FICTION: Cat in the Rat’s Nest by Edward Little

I lay on tobacco stained sheets that act as my bed, and to add further injury they have been haphazardly kicked into the corner of the room by Sandra Blackburn, my ‘owner.’

She’s tall and thin with an arch in her back, which lowers even more when she’s been drinking.

She isn’t so much domesticated as habitulalised.

‘You’re full of shit,’ she says, referring to Darren, her husband, as he walks into the living-room behind her.

‘Oh, fuck off’, he retorts, spitting over uneven stubble.

They travel in a pair around the house, leaving one another when signing on at the employment office. This is a building where the unemployed compete, comparing who has the best excuse for why they don’t have a job.

The winner gets a prize. Disability pay, they call it.

Darren sits down on the couch, its cracked leather surface barely sinking under his skinny frame. Sandra does the same and it’s like they’re floating by an inch, the cracks barely spreading under all that bone and dust.

I would claim to be a hypocrite but felines hold the cliché of being as insubstantial as feathered pillows.

I hear the backdoor open and smell Tommy. He’s been in the shed all morning after taking Tilly from Mrs Penn next door. He’s becoming reckless. He normally avoids the cats around the local area, especially pedigree’s like Tilly, a Siberian whose hair makes her especially tough to ‘play with.’

It fills me with the kind of disgust that runs to the tip of my tail, knowing that someone can name their cat Tilly. These humans named me Joey, after Joey Essex off the television, but I tell the cats in the neighbourhood that I’m named after Joseph Henry, the physicist.

‘Dad, can I borrow your razor please?’ Tommy says, walking into the living room. ‘I’m doing a project for school.’

They know it isn’t for a project. Tommy is ten but he looks eight, with unfortunately thin legs and arms like his parents. His hair is jet black with red cheeks and blue eyes. He looks as brittle as bark but nourished, and I suspect it’s from the feeding he gets from the mothers around town. They give him sandwiches and invite him to their litters’ birthday parties.

He attracts maternity like my blanket attracts cigarette ash.

Leaning into his mother, he grins up at her, placing one arm on the lower ridge of her back and the other between the gap of her legs. She grins desperately at his interfering eyes and touches his cheek, shifting her gaze to Darren who is rubbing the dead skin between his fingers.

There is a knock on the door and Darren goes out to check due to his wife’s taught routine of never going to check, even when he’s out. For a man he’s not so masculine, excluding the times when his alcohol consumption fuels bouts of rage.

There are muffled sounds in the hall as the door closes and a new smell starts to cover the sticky sweetness and dirt, one of musk and soap powder. It wanders into the room after Darren, wearing a police uniform and subdued by tightly, fastened boots. The aroma is a man with a clean-shaven chin, which lies below frown marks and light, hazel eyes. Contrary to Tommy he is broad, but his eyelids are dark, and a faint stench of microwave container plastic comes from his fingernails.

‘Sorry to intrude, I’m PC Williams’, the officer states, extending his left hand towards Sandra. She shakes it hesitantly, most likely thinking about the needles next to her bedside table.

‘We’ve had a few calls from a distressed resident in the area who’s lost their cat, and they believe it may be here. I was pacing out front and it could have wandered in through the hole next to your house.’

Next to the house there is a fence with a hole in the right-hand corner. Tommy made it in the hope that stray animals would wander through.

Relief creeps slightly in the creases of Sandra’s face, but they tighten in the sink holes of her cheek and the veins of her neck when she remembers what’s in the shed. ‘I haven’t a clue,’ she says hiding the influx of her scouse accent. ‘She must have forgotten the cat someplace or maybe it frigged off’, she finishes, unable to maintain the vocabulary of an average primary school teacher.

PC Williams motions towards the chair at the left of the couch, sits down and puts his hat on glass table. Tommy eyes the hat, still standing by his mother’s leg, but this time with his face half buried into her stomach, making himself look smaller and frail.

For a son of drug aficionados, this human is moderately intelligent.

For some reason the officer has refrained from pointing out Sandra’s mistake, acknowledging the fact she knew the cat’s owner is a She. Either that or his analytical skills remain to be desired. He stares at Tommy and Tommy stares back, his body rigid, glued and fixated to the heat of his mother. The fraudulent fear in his face is convincing, but not to me: he’s learnt to strip everything away and so far he’s blood inside of a mannequin.

‘I apologise for being vague but the person who has made the complaint has asked to remain anonymous’, PC Williams says, looking around at the scratched, cream wallpaper.

‘Mrs Penn’, Tommy muffles, his face still half turned towards his mother.

PC Williams cocks his head at Tommy, parts his mouth and partially squints. ‘Why do you say that?’ hey says interlinking his fingers.

‘I play with Tilly and bring her toys. Mrs Penn doesn’t like it and shouts and says my family are bad.’

‘You didn’t tell us that,’ Darren says, raising his voice then catching himself, ‘mate.’

‘What’s your name, son?’ PC Williams asks.

‘Tommy.’

‘Why do you think Mrs Penn would say these things to you, Tommy?’

He thinks for a minute, grabbing the bottom of his mother’s top, scratching his fingers over the sweat marks. ‘She wanted me to come have sandwiches in her house, pickle and beef, and I said no because I don’t like pickle. She didn’t like that.’

‘Did she do anything, Tommy? Anything to imply she didn’t like it?’

Tommy just sinks closer and closer, letting the officer see the comfort he finds between his mothers legs. His head is on her crotch now, nestling, refusing to look at his interrogator. The room quietens, and Sandra starts itching her arm, her husband following out of habit.

They came home an hour ago and their fix is waning.

‘What our informant has made clear to us is that they have seen Tommy playing in the street, often befriending some of the cats’, PC Williams says, then clears his throat into his tightened fist. ‘There are eye witnesses stating that Tommy has been seen pulling the tails of these cats, some have even been reported missing.’

‘Piss off!’ Sandra shouts.

‘I realise these accusations are unpleasant, but it is my job as an officer of the law to explore all avenues. You can either help or be noted for withholding information.’

‘Everyone around here hates me,’ Tommy whimpers, taking a reproachful step towards PC Williams. ‘I play on the street in my dirty clothes, I ask for food sometimes, and I like to play with people’s pets, but they don’t like it when I do that. I’m lonely here’, he says stepping closer, ‘they leave me alone, sometimes all day,’ he says, keeping his empty gaze away from his parents.

‘You lying, little rat!’ Sandra steps back, extending her hand as she swings it like a claw across Tommy’s cheek. He falls to the left and hits the floor.

The officer leaps forward, grabs Sandra’s right arm and twists it behind her back, doing the same with the other one as he forces her onto the glass table. He gets his handcuffs out and sympathetically stares down at Tommy, who is eye level with me across the room.

His cheek is red and darkening, but the look on his face screams pleasure.

‘I’m removing you for the safety of your son, so I suggest that you don’t resist.’

‘Oh, fuck off’, Sandra spits.

*

Sandra is arrested and Tommy is left with Darren, who is told the police will be back and social services will be contacted. It isn’t long until Tommy leaves his blubbering father on the couch and heads to the shed. I decide to follow him, mainly because I refuse to listen to someone with opposable thumbs mewling for a partner whose hygiene matches that of canines.

Tommy opens the shed door and I see that he’s managed to construct some sort of gallows between two work benches. The rope is supported by a hook on the wall, maintained by tying the corresponding section to a brick on the floor. Tilly is suspended by her neck, patches of hair are missing, and her left eye is gouged and runs down the white hair of her cheek. The bottom of her stomach is bright and pink, and there seems to be red drops drying around scabs. On closer inspection they surround a stick that has been lodged inside of her and left to hang.

Tommy unties the rope and slings the dead weight over his shoulder. He grins and walks toward me, the redness of his cheek turning purple. ‘I’d never hurt you, Joey,’ he says, rubbing behind my ear then trotting over to the piles of grass and mud next to the shed.

I make my way to Tommy’s room and sit on his window ledge, looking into the back garden as he digs a hole with his fingers. I feel a slight knot of distaste in the area Tommy finds appropriate for poking. I leap onto the pillow of his bed, tease my behind above it, then relieve myself.

It isn’t much, but what else can a cat do?

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Edward Little

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Edward Little is an editor and teacher in Liverpool. He writes articles, short stories, and performs at open-mics for free glasses of red wine.

Read Edward’s previously published short story ‘Thoughts About Puppetshere

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