This short was written to a prompt at a writing workshop. It is not in final draft, yet. The prompt? To interview another workshopper and then write their story as our own.
Sixty-two: that’s the magic number. Especially if your female cat has carried right to sixty-two days before. Then, you can almost set your watch by it.
I was out at the beach house, which had become a sort of labor tradition. Twig—my currently pregnant Abyssinian cat—had come along enthroned in her top-of-the-line crate on the passenger seat and was now in the closet of the master bedroom. She was warm, and comfortable, and for the most part confined to that warm, comfortable spot. I was curled up myself with a giant rock of a book, my reading glasses, a mug of rapidly cooling tea. The TV was off (not that it did much, really) and I was listening. It was day sixty-two.
Charlotte—Twig’s mother—was the beautiful, ruddy Abyssinian I had bought from a man in Canada to breed with an Abyssinian in Pinehurst. The Pinehurst cat—Juno—belonged to, or, I should say belongs to a woman who I believe I can now call my best friend. It was therefore Charlotte who taught me how to doula cats and kittens and who birthed in me a new thing like love.
Charlotte, I need to say, was a loud birther. My first cat birth was surprising for me and painful for poor Charlotte. So were the next two. So when I bred her daughter, Twig, with a beautiful blue named Romeo, I settled into the bedroom chair with a certain amount of wary poise.
Don’t let me fool you, though. Just that afternoon I had wandered down to the farmer’s market, alone because Julie was taking a nap. I was mostly just enjoying the taste of salt in the wind, the smells of tomato greens and vegetable dust, and the sound of whipping and cracking tarpaulins a joy on a sunny, blue-skied day. Wouldn’t you know it, but just as I rounded a stand of glowingly shiny eggplants, I ran into Dr. Johnson, the very same veterinarian who I had turned to during Charlotte’s second labor when things went oh-so-very south. I took providence by the horns and I asked him the carefully curated questions that had been nagging at me for days. What if—when alone with Twig in her hour—something I had read about should happen?
“Tell you what,” I told him. “Just today I went for a dip at the beach and I was almost eaten by a shark!” Well, I was, too. Like usual, I had made sure to swim near others and to go with a buddy, and to stay behind the line of furthest swimmers. Suddenly, I noticed the three teenage boys to my left were acting funny and I said to Julie, “Julie, I think there’s something in the water by those boys.” She shielded her eyes with her hand and looked and then poo-pooed me until we both saw that dorsal fin cutting through the black water straight for us.
Don’t splash, I thought. Don’t splash. And I calmly shouted the same to Julie as I turned beach-ward and walked, part-floating like in a nightmare, without splashing up to the shore. I’ll be damned if that shark didn’t follow me, even though I didn’t splash, until the water was only knee deep. A wave hit me and I stumbled into a run, splashing all I wanted as I ran, my right hand over my heart.
“Oh, Julie?” I said to Dr. Johnson. “Yes. She made it out a little behind me and up the shore a hundred yards or so.”
Then, there I was, with Dr. Johnson’s advice and my book-rock and my mug of lukewarm tea and Twig should have been having kittens any moment.
There was a rustle in the closet and Twig called out, but feebly, not like her mother. I closed my book on page thirteen and crossed the room, barefoot, to check on her. Sure enough, Twig was working over a brand new kitten with her tongue, bringing the beautiful thing through a slow awakening. She was doing just fine and I went back to my chair, my book. Julie appeared at the doorway. “Everything all right? I heard…”
“Yes—yes,” I said. “Twig’s already had one kitten.”
Julie gave a muffled squeal and a hop which was maybe much too young for her, clasping her hands together over her chest. With twinkling eyes she rushed to the closet door and looked regally down. “Lovely,” she exhaled. Then she left, and I continued to wait and read and sip and listen.
The half-inch of tea in the bottom of my mug was stone cold by the time the other two kittens had come. Julie came in to see them. “You know what?” I told her, “I was just sitting here all this time—I don’t know if you can hear but Twig’s been so quiet—and I got to thinking about this time I was hiking with Bob—stop me if I’ve told you this before—and he yelled ‘Snake!’ and ran off up the trail. Well, I didn’t see anything so I just stood there still as a statue. The ground was covered with leaves and swaying shadows, so after a minute, I bent myself in half to see up the trail from a lower angle and—you can’t even believe it, Julie—but there was a snake, a great big black king snake with human-looking eyes and he was up—up!—in an “s” so that his face was level with mine. We were both frozen there, then, staring into one another’s eyes. I didn’t hike for a year after that.”
My tea was gone and I thought Julie was probably asleep down the hall when I heard the tiniest of rustles from Twig’s nest. I closed my book at page 120 and wandered back across the room. I peered down into the muted light and dark of the lamp-lit closet. Twig was cozy in the corner with her three kittens but there—just outside of the warmth in a clearing of cold hardwood—was another kitten. It lay still, looking mummified in the sac that was still encasing it. I pushed cardboard and wood aside and fell to my knees, sort of instantly regretting the cavalierness of that move. Julie’s shadow fell on me just then and I turned to see her yawning.
“What’s wrong,” she asked.
“Quick!” I said. “Get the blow dryer and heat a towel!”
An hour later and Julie and I had coaxed the sac off of little Rugby, had massaged warmth into a body that a mother had rejected, and had gotten him to take a dropper of goat’s milk. When he, in his turn, cried out for the first time in his beautiful life, Twig heard him. She recognized him and stood, uneasy on her feet, dragging him back into her warm corner of the closet to nurse him herself.