The Cat – a story by Ranney Campbell

The Cat

“When I see anyone laughing, I just think, don’t you know? How can you laugh? How can people walk around laughing and carrying on like that?”

“Oh, Richard.”

“Seriously. Think about it. It’s sick.”

“Richard,” she shushed. “You should know better than anyone. None of it will matter. In the end. Right?”

“But, just think of the dolphins. That should keep anyone from laughing. I don’t know what we’re doing here. What were we thinking? This is crazy. The whole world’s so fucked.”

“Richard.”

“They say all the fish in the ocean could be gone in forty years. Just jellyfish! That’s all. That’s all that will be left. And, that’s bad. That’s really bad. But when I think of the starving dolphins. Washing up on shore? Can you imagine? My god. And the whales. That just gets to me. The dolphins and the whales. That really gets to me.”

You should know better than anyone.” She sat on his lap. “Tell me again.”

“What?”

“Tell me. About the one thing you know for sure.”

“What. Oh, that? Jesus, Kirsten. You have heard it so many times, you might as well tell it to me.”

“But I love to hear you tell it.” She ran her finger down the bridge of his nose. “I love to watch you remember.”

He groaned.

“Tell me.”

“Jesus.” Her anticipation weakened him. “Okay. So. Imagine a black room.”

“Yeah?”

“The blackest black.”

“Yeah.”

“Black ceiling. Black walls. No windows.”

She nodded.

“Black floor. Imagine the darkest black you’ve ever seen.”

“Got it.”

“Now, imagine, in the black room, you close your eyes. Blacker still.”

Her eyes closed.

“Then you cover your closed eyes. Nothing blacker. Right?”

“Right.”

“It was darker than that.”

She opened her eyes. 

“I don’t know how else to say it. It was darker than the darkest black I can even imagine.”

“But not scary.”

“Not scary in the least.”

“That’s nice.”

“It was nice.” He leaned back into the chair.

“And then you heard the voice?”

“Not right away, but I didn’t hear a voice, because I didn’t have ears. I knew I didn’t have a body. But that was later. The voice.”

“First, you struggled.”

“Yes. For a long time. I felt like I was suffocating. And I was fighting. I thought I was fighting, like, I was trying to swim, but then it dawned on me, I wasn’t under water. I wasn’t even moving. But I was struggling to breathe anyway, but just, in my mind. And, eventually…damn.” He grimaced. “That was so awful. I hate remembering that part.”

“Move it along then.”

“Well. Yeah. Anyway, at some point it just dawned on me that I wasn’t suffocating, because it had been too long and I should have passed out by then. Right?”

She nodded.

“And then it just stopped. The struggle. Then I felt like I was floating, but I couldn’t really feel anything, like how we can feel things. I mean, I couldn’t feel my skin, but not like I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything, physically. Not cold. Not hot. Nothing. No physical sensations. Then I kind of sensed; this is not earthly. You know? Then I was thinking, I don’t know, like, curious, like, what’s this?”

“But you weren’t afraid?”

“Not once I gave up struggling. Once I gave up struggling it felt great. And once I realized I had no body, it was even better. You would think that you would miss your body. But I didn’t. I was totally there, my whole being, who I am, and I didn’t need my body. It was freeing. So weird. You wouldn’t think it would be like that. But that’s how I felt. Free.” 

“Free’s good. I like freedom.”

“Then there was this flood of feeling. Like relief times ten. Or something. It was better than anything I can really describe.”

“Love. You said love before.”

“Well, that’s what I’ve said. It’s the closest word to it, but way more than the word we use here.”

The word we use here. Funny. You were, what do you think? Floating in the universe?”

“No. There weren’t any stars or anything. It’s really impossible to describe.” He squirmed a little. She patted his chest. “It wasn’t here anywhere. I can’t explain it.”

“Yes you can. Go on. Tell me.”

“I was floating and I was remembering people. And, the one that shocked me was this woman…”

“From the grocery line!”

“Yeah. The woman in the grocery line. That had happened years earlier. I had forgotten about her. Just a stranger in line. But, there she was.”

“She was kind to you. At the store.”

“Yeah. I was scrounging up change, and the cashier got indignant. And I looked back at her; embarrassed.”

“And she smiled at you.”

“Yeah. The way she smiled. It was so genuine.”

Kirsten smiled. He smiled.

“And then you heard the voice.”

“Yeah, but…”

“You didn’t hear it. You had no ears.”

“Right. It was, like, in my head.”

“But, you didn’t have a head.”

“Right, but, I don’t know how else, anyway, it was like a thought, but not my thought. Not from inside my head. It was like, an implanted thought. It was someone else. I don’t know. I’ve thought about this, to try to describe it better, but the feeling was like…”

“Was it God?”

“No. Definitely not God. I don’t know, it was like, it seemed like, a guide of some sort.” He shifted in his seat. “That sounds corny.”

“No, it doesn’t. I think it sounds lovely.”

“That’s the closest I can get.”

“What did it say, or convey, or whatever. Implant.”

“It said, nothing bad you did ever mattered.”

“That’s good news.”

“And I have never been so utterly convinced that something was true. It took a second to digest it. But…it just felt…so true. And once I fully accepted that, I mean, fully, fully knew that was true, and accepted that, and leaned back into that knowledge, and relaxed, and things settled, it said…nothing good you did ever mattered.”

“That’s so cool. Like, no one’s keeping score.”

“Yeah, but even better. I don’t know how to describe it.”

“Hmmm.”

“Oh. I know. Total acceptance. I mean total, complete, no bullshit acceptance.”

“I almost can’t wait.”

He squeezed her. “You’re not leaving me.” She kissed his forehead. He looked down at her growing middle, placed his hand on her belly. He looked away. “That’s when I started moving. It was a G-force. But I couldn’t feel it in my body. I had no body. There was no wind, sound. Nothing. But I felt it anyway.”

“Where were you going?”

“No idea.” He laughed out loud. “No earthly idea.”

“Ha!”

“It was just getting better and better and I loved it. Total acceptance. No troubles. No bills. No boss. No nothing. I was moving so fast, faster than anything I’ve ever experienced. Into something. A sense. A feeling. This enveloping sense of support. That I was utterly loved and supported by everything. Every thing. Everything. All around me. In me. Everywhere. Love.”

“Then?”

“Then I remembered my cat.”

“Stuck in your apartment.”

“Yeah.”

“Poor kitty.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. So. Then?”

“Then, everything stopped. Full stop.”

“Aww.”

“Yeah.”

“And then?”

“Then the voice said, well, not said.”

“I know. Implanted.”

He chuckled. “Yeah. It implanted…do you want to go back?

“And you went back?”

“No. I mean, I took a second to think about it. I was torn. I mean, damn, it felt so good. I didn’t want to go back. But then I saw his little orange face, and I was like, shit, I should go back. And then I thought, yeah. And the second, and I mean the very exact second, millisecond, that I had the thought…I was back.”

“Damn.”

“I sat up on the gurney and took this huge breath and then just passed out again.”

“The doctor told you that?”

“No. I mean, yeah. He confirmed it. When I talked to him about it the next day, he confirmed it. He said I was dead for a minute and seventeen seconds. Well, he didn’t say dead, of course. He said that my heart stopped and I stopped breathing, and they didn’t do anything to bring me back, because, well, they didn’t think I would be able to survive the brain injury, but yeah, he confirmed that I sat up and took in this big breath.”

“I’m glad about that cat. It worked out for me.”

He looked down and smiled, sheepish. “That cat went missing six months after that.”

“Well, I’m glad he didn’t go missing six months before that.” She put her face on his. “And, you don’t have to worry about the dolphins.”

“I guess not.”

“They’ll be okay. Either way. Right?”

“Once they give up the struggle.”

“Yes. Once they give up the struggle.”

 Ranney Campbell earned BS and MFA degrees from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and lives in Southern California. Her poetry has been published by Misfit Magazine and Shark Reef, among others, and is forthcoming in Haight Ashbury Literary Journal. Her chapbook, “Pimp,” is published by Arroyo Seco Press.

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