I never thought I’d do this, but I have, I took a story written in English, translated it into Norwegian and entered it into a contest. It was a wild ride.
That story made it from the quarter-finals into to semi-finals of the contest, and cup, where readers’ votes determine the outcome (until November 5th).
I promised I would post the English original for whoever wanted to read (and possibly vote for it) so here it goes:
The link to the contest version in Norwegian is here.
1 Pet Therapy
They got the first cat, a rescue, after her second miscarriage. It was her husband’s idea. He had done all the paperwork while she recovered. It was his way of showing that he cared. When she fed it, it would brush itself against her legs. The rest of the time, it’d be in hiding, waiting for the right moment to attack her feet or the book she was reading or the brush she was about to run through her hair. It never responded to the name they’d given it, so they soon started calling it the Red Devil. As pet therapy, that didn’t have much value. It did help her coworkers, though, who now could converse about what new misdeeds the cat had done and stop looking sad when they met her while carefully avoiding her now empty womb.
They Red Devil was to be an indoor cat, They hadn’t talked about this either, but the way it slipped close to the window as soon as there was movement in the tree outside, it became clear that this was the only way to save the birds from its claws. When it sat in the windowsill, you could see its hunting spirit come alive. Even after it should have learned that windows were real, it kept trying to claw its way through them, whenever a wing fluttered by.
The expensive cat tree they’d bought was left unused. It preferred climbing the curtains and furniture. Her husband said it would calm down once it got used to being with them, but instead it was the two of them who adapted to the cat’s personally and learned how to avoid getting treated to its claws. And still there were occasional underclaw attacks. She almost cried when it ruined a good pair of nylons just as she was getting ready to leave for work. Her husband laughed, saying it was good to get used to the wear and tear. Their children would likely do worse to the house once they arrived. She changed into pants that day and stuffed the ruined tights into her underwear drawer. They stayed there as a reminder she should have asked him what the Hell he meant when he said that.
The second cat walked in their front door one day, a few months after the first cat escaped through a window. It had been just a moment’s distraction,. Maybe the cat had been in hiding for a few hours so she forgot about it. The bedroom window was wide open to air out their bedsheets after a night of tossing and turning. They kept waiting for it to come back or someone to call to respond to the poster with a blurry photo of a red cat that her husband had put up on every lamp post around the neighbourhood. When a month had passed, she went out to buy new curtains to replace the ones the cat had pulled threadbare with its claws. She didn’t need a reminder of what she had done every time they sat down to watch TV in the living-room. She put them up while he was out exercising, to surprise him, but he didn’t even notice. He never said anything to suggest he blamed her for losing the cat, but some evenings he said so little, she had to go to the bedroom to get a break from it all, in the middle of watching a movie.
The second cat walked through the house as if it had always lived there; its black and white tail weaving in and out between the furniture without ever trying its claws. It didn’t have any tag, so she imagined it had been abandoned, or that the owner had died. She called it Cocó, and after a few days it came straight to her as soon as she called its name. When they watched TV at night, it would curl up in her lap and distract her with its loud purring. He told her she looked much better because she did—and he no longer needed to say things just to cheer her up.
“Maybe we could adopt,” he said one night they were spooning in bed, and while she didn’t respond, her body remained soft and warm, nested inside his.
They had just taken up their evening walks again when they found Cocó’s face on a torn Missing Cat poster a few streets down. She stayed in the bedroom while he made the call. She could hear Cocó scratch outside until the front door was opened, and a woman yelled the name Twinky through the house. He pulled out a good bottle of wine that night to take the edge off. It was a bottle they’d saved for when they had something to celebrate, but he must have forgotten. She drank it anyway, and when the tears finally came she blamed it on the alcohol.
She said no to the third cat straight away. That’s something they agreed on, enough was enough. A woman slightly older than herself knocked on their and several other people’s doors one evening. Their next-door neighbour had fallen in the bathroom and broken her hip. They’d guessed assisted living would be next when they saw the ambulance. The daughter pleaded with them; she was too allergic to keep animals in her home.
They hid behind sympathetic smiles. They were just really busy people, they explained. He’d started training for a triathlon, so he wouldn’t be home much, and she… He stopped himself. There was a lot you should avoid saying about someone who had lost three pregnancies and two cats. “I’ll be starting night classes at local college,” she said, as if that’s something she’d planned to do forever. When the door closed, he just looked past her. You could say a lot without saying anything.
Over the next few days, they watched unfamiliar cars and trucks stop by the old lady’s house and soon return with one or more pieces of 60s furniture. It was easy to get buyers for that kind of stuff on Craigslist. When a white van with a cleaning company logo showed up, she realized the house must now be empty of furniture. But for the cat, there were no takers.
When the daughter showed up the second time, she was the only one at home. She studied the other woman, with her inhaler in hand, as she explained the cat would have to be put to sleep if she couldn’t find anyone to take it in. She had tried, but the asthma was too much.
The cat moved in the next day. It lurked restlessly around the house the first week scouring the place for something familiar and tried to escape every time a door opened. Finally, it peed by the door of the mudroom to show how distraught it was. Every time she got the stench of depressed cat under control, the cat managed to sneak back and pee in the same spot.
Her husband was in a period of intense training. Yet, when he returned home late and opened the door, he had to stop for a moment and spring himself past the scented area.
He didn’t mention the cat or ask about it, and though he could smell it too, through the Lysol, he just walked right past her and straight into the shower without a word.
She understood grief better than most, but the odour was too much, so the second week she let the cat out in the backyard when it wouldn’t stop meowed to go out. Her husband was out on one of his long runs. It was easier to do a thing like that when his gaze bend away from her every time they were close.
She watched the cat leap onto the fence to its old house and escape from her field of vision. She had never seen it move like that before, she had always thought of it as an old cat—wobbly hips that looked like they could give out anytime when it walked, much like the old woman it used to live with. Now it seemed possessed by a teenage spirit.
You’ve lost another one, she told herself; of course, you’d lose another one, careless and stupid as usual. She kneeled down to wash the floor once more with bleach, scouring until her hands turned red. When she got up again, there was the well-known pain in her lower abdomen. They were no longer trying, but it still felt like a monthly failure and an excuse to spend the rest of the afternoon in bed.
Instead, she opened the door to let in the cool autumn air. There was no sign of the cat, but a great commotion of birds from somewhere behind the fence. She ventured out in her slippers to discover what that was all about. The half rotten bird-feeder left by the old woman still held a seed or two, and a half dozen chickadees were carefully cleaning the tray.
In the uncut, frozen grass, the cat’s black tail brushing back and forth, whipping up in its old body the urge to attack. A chronicle of a death foretold. The primordial scream came from somewhere inside she had forgot about. “Not this time” she yelled as her left slipper flew in the direction of the disappearing cat. She took of the right one too, held it in her hand, ready, just in case. Then she just stood. The world smelled of rot and frost and her feet were cold. The chickadees were tweeting something they probably thought was a song.