I got a little drunk and looked at cats on my computer. The rescue nearest my house presented me with a lengthy application. The next day, someone from the shelter emailed me an invitation to meet the cats. When I opened the email it meowed and meowed. I left it open so I could start to understand what I was getting myself into.
Gidget Ghella-Cole met me at the door of Ghella-Cole Cats. She wore a collage of cats on her blouse that was tucked into those safari kind of pants that were tucked into militaristic boots that came halfway up her calves, and she also wore, for some reason, sunglasses and an old cap with her ponytail looped through the back.
“Hi, I’m—,” I began.
She took off her shades to get a good look at me.
“I know just who you are.” She folded the sunglasses and tucked them into her blouse pocket where they disappeared behind a dozen cats. “Come on in, sir. Why don’t you come on in?”
Before I got to see any cats, she took me to her office. She hung her frayed baseball cap on the wall where a secret hook shaped like a cat tail emerged from the wallpaper that, like her blouse, teemed with cats of all kinds—anywhere I looked I found a different breed. A tabby, a calico, a Bengal, a Persian, even one of those hairless Egyptian numbers. Black cats, white cats, ginger cats, grey cats. They climbed all over each other, over the trees, in piles on the ground. Floor to ceiling, nothing but cats.
“Are you distracted, sir? Is there something more important on your mind?”
“Oh, no, I’m fine. This wallpaper—”
“Yes, the wallpaper, the wallpaper. Now, sir, if you don’t mind I’d like to ask you a few questions. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“Are you a comedian?”
“I said, ‘Are you a comedian,’ sir? You think you’re funny? You tell jokes?”
“Well my friends say—why?”
“Sir, on your application, let me direct you to question number sixty-five.”
She produced a very thick stack of papers to slam on the desk in front of me.
“Please direct your attention to question number sixty-five. The question reads, ‘What would you do if your cat could talk and it was racist?’ Do you remember answering this question, sir?”
I opened my mouth.
“No need, sir, I have your answer right here. Question number sixty-five you answered, ‘I would slap that motherfucker across his little racist mouth.’ Now, sir, does that sound like the sort of thing a responsible cat parent would say?”
I opened my mouth wider.
“No need to explain, sir. The test was designed by me for personality assessment. I think there are a number of cats here that would suit a wisenheimer like yourself.”
She opened a manila folder and started plopping down 8 x 10 photos of cats.
“This is Rum Tum Tucker.” Plop. “Jennymanydots.” Plop. “Mrs. Mistoffelees.” Plop. “McCavity.” Plop. “Nucularina.” Plop. “Grizzlybell.” Plop. “Do any of these cats suit you, sir? I have dozens more.”
“That one,” I said, pointing to the first one.
“Rum Tum Tucker. Interesting. Very interesting. He’s not like the other cats. Come with me, sir.”
She led me to a door that opened to cat paradise. Sunlight beamed through huge windows across one wall, each with a perch where a happy little fur-fellow sunned himself belly-up. A forest of cat trees lined the opposite wall, some of the carpeted towers reached all the way to the ceiling while some only came up to my knee. Cats sat tucked away in the caverns, lounged languidly in the hammocks, and stretched from their shoulder blades down to their little toe beans on the platforms. They swatted at the dangling puff toys and leapt from and to the many, many roosts.
And the cats! They pranced around the open floor with not a cage in sight. They chased each other, batted at rolling toys, and curled in upon themselves where the sunlight warmed the floor. It was like Swan Lake. Kittens somersaulted into kibble-filled bowls. A Maine Coon did figure eights around my ankles, just squealing with glee. A tubby senior tom strutted through the center of the floor, causing every calico in the room to swoon at his deliberate gait.
“These are Ghella-Cole cats, sir,” Gidget said.
“I’ll say they are!”
“Please continue to follow me, sir. Rum Tum Tucker is in his private suite. He’s not like the other cats, you see.”
We reached a door that had a fancy piece of paper taped to it, reading “Reserved for Rum Tum Tucker” in curlicues. I could feel the beginning of the rest of my life like a grand prize behind that door.
“Rum Tum Tucker,” she knocked, “may we come in?”
“Meow,” he said.
“You may enter, but whatever you do, don’t look him in the eye.”
I was too confused to ask questions. The door clicked shut behind me. Not in an ominous way but not in a completely not-ominous way either. Rum Tum Tucker sat on a little pillow, his front half upright, his back half relaxed into a cat puddle. His tail flicked as if strung from a wire.
“Meow,” he said. He didn’t meow the way a cat would meow but said meow the way a person would. “Meow.”
“Well hello to you, too,” I replied.
He flopped to the floor and writhed, folding his tail over his crotch in what I took as modesty. “Meow,” he kept saying. He seemed to me a jolly fellow. I put my hand out so he could smell me—when I was drunk I read that’s how cats decide if they love you or not, by smell. Rum Tum Tucker’s nose bounced twice, and he didn’t scream or throw feces at me, so I assumed it was going well.
He nudged my knuckles with that cold little schnoz of his, and I thought this is it, this is the rest of my life. I scratched him under the chin, and he made this gleeful little squeal somewhere in the depths of his throat. His whole body thrummed with purrs. He squeezed his sweet little eyes shut, and I thought of Gidget’s warning not to look in his eyes. She’d also said Rum Tum Tucker wasn’t like the other cats, and I agreed. This was a genuine, bona fide, 100 percent sweetheart.
And then he opened his eyes. I’d seen cats with blue eyes, green eyes, that kind of weird yellowy color, but Rum Tum Tucker held the wilds of space and time in his irises. Comets shot past his retina; galaxies spiraled. Stars burst into and out of existence right before my very eyes, and I thought woah this is kind of weird. I tried to push myself up to my knees so that I could get to my feet, but my hands went right past where the floor should have been, and there I was sitting in outer space with a chipper little kitty by my side.
My eyes got big and bigger, and I wanted them to keep growing so that I could take in all the splendors of creation. The further through space we traveled, the less it looked like cosmos and asteroids and the more it came to look like tree branches and cacti, like tentacles jiggling through the dimensions. Massive flowers bloomed with more flowers blooming inside of them and inside of those flowers were more flowers and more flowers inside those until one final flower opened and there was Gidget Ghella-Cole looking exactly the same except she’d let down her long hair and it flowed, waving behind her into eternity. And also her skin was now a pastel shade I’d never seen before and knew I’d never see again.
“You looked him in the eye, didn’t you,” she said.
I grabbed onto something, only to find I grasped a broad follicle of Rum Tum Tucker’s fur in each hand. He’d grown massive, and I rode on his back like a flea through the music of the stars. It sounded like opera, if opera were from an underwater future that finally knew world peace and had put an end to injustice everywhere. But the music didn’t just sound, it tasted, it felt, it looked. It occupied every sense I knew and more I didn’t, and Rum Tum Tucker sang along.
“Meow, meow, meowwwwww!” he sang, and his voice was beautiful.
Together we soared through the celestial goop, spiraling until we both got Rum-Tum-Tuckered out.
“Meow,” he said again, back in his little suite at Ghella-Cole Cats.
That sweet boy put his paws in my lap so he could bump my chin with his nose. I rubbed each side of him, looking for stardust caught in his fur. I remembered my science textbook in school. On Saturn it rains diamonds—that’s why it has so many rings.
I scooped him up like a baby, yet still I felt that somehow he held me. I opened the door of his suite to go back to the cat playground, but a semicircle of cats blocked my path. They clustered around my feet, gazing up at us. One of them, the Maine Coon I took as their leader, began doing that weird chirping thing cats do sometimes when they’re talking to bugs or birds or ghosts. His friends started the same thing. Soon more cats joined the semicircle around me. They came from everywhere, from left and right, from the windowsills, from the cat trees. I think some even creeped out of the wallpaper, or there were so many that I couldn’t tell where the real cats ended and the wallpaper cats began. Where there should have been a floor was cats. Where there should have been walls, cats. Ceiling, windows, the street outside where my car should have been parked—all cats.
They all started doing the clicking thing, and it took a moment, but when all their wonderful little cat voices came together it became something more than just cats making weird noises; it was music. The truest, purest song I’d ever heard. Theirs was a unified voice, but still a multitude, as pure and sweet as children singing in a choir for Christmas. The Maine Coon belted with an enviable vibrato! I succumbed to the innocence of it all and sang along.
Sean Littlefield Chumley is a Chicago-based writer, optician and baker. His work has previously appeared in X-R-A-Y and Solstice and is forthcoming from descant, for which he is the 2021 recipient of the Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. He holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently at work on a novel. He’d love to stay and chat, but he has cookies in the oven.
Jan Price is not interested in drawing, painting, or soft sculpture unless it depicts people. She sells her paintings at art shows; her art/greeting cards through gift shops and her art often appears in poetry journals. Jan also includes her art in self-created poetry books, which she leaves on seats in parks, cinemas, train stations, cafes, libraries and book exchange venues. Jan loves to use a variety of mediums and is always experimenting with new ways to show emotion through her art. An example of her latest work is to photograph then paint people through water running down glass. These paintings are very popular. Jan also studies Thought Switching to help people with depression.