The Black Cat
By Olivia Krise
It was a cold and windy day, biting. The black cat yawled, stretching out from her lair of maple leaves tucked underneath a shrub. She perused the neighborhood with no goal, slinking under bushes, hopping over curbs, hiding under the occasional car. She was settled in her unrestrained life, chasing the mice who wandered too far from their holes or sunbathing on top of the infrequent shed or porch. The cat ignored the dancing colors or warm smells leaking from the occasional house; she just existed, freely.
The cat decided to look for a spot to sunbathe, to perch her long body and absorb the hot rays, a way to dispel the brisk weather that had recently arrived. The black cat settled on a brick wall of a porch facing the full sun; she curled into a black abyss, and fell into a lucid sleep.
“Here dear, here’s your breakfast,” Mary said, as she sat down the full English breakfast in front of her waiting husband. Laying his newspaper down he scrutinized his meal. Mr. Rodkins read the financial section every morning, the economy seemed to be roaring, as was Mary. She ignored this - for now - and shyly stepped back and awaited his response. It was of utter importance he loved this breakfast and ate every single bite, as he needed his energy. He had an important meeting today, one that decided the very fate of the company, and just wasn’t feeling his best these days.
Nodding his head in approval, Mr. Rodkins shakily picked up his fork, careful not to touch the sores on his hands, and pierced the blood sausage. It oozed hot dark blood; he liked it half raw.
Sighing in relief, Mary turned to start cleaning the kitchen, her skirt swishing at every step. Mr. Rodkins liked women in dresses, and she liked to feel innocent. “Do you think they will accept it? The project?” she asked.
He put down his fork and stopped his noisy chewing. Swallowing in that pronounced, comical fashion — it seemed to be a struggle to do such a simple act — he replied, “Yes, of course they will accept it! Now you know I don’t like to discuss business with you, especially at the table. It’s time for me to concentrate my dear. You know, so the company can fully get my picture.” He went back into haphazardly attacking his sausage, breathing heavily.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She looked down at her stained hands, bruises circling her wrists. Every morning she silently snuck out of bed and made the blood sausage fresh for her darling husband. She curled her hands in tight fists, her clipped fingernails digging into her skin — Mr. Rodkins didn’t let her have long nails. Mary looked at the mess of a kitchen she had to clean up, the pricking black roar surrounding her again. She clamped it down, as she efficiently cleaned up the assortment of bowels, pans, utensils, flower cutters, stems (from the flowers cut currently sitting on the table), rat poison, spices, raw meat, eggs, and other items buried under each other on the white countertop. She waited for the accident to unfold.
Mary watched as he coughed and tried reaching for his cup of black coffee. His arm flopped down. Mr. Rodkins shook his head as if to downplay that his body was slowly shutting down and fruitlessly reached for the steaming mug with his other hand, the one now limply clutching his fork. It refused to move.
His arm reminded Mary of how still she stayed when he kept moving on her every night in bed, swarming her. Her voice unable to come out, hoarse from the many failed nights of screaming.
His face fell into the full spread, mouth leaking foamy spit, body shaking. Shaking like Mary’s body every night during their torturous six-month marriage.
Mary stood still like an eye of a hurricane, and waited until the twitching stopped, until he was no longer breathing. The roaring, the clamoring, it all came to a halt, and for once her mind was settled.
She went to work then, cleaning up the mess. She cleaned the whole kitchen top to bottom. It had to be spotless, that’s the way Mr. Rodkins liked it.
She later called the police in a frantic tone after the kitchen was spotless and he was carefully dragged on the floor, face clean, all while reading a copy of Jane Eyre. She liked to imagine somedays that she was the screaming woman in the attic and on others that she was the other woman gradually being tricked into becoming something dependent on a man. She hid the book from Mr. Rodkins under the kitchen sink right next to the chemicals for pest control.
Mr. Rodkins was found on the floor unresponsive. It was determined he died of a heart attack. The cops didn’t even suspect Mary, she was his wife. They blamed it on God.
The black cat’s relaxing nap was interrupted when a clamor of humans started running to the front door of the house. There was screaming somewhere inside. It was a high-pitched wail that made the cat’s ears ring in distaste. Jumping down from her perch she decided to find another place to relax, maybe catch a mouse. She was hungry for fresh blood.
Mary did not want to go back to her childhood home, but her deceased husband’s house wasn’t under her name, and her in-laws did not like her. She didn’t mind though, she didn’t like that house anyways, or her in-laws. She just didn’t like coming back to her maternal uncle’s house where her widowed mother resided as well. Her father passed away when she was ten, and with him the heart of the house.
“Mary, Mary? It’s time for supper!” her mother hollered from the window facing the thick patch of trees behind the house. A mutter, unsuspected to carry far floated as well, “That insolent child, trying to read herself dumb, again.”
Mary was in her nook. It was a place her mother wouldn’t dare venture to as it involved trekking past the manicured lawn, and her uncle had yet to discover in his laziness; it was her spot, the only place where she could read her contraband books taken from the library every Saturday when she picked up the meat for the Sunday meal. She relished her time outside even though it was fleeting, a few hours here or there. The daily house chores passed onto her by her mother, punishment for her failure in marriage kept her busy. But the escapism reading gave, of savoring the last present her father gifted before his passing, was worth every single second.
“Coming Mother!” The treasured books were carefully wrapped in burlap and tucked deep into an alcove of an elm tree. A flash of black caught Mary’s attention as she made her journey back to the quaint, brick house. There crouched was a black cat, hidden behind a tree. It watched the birdhouse drilled into her mother’s favorite oak with clear precision, a predator hunting prey. Mary stopped and observed the cat, entranced by its stillness, its sharp green eyes that flicked to Mary, questioning. Time stopped. A breath passed. Something was spoken between cat and human. Then in a flash the black cat was gone, disappearing into the brush.
When Mary was presentable enough for her mother’s standards, she braved the dining room and sat down, eyes quickly checking if her uncle was there. She found an empty wooden chair.
“You should have come in earlier. I needed help cutting the apples for the Waldorf salad that your uncle adores. You know my hands are starting to fail me.” Mary’s mother simply stated as she sat down across the plain wooden table. She held that figurine straight posture that looked sharply uncomfortable with every small movement made.
“Yes, mother, I’ll do that next time,” Mary said, eyes down casted, as she started filling her plate. Mary could feel her mother’s penetrating stare.
The scratching of metal utensils on the worn plates and slow chewing soon filled the space. “Mother, did you know that there is black cat around the neighborhood? I just saw it today. It was quite an entrancing thing.”
“Yes, that mangily beast has been hunting my blue jays. It needs to be put down, but when winter comes it’ll starve as they all do.” Mary’s mother stated haughtily. “Don’t do anything for that beast. Let nature do what it does best.”
Flicking her eyes up, Mary saw her mother’s sharp smile. Mary clenched the fork tighter, knuckles whitening. “Of course, Mother,” she replied, after a pause, “When you’re finished, I can clean up for you. You did cook dinner. It is the least I can do.”
After that day small scraps of food seemed to go missing. No one seemed to notice, but the black cat began taking a liking to the house. Mary’s mother complained every night about the dead birds and the good health of the cat to Mary and her uninterested uncle; Mary made no comment, she just cleaned up every supper.
“Mary look who decided to deliver over our Bundt pan from the neighborhood bake sale. It’s Mr. Louve’s son, James!” Mary’s mother exclaimed as she dragged the unsuspecting soul by his jacket sleeve.
To James’s credit, he smiled very graciously at the young widow. Her mother had forced Mary to continue wearing mourning black even though a year had passed since her husband’s tragic death, so Mary knew she looked like a swallowing hole. She didn’t mind because it made all men give her a wide breadth though it didn’t exclude her from the chatter in town; a heart attack striking down the young, handsome man who was going to save the paper mill was a tragedy not only for her family but the town. The mill shut down, but it opened space for the new factory producing General Motors cars. The very factory that James’s father owned.
Mary’s mother gave her a pressing flicker of the eyes, still smiling for James, but promising Hell for continuing to read. James stood uneasily. Probably not use to a hostess who didn’t fawn over him, didn’t eagerly offer a drink, or maybe, because of the glares beaming at Mary.
Her mother cleared her throat.
Mary huffed, placing her book, Frankenstein, cover down, as she stood up. It was getting too cold out to read in her hiding spot, so Mary tried to sneak a passage or two knowing full well the consequences, but she was starting to care less and less about them every day now.
“Hello, my name’s Mary, as you probably already know from the babble in town.” Her mother’s smile turned harsher at the comment.
Mary continued, “Please take a seat and get comfortable. My gracious mother can get us some tea for the chilly weather or some icebox cookies or whatever other refreshments you may want, granted we don’t have much.” Mary gave him the smile she always gave to appease her mother — a fake prim grin — to James who stood there dumbfounded.
Mary’s mother looked ready to lock Mary up in her room for punishment, again, but James’s face turned into the most magnificent smile. Laughing lightly, he plopped down in one of the oversized chairs, and pointed to the downturned book said, “Please, tell me about how you are liking Frankenstein.”
Mary gracefully sat down, careful about the swathes of black cloth drowning her, and pretended that she was used to visitors, at least ones whom she enjoyed, and passionately answered, “I am finding Dr. Frankenstein an atrocity and brilliance of a man, and the monster, oh the monster, both something to pity and a breath of fresh air, and Dr. Frankenstein’s wife, oh my, a tragedy.” Backing down from the furious scowl from her mother, she continued, “I am sorry, that was a little much. I…I…sorry again.”
Chuckling, James said, “Oh no, you are right. I really enjoyed that book as well. I am surprised you are reading it, however. Most women I find don’t admit to reading, and if they do it’s about one of those new magazines on how to bake a cake.”
Mary’s mother went stiff as a board. Mary fully relaxed into the seat and gave her mother a look of triumph and said, “Mother, can you please get us a kettle of black tea? I think we both need something warm. Don’t you agree?”
“Thank-you, tea sounds great now. Thank-you again ma’am.”
Mary’s mother left to the kitchen with a facial expression never seen before, something that looked taken aback, shaken to the core. Maybe, because of that something in her mother’s mind broke, or some twisted idea branched off and grew and grew and grew until it felt right. Mary will never know. James left with the promise to come back next Tuesday, her uncle getting a job at the new factory a day later, or did that happen after James started coming regularly? Mary never knew. That time became a wonderful, horrible blur. Wonderful in the sense of having a companion who loved what she loved. Horrible because that companion was later revealed to be coached by her mother in her wants, her dreams, her passions. She can’t say she ever knew the true interest Mr. Louve — James — had. Maybe it was pure, maybe it wasn’t.
It only took eight months before the proposition of marriage was asked in the backyard of her uncle’s house. The weather turning icy once again. She said yes with tears in her eyes. They were not happy, they were not sad, they were tears of realization of her reality.
No one noticed the black cat hiding in the canopy of trees. It peered down lazily at the silly humans deciding whether to jump down and disturb the peace.
If Mary had known that cat was there, she would have given anything for the cat to leap down and create some sort of spectacle for her to run away, but the cat did nothing, and Mary entered another marriage.
The black cat was no longer a young cat, but she still had many years to prowl about. Through the wisdom of age, she knew where to tread and when to flee and how to pounce. The weather was turning brisk again, and things were dying, but she wasn’t worried. The humans sat out bowls of still warm kitchen scraps and had small huts that she snuck into. The black cat adapted to the change of seasons before and would do so again.
Some nights Mr. Louve would try to talk to Mary about her previous marriage, about her life. She tried to appreciate it, telling herself he was still her friendly companion, the one who visited her to discuss the complicated matters of books and life, but those feelings and memories were fading into days of monotony, of being a housewife. Her only escape was leaving little scrapes of leftovers for her little black, feline friend, but even that did not let her forget the golden band that seemed to burn her and the ghost feeling of bruises across her body that scared her. The torturous journey of crawling into bed every night made her shudder so much that Mr. Louve got extra blankets thinking his wife was cold, but still, Mary did try to talk to him. He tried to be a good man.
“Dear, can you please tell me what’s wrong? Please? What did Johnny do that was so terrible? You won’t let me touch you, especially now,” he indicated to the bed as looked at her.
All she saw was the face of a confused boy. Mary turned away. “You should’ve already known why I got married to him. It was unhappy from the start.”
“I truly don’t. Remember, I was at university for the longest time, and I don’t pay attention to the drama of this town,” he said, lightly touching her bundled body. She jerked away, breathing faster, heavier. Softly, he asked, “Please, tell me, something, anything.”
Squinching her eyes, she said, “We fooled around once, only once, and got caught by my uncle. Johnny had to promise to marry me then and there. Both his parents and my mother said God would disavow us, that they would abandon us. He couldn’t deal with that, his job was lined up through his father at the mill, so he put a ring on my finger.” Quieter, she said, “I thought I would learn to love him, that it would work out. That’s what my mother said happened to her, and when my father was alive, they were so happy… so happy.”
Grabbing the bundle of blankets that was his wife, he forced her into his bare chest and hugged her hard. “It will get better. You’re already getting better.” He squeezed her even tighter. “It’s all over, and I am here. Our marriage is already so much better than that.”
Mary kept shaking from the sudden movement, the tight grip surrounding her, but she tried to relax, to agree with him, and be the woman he saw in her uncle’s sitting room. But that was very hard to do.
“I’ll wait a little longer for you. We’ll work on it, but it shouldn’t be too hard. You already know how everything works. We just need to fix you up and then you’ll be perfect again. Then we’ll have kids and grandkids, and life will be perfect. Right?” he asked, still caging her in his arms.
She nodded her head. It was an expectation of marriage and maybe that’s what she wanted too. Right?
The black cat did occasionally encounter other cats, specifically males who would pine after her, but she wasn’t interested. She was an escapist from houses full of cages and wild animals who left her aching for some time, left her without urges. She didn’t want another cat near her. She was happy alone. She continued her solo promenade around the neighborhood.
Mary had improved somewhat at being an attentive wife. Her scorching plans and constricting thoughts from entering this marriage became flickers, as she fell into the balance of making breakfast - toast with coffee - for Mr. Louve and packing his lunch - a cold cut sandwich - while he ate. She kissed him on the cheek when he left and then did the house chores. Mr. Louve was much less strict than Mr. Rodkins. Mr. Louve only asked that the house was deep cleaned once a week and that the laundry was done every other day and that only a few dishes be in the sink. This left Mary some time to herself, and she would read a novel or two like Pride and Prejudice or Little Women outside on the porch watching the neighborhood black cat prowl about, somedays it would even dare to eat from the dish she left out as she read. She liked the days she could read. Those days when Mr. Louve would come home, and during dinner she would happily discuss the novels she read. He slowly became less and less attentive to these conversations, but Mary blamed it on the hard hours and fast pace for the factory to pump out cars. Mr. Louve was the head foreman, a wedding gift from his father, and the factory was becoming a top producer for GM, as the need for cars with the ever-improving economy was booming. Mr. Louve still smiled at her gently though. Mary liked that.
Every night Mary went to bed with a little less blanket and talked a little more to Mr. Louve who seemed to listen intently, inching ever so closer to her.
The black cat was almost run over today. She was enjoying her usual nightly hunt when a blazing hunk of metal came hurling towards her. The cat froze in the middle of the street as the car came rushing closer, expecting it to stop, but the car had a destination to reach and only by her quick reflexes did she leap out of the way in time from its swerving journey. The screech of tires from the lurching movement echoed through the neighborhood, but the motor kept rattling, the car kept moving. The cat would have to be more careful now.
It happened last night. Mary was not alright. Mr. Louve came swinging in their new car, a black Cadillac straight off the line. He was fresh from a party with some of his workers and stunk of illegal moonshine and was overly touchy, but Mary tried not to mind.
“Come on love, let’s get you to bed,” she said as she guided him down the hallway to their bedroom, black and white pictures of them beaming together peered back. She plopped him on the bed, he giggled at this, and she started to untie his shoes and remove his socks and belt.
“Woah, woah. Is this my wife? Are we going to have some fun tonight?” he garbled out at her, trying to grasp at her receding form.
She laughed uncomfortably. “No, you need to get some rest. We are looking for a dog to buy tomorrow at the pet shoppe, remember?”
“A dog?! Buy? I almost ran over a black kitty cat today! We should take that! Let’s go get the kitty,” he exclaimed, struggling to sit up to go back out.
Gently pushing him down, she tried to remove his shirt and pants, he usually only slept in underwear. “No, we are not. You are deathly allergic to cats. Now bed.”
His pout turned into something else in that moment, something hot, as Mary continued to remove his clothes. When she finished, he pulled her into his bare chest, and she felt a bulge. She tried to ignore it, struggling, “Ha, ha, can you let me go? Please love? Let’s just go to sleep. Please, sleep.”
He had a determined, clouded look in his eyes, and she knew what that look meant. She saw it before with Mr. Rodkins and closed her eyes as Mr. Louve twisted her on the bed and pinned her down.
“I think it’s time dear. Don’t you? Let’s start our family.”
Mary only remembered closing her eyes and her arms being pinned down and the pain, the throbbing pain. Then, when Mr. Louve was done, she was thrown aside like a used toy while he snored blissfully. She did not sleep that night.
The next morning, Mary did not move until the afternoon when Mr. Louve woke. He did not notice his wife until he sat up, clutching his head. It took him three minutes of looking at her fetal position and blank stare and missing underwear for him to remember what had occurred.
He cried, and tried to hug her, to protect her, to beg for forgiveness. She recoiled at every tear and touch. The pain would not go away. The black cloud that haunted her before started to accumulate around her once again, a thunderous sound was building.
Mary and Mr. Louve did not go get a dog that day.
The black cat had perfected the hunt long ago, but she still enjoyed it every time. The chase of watching helpless prey, the pounce and sinking of claws, the killing blow, and the blood, the glorious blood. It tanged metallic in her mouth. The cat especially liked watching the life drain away from her prey. It was the cycle of life, one life for another.
Mary no longer felt anything. She simply went through the actions, but Mr. Louve did try to be very accommodating. Giving her whatever books she wanted, telling her to only deep clean the house every two weeks, that the laundry only had to be done every few days, and a small pile of dishes could be in the sink, but she still felt nothing. If anything, all the extra time made it worse for Mary. She no longer read, only fed the table scrapes to the black cat in jealousy as it sprinted around wildly and tried not to listen to the whispers of black ideas taunting her with the stories of short, beaded dresses and tommy guns and a bloody Valentine’s Day. Idea’s that would make a grown man grow pale. She slowly began to like those thoughts.
Nighttime was the worst, though, sleeping next to him. The dark cloud spoke to Mary the loudest then, and she never seemed to stop shivering, no matter how many blankets she covered herself in. She never felt warm. She did not let Mr. Louve touch her. He eventually stopped trying and would just face the other way as he slept.
One night, still wide awake, in the pitch of night, Mary saw it. Two bright, emerald feline eyes starting at her, perched on her windowsill. The cat just stared at her, totally unaffected by life, and meowed a long yawn, revealing sharp canines coated in fresh blood glistening under the sliver of moonlight. Dark sounds started to yell answers at Mary. Then there was a mocking ‘follow me’ as the cat turned and jumped into the night disappearing, the screaming hit fever pitch. The black cat was boundless; it faced no consequences.
Mary decided to quiet the ideas rattling about in her head and snuck out of bed; muscle memory ingrained in her from the many mornings spent with Mr. Rodkins making her missing presence unnoticeable. She went into the kitchen, grabbing the knife she butchered Sunday roasts with. She made excellent Sunday roasts. Even her mother liked them. Creeping back into the bedroom, the knife winking in the winter moon, she plunged it deep into Mr. Louve’s bare chest, again and again. Blood spurted over her and the bed and the knife, voices inside her cheering.
Mr. Louve’s eyes snapped open, as he scrambled to stop the barrage of attacks in a flurry of animalistic fear, pushing Mary back. She stumbled with the now bloody knife; her nightgown dusted in a fine spray of his blood. He looked down at the leaking holes in his chest, eyes frantic, trying to understand. Mary, chest heaving, clear frustration on her face, walked forward poised to attack again. He scramble to stop her again, but then stopped, closed his eyes, and went suddenly still.
Mary stopped confused, knife slowly being lowered.
In a bloody garble with tears flowing down his face he replied, “I I I I… foorrr…”
Mary would not let him finish, that is not what the black cloud wanted, that is not what she wanted; she angrily jammed the knife deep into him again and again and again. She could feel the knife scrape against his ribs, tear through his flesh, feel the different densities of tissue. Mr. Louve struggled, grabbing at her arms, but he was too weak, too much blood loss. She simply brushed off his grabbing hands like insolent flies. He made sad little whimper sounds too, small gasps, and he continued to cry, eyes helpless, but Mary did not stop until all that was left was an explosion of blood, until he cried no more.
The cloud that hovered over her dissipated, and she made a bloody stroll to the kitchen, mindlessly humming a bright tune, mind clear, as she put the scarlet knife in the sink and cleaned it with the small pile of dishes from dinner. Feeling the blood start to dry and itch on her skin she washed up. She didn’t want the blood to stain her hands. She made a small dish of leftovers and set it outside. She had an escape plan to follow. She packed her clothes in a small suitcase, a gift from Mr. Louve before their marriage, ignoring the leaking pool of blood forming on the bed and the floor or the steps of blood trampled from the bedroom to the kitchen. It was no longer her problem. Carefully, she arranged all her books in a large bag and went into the attic, grabbing a random box and dumping it. Outpoured old pictures of her and Mr. Rodkins, her mother and uncle, some of the frames cracking from impact. She left them.
She packed the Cadillac with her small suitcase and bag of books and waited with her empty box on the porch.
The black cat was hungry and wanted a small snack before her morning nap. As the sun slowly crept up her nose led her to a fresh dish of scraps. She hesitantly sniffed the food, tasting a small bite before digging in. The cat did not notice the human with flecks of blood on their face until their hands were already around her. The black cat did not appreciate this, and she started scratching, hissing, wiggling, anything for the human to let her go, but the human didn’t seem to feel the black cat’s sharp claws, or the pain followed by the rivets of blood, no this human seemed to feel nothing. The human simply laughed and said, “Feisty kitty, I know how you feel.” The black cat was placed into a dusty carboard box punched with holes and quickly sealed in with packing tape. She meowed and hissed and scratched, but the box was carefully put on the seat of a black Cadillac, the heavy door clanging shut, sealing her tomb.
She was no longer free.