Nine Lives - a Flash Fiction Short Story for The Ink Well

For Angel: 2004-2021


Source: My own photo

Of my two daughters, Maggie was the stable one, with a sensible answer for every difficulty life threw at us. Except when it came to the cat.

One morning as I collected my things for the office, she pointed out the window. “Mommy, the cat got out again.” She blinked at me, trying as always to be the big girl.

I wanted to pick her up and swing her around and play silly games all day. But I had to get out the door pronto, get the girls to school, and rush to an important meeting. And now the damned cat had escaped again. I sighed. An absent minded husband and two girls running in and out of the house gave Angel all the opportunities she needed.

Just then Belle came running in. “Mommy, my shoe ties knotted up again.” Tears poured past her tiny lashes and I brushed them away. I took the shoes from her hand, dismayed at the impossibly tangled laces. “Wear the slip-ons today, okay? We really need to go.”

Maggie cried out, “What about Angel?”

I saw that she was now crying too. Belle ran to get her shoes, and I knelt down again. My computer bag slid off my arm and plopped to the floor. It occurred to me that there really isn’t a parenting handbook in the world that can prepare you for all the maddening moments that test your patience, your composure — indeed, your very grip on sanity.

“Listen, my sweet girl,” I said. “It’s well known that cats have nine lives. Angel is young, and she hasn’t used up a single one yet. She will be fine.” Truth be told, I was worried as well. But I didn’t have time to look for her. “I promise, she’ll be here when we come home.”

She wasn’t, though. I will never forget how we looked everywhere that evening. She had vanished. I thought about dogs, coyotes, raccoons, owls and a busy road not far from our home, all of which could claim the life of a nine-month old cat.

Roland searched the roadways and woods. The girls cried and wouldn’t eat dinner, and I had to console them with cocoa and extra stories to get them to sleep. As I recall, I poured a stout glass of Zinfandel once I was able to call it a day. That was so many years ago. Funny how certain things stay fresh in your mind.

Angel did not come back that night. Nor the next day. My despondent girls could barely be coaxed to dress for school. I knew chances were slim, but I remained upbeat. “She’s an explorer,” I said. “She’s on a grand tour of the countryside.”

Then, on the third day, she came home — tired, skinny and hungry, but alive and purring — and was duly treated like a queen. Burrs were brushed from her coat, and she was fed milk and tuna and then swaddled in a soft towel.

And I thought: one down, eight to go.

Angel never disappeared again, as if she had mapped her territory and was satisfied that home was at its epicenter.

But she loved to stay out on warm summer nights, and she came back rather worse for the wear on several occasions. Once she returned with blood on her paw and walked with a limp for days. Another time, a notch had been bitten out of her ear. And yet another time her coat was matted with damp leaves, as if she had skirmished with something feral in the woods.

Source: My own photo

Those times we only guessed what had befallen her. Then there were the others. When Roland accidentally locked her in the shed for two days. When she had to be rescued from a treetop. When a vicious dog chased her into a blackberry thicket. And the day I saw her run across the street under the wheels of a garbage truck, but was miraculously safe on the other side.

She was an invincible wonder. A Houdini. And yet… as those close calls transpired, I failed to count them. Until the night the owl came calling.

Angel had slipped out. I heard an owl hoot. Twigs snapping. A cry. A fight. Then silence.

When morning dawned, she was not at the door like always, and I knew. Roland and I hugged. Then we texted the girls, away at college. They sent back sad emojis and broken hearts. I could not find one for kitty heaven.

My dear friends, thank you for reading my short story. It is exactly 750 words, as called for in The Ink Well fiction prompt.

This is what you might call a historical fiction piece. The irony is that my cat passed away this week. (I am the one who wrote and posted the prompt in The Ink Well, having no idea what would transpire with my cat.)

So I've written this story in her honor, including a picture from when she was very young and a recent one, age 17. Angel was a cat who could not be kept inside. We lost her to an owl, after many years of her living her life the way she wanted to live. I am grateful we had her as long as we did.

Note: This is a completely fictionalized account.

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