March 10, 2023
Excerpt - “Addio-Love Monster” - Winner of the CWA Book of the Year Award for Indie Fiction
By Christina Marrocco
To Be a Cat is a Fine Thing
Gatto-Fred knew what was what. He knew how to appreciate the way the weather had not been too hot nor too rainy nor too dry all summer long. He knew how to make sure he was fed every day and could avoid eating rats and mice in general, except for those stupid enough to come into His Woman’s house. Those he ate, not because he relished the taste—they were just alright—but because catching and eating them was pleasing to His Woman. He knew not to eat the sick ones in the alley.
So, Gatto-Fred knew his needs, but he also knew his responsibilities—and always his needs and his responsibilities aligned because he was a natural cat. For instance, he walked beside His Woman to the shops and waited outside the door of each as she shuffled in over the thresholds to take things away from the men who stood behind the counters. She was old; he could smell the old on her, and he liked her that way.
Today, like many days, Gatto-Fred sat and watched His Woman’s baby buggy to keep other cats away while she was inside the shop made of wood. He had seen other women, young women pushing theirs around with babies inside, but His Woman was cleverer than that—she pushed food in it. And when she came out of the shop, he sniffed the bag she carried for fish heads. He wasn’t disappointed. There was always one for him. Sometimes they went to the next shop for some soft cheese as well, which he truly enjoyed. His best times with her were when they were alone in the kitchen on some rainy afternoon. She would feed a smear of cheese to him from the tip of her finger. He was always careful not to bite, only to lick.
When His Woman had finished taking things from all the favorite shops and the buggy was full, he watched her put her fist to her chest and pound three times, which meant it was time to walk home. A sign. And so, of course, he walked her all the way home, his paws padding the warm sidewalk, his tail straight up and hooked to the side with pride, his one eye watchful. People admired him as he strutted past, but he did not look at them, only at her, His Woman. He noticed other cats stuck behind glass windows, staring, as he made his way with the lovely scent of fish and cheese like a fog around them. These other cats, trapped and stupid, he knew must wish they were him.
Gatto-Fred was unafraid of the traffic in the street, as he understood it stayed on the street. He kept to the sidewalk, taking care not to get caught beneath the wheels of the buggy, full of brown paper sacks, or under the square heels of her shoes. He meowed for good measure, every once in a while, to keep things moving.
When they arrived at home, His Woman wrestled the buggy to make it go up the steps to the front porch. It reared up on big back wheels and she grunted. He waited for her at the top, like always, looking down and urging her as best he could. When she finally opened the screen door, as was custom, Gatto-Fred slipped in first. He was a cat, so that was what was expected of him. Also, it was what he wished.
Gatto-Fred trotted straight to the kitchen for water. He leapt onto the sink to drink directly from the faucet. She opened the tap for him so that it came out in a perfect thin stream. He put his paw into the stream over and over, licking the water from his fur. He preferred to drink that way rather than put his face up to the stream and get water up his nose. When he was done, he leapt down to let her know she could close the tap for now. He was satisfied.
Next, Gatto-Fred helped her by going inside one of the empty brown paper bags that lay on its side on the floor while she put away the things. He was glad that His Woman didn’t touch him of her own accord but always waited for him to head-butt her arm or drop down from the high dresser onto her shoulder. Hugging and squeezing and picking up were things he just could not abide, which was why he disliked children. And he especially hated babies. Whenever there was one of those around, other women came with them, and these other women would chase him out of the room with a newspaper the second he got anywhere near the baby.
But no matter, there were no babies here now. No one but him and His Woman. So he sat in her lap while she fed him a cut up chicken kidney from the ice box. He let her stroke his thick fur—even letting her rub the little hollow place between the pads of his paws, where there was no fur, with her finger. Gatto-Fred closed his eyes and spread his toes so she could get in there better. But it wasn’t all just convenience for him, no, Gatto-Fred really loved His Woman. And because he loved her, he made sure no other cat ever got close to her. This task kept him busy in the home and outdoors.
That night, like every night—after his dinner of fish head, Gatto Fred meowed to His Woman so she would open the front door to let him outside.
Mow! Meow! Mow! He liked to change it up to let her know when he was in a hurry.
She used her front legs to push herself up from her chair, and he twined himself between her back ankles helping her move along the floor. When she finally opened the door, she held it open for him as he went in and out a few times before leaving for the night. This was to let her know it wasn’t easy to leave her—it wasn’t done lightly. He told her not to let any cats, dogs, or babies into the house and he’d see her in the morning. But once he did go, he never looked back at her—though he knew she stood with the door still open and watched him go. He could feel her gaze on his shoulders.
At liberty, in the dark of night, Gatto-Fred conducted his business.
First, he made sure no other cats were near the home, not in the bushes, up the trees, in the vegetable garden.
Second, he shit in the neighbor kids’ sandboxes.
Third, he sprayed all over the neighborhood. From the place where the giant, long car-thing screamed along the tracks to the house where the three horrible long-haired dogs lived, on the other side of the busy road. It was why he’d drunk all that water at the faucet. It took a lot to do a good job.
Gatto-Fred liked to make love before he fought, but the other way around was fine as well. He walked the tops of a few wooden fences looking for queens in heat or male cats to batter and bite. Tonight, like most nights, he came across the two at once—and he was so delighted, he didn’t know what to do first.
So he simply let his wildness take him.
The knot of fighting-mating cats, of which Gatto-Fred was central, spun like a child’s top around the neighborhood without any thought to direction or location, feinting and leaping, sexing and scratching. The weather was fair and still—dogs barked, but only from behind fences and on clotheslines and chains up and down the alleys. So the cats did not care. They knew any dog that could get them would not come barking. Barkers were nothing.
In time, they found themselves in front of the house of the man who smelled of wet chickens. That man had a little gun and cracked the gun at cats whenever he liked. One night, when the snow had just melted, Gatto-Fred had seen a small cat get hit in the neck and a big cat in the belly. The first died while it was still running and the second many nights later in a terrible state.
It was long ago, when he was younger and not as careful that he’d been up on the old fence ready to leap down on a couple of new orange cats—find out what they were about. He’d never heard the window open or seen the little gun. When it hit him, it blew the eye right out of his head. He’d run and run through the neighborhood to get away from the pain, but it followed him. He’d hidden in an empty shed for a long time, for many nights, before he staggered back to His Woman. She put water and plants on his eye and raised her voice at him. And ever since then, he always tried to stay away from that wet-chicken-smelling house. But the other cats were headed there, and he fell in with them anyway. Like most nights, he had no choice.
In front of that house, they yowled and fought, mated and screeched some more. It was alive. They were alive. They called the man and his gun to do their worst. They dared the dogs to break their chains. Until they heard the window opening. Then they streaked away into the night—in a dozen different directions.
The man barked horrible noises into the air, from his window hole, as they ran. That chicken smell coming from his open mouth and the air behind him.
Gatto-Fred felt his missing eye ache as he flew past chain link fences—a hollow sort of feeling in his skull. His heart pounded and ached a little. He needed a rest, so he decided to call it a night, go back home to look in on His Woman. He always felt the best view of her at night was from the pear tree, so when he got there, he clawed his way straight up it. He could see into the open window of the room where she slept. Even in the dark—of course he could. There she was, in her bed, snoring like a darling. The human purr.
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