Don’t Read Alone
This story was written in the voice and style of Keith Morrison/Dateline. Read as such.
Temple Terrace, Florida–home of discarded couches and hookah lounges–and to a rather unusual cat, Steve Bennett. Steve was not a pure bred cat. Somewhere in his blood line, there was some dog in him. He seldom arched his back in arrogance, angry that his house rules had not been followed. Instead, he greeted his family–even strangers–at the door with a meow and a rub against any calf that would let him in range. Steve was needy. Steve was looking for friends. On the outside, he seemed perfectly friendly. But a friendly cat is an oxymoron. Things are not always what they seem. Steve was harboring a loneliness that seemed innocent enough. Until it wasn’t. Steve’s search for love led him to the brink of desperation.
In simpler times, August 2014 to be exact, Steve was in the prime of his life. He was at the top of his game. His owners, the Bennetts, had come to accept that he, in fact, owned them. They played along and everything went exactly as it should. Steve had a good life there on Main Street. But one thing had been withheld from him.
A beta fish, set high on a table top and protected by a $12 plastic topped container, swam in circles that Steve was not allowed to enter. The fish was named Swift. Ironic, because in the end, speed could not save him.
Steve knew that cats and fish were not friends. He knew, because he knew things. It was against house rules set by the humans. But all Steve wanted was companionship. So when the family left the house, for non-cat activities, Steve would hop up to the table and commune with Swift. Swift did not know as many things as Steve knew. That’s how it is for fish and cats. But Swift, for all he didn’t know, knew that Steve was not his friend. Steve was to be feared. For awhile, Swift managed to circle his bowl at just the perfect speed and trajectory to make Steve a tad sleepy. During this honeymoon period, they appeared to be friends. Steve would sit bowlside, peacefully thinking about ways to further cement this relationship. He tried everything. Long gazes under the glow of the moonbeams spilling through the blinds. Reading the news to Swift. Pucker faces.
It was, at best, an unrequited friendship. Swift was cold to Steve. He didn’t like the news. He was creeped out by the moonlight. He blew his bubbles the other direction. He turned his fins on Steve. For a few weeks, Steve focused his affections on the children in the house. On his litter box. On his warm spot between the window and the blinds where he watched discarded couches go by.
In December 2014, everything changed.
Steve’s family went out of town. They had plans to frolic in the snows of Indiana. No one invited Steve. He was given enough food to get by, a clean litter box, and a neighbor to watch him on occasion. He searched his soul and found his circumstances to be unacceptable.
It was time.
Steve was taking control.
What happened in the next few days is anybody’s guess. There were only two witnesses and one of them was no longer witnessing. Steve’s family came home to a blood bath. Swift had been murdered and left to die in several pieces on the wood floors, far from the comfort of his tap water–the only home he’d ever known. Steve was off behind the laundry basket doing his thing. He wasn’t talking.
The family wanted to believe that this was somehow a grisly accident. That Steve had nothing to do with it. But a few days following Swift’s funeral, Steve’s human mama, Pippy, came around the corner to find Steve with his paw actually in the bowl that was once home to the family fish. It was as red-handed a moment as they were going to get.
Steve could see the devastation in their eyes. He knew he’d been found out, because Steve knows things. The family pulled together and together took the baby steps forward through the stages of grief, each stage lasting less than a minute. Steve slunk around with his tail down for a day or two, waiting to see if the humane society would be called in. He hung onto a strand of hope that they would get him another fish. Neither happened and life continued after Swift’s violent demise the same as it had before.
Steve wondered about that a little. Humans are funny folks. But in the end, he realized again that it was his house, his rules. And according to his rules, fish was always on the menu.
Circle of life.