty when she was only three years old. They heard the crunch, the wailing, the screech of brakes and then a horrible silence. His father told him and Kate to both stay in the car. Then he went inside, got an old shoebox, scooped Misty inside and closed the lid. Ever so gently he settled the shoebox on the floor at the passenger seat. He didn’t notice the one bloody paw poking out of one corner, but his kids did and they saw that it was still.

He smiled back at his son and daughter, told them Misty was going to be just fine and drove to the vets. The vet nodded gravely when he took possession of the shoebox and walked away with it. Their father sat them down and they waited. He hated lying to them, hated that he was raising false hope and he wondered how he would, how he could, break the news to them. In the end there was no need. The vet managed stabilised her, saved her life.

Two weeks later they were allowed to bring her home. Misty was alive but she was not fine. Her hind legs were now mangled beyond fixing and forever useless. To move about she had to crawl by dragging herself along by her front paws. For Billy it was agonising to watch and his father felt pained for both of them. He wished there was…

The Saturday morning after they’d brought Misty home from the vet Billy was awoken to his father’s smiling face and and a gentle shake at his shoulder. Still half asleep he was carried downstairs to the sitting room. His father stopped just inside the sitting room door and set Billy down on his feet. Then he hunkered down next to Billy, drummed his fingers loudly on the carpet and started murmuring softly: pish-wish-pish-wish.

Across the room Misty stirred at the sound, yawned, stretched wide her front paws, claws popped. Billy frowned over at his father, this was cruel, this was not funny, this was just not on. Misty started to move. Then Misty started to… run? She was bounding towards them! Billy could only stare openmouthed. Misty halted at Billy’s feet, her left paw playfully swiping out at his father’s hand. His father lifted his hand to point towards Misty’s hind legs but Billy’s eyes were already fixed there. Shaking his head softly, a smile rolled across his face.

Misty lived on until she was fifteen years and seven months old. Billy had just turned twenty-one when she had finally passed on but he had cried like the eight year old boy he’d once been. Though most of her years were spent strapped into a makeshift wheelchair, fashioned by Billy’s father from a belt and an old meccano set, for Misty it had been a long and happy life. They buried her beneath the apple tree in the back garden with her little bell collar but not her little wheelchair. That Billy kept so that he would always hold onto a piece of her.

Billy finds it hard to sleep at night. Worries and woes cloud his mind, more and more, it seems, the older that he gets. Some nights he remembers Misty when he closes his eyes but that doesn’t help, that just makes him sad. Even though he’s almost forty six now and she’s been dead for over twenty years, he finds that he still misses his cat.

The nights are hard but the mornings are harder, he needs to fight himself to wake, to force his eyes to open and then and again to keep them open. Sometimes his eyes will alight on the windowsill, focus on the little rig of mecanno and leather, faded and worn, that sits in the morning light. Thoughts of Misty in the mornings don’t make him sad though. Rather he finds himself thinking back on a cat that was never bothered nor hindered by the harness she bore. Misty learned to make do and make life fit around her. Those thoughts bring a smile to his lips; somehow, after all those years, his faithful pet still finds a way to pick him up when he’s feeling down. He seems to walk a little taller on those mornings when he sets out into the world thinking back to the cat in the chair.


(Ciaran Tolan)


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