The Exploding Cat
Itty was a good cat. A sweet, simple, nondescript cat; a black and white cat of average length and
girth - no long whiskers, fluffy tail or green eyes here either. Just a cat.
Itty however was a bit daft. And had a damaged voice box. The combination of these two elements
left my family with conflicting sensations of pity and amusement. A cat was supposed to be
graceful, agile and sensual.
Itty was none of these things. She frequently missed the counter when leaping from the floor,
had wet food dried all over her face, and when trying to communicate, could only squeak out her
dismay or pleasure, like a transistor radio with dying batteries.
It was vaguely troubling, this cat who was very un-cat like. I suppose we all felt that every animal,
ourselves included, had a kind of archetypal existence to fulfill, both physically and behaviorally.
Had a kind of prototypical pressure to live up to. I'll admit that the human animal is perhaps the
most slippery and forgiving of these terms - how many manifestations of what it means to be
human! But a cat? A cat should be a little more reliable somehow.
Alas, Itty was nothing if unpredictable. She'd trip on the dog bowl, sending sic inches of water
across the kitchen floor before scrambling away with sodden paws, terrified at the clatter she had
Itty would defecate two inches left of the litter box - sometimes right on the bathmat or by the front
door. Who needs a mouse or bird as a token of love when you have a hot little cat turd waiting?
She also liked to sleep on your chest or hip while you were sleeping - adding a fuzzy little brick of
disconcerting weight to your lumber.
Perhaps her favorite means of relaxing however (and no it's wasn't catnip, a catnap, or a tangled ball
of string) was to rest her ass on a mug of hot coffee.
My poor father would carefully brew it, admiring the crisp ceramic cup framed by faint wisps of
steam before striding to the bathroom quickly or to the frig for milk.
Itty, perhaps smelling the goods or stalking my father's absence with a cunning that was decidedly
catlike and decidedly un-Itty like, would immediately bound onto the counter, paws slipping on its
slick surface and stride over to the cup. She would then lower her ass slowly, savoring the growing
heat, and finally rest her haunches across the surface of the mug, eyes closed, throat rumbling with a
purr that could only connotate bliss.
Her cunning was fleeting however - she never seemed to listen to father's steps returning to claim
his caffeinkaated elixir.
His face would draw into a snarl, twisted with rage, offering a diametrically opposed visual to the
beastly beatitude of Itty's pleasure.
As Itty grew older, she started developing cataracts. Her eyes grew increasingly opaque, haunting in
their gray-jellied shimmerings.
Eventually she went blind and not surprisingly, never adapted to her affliction, though she must
have had more than 5 years to acquaint herself with the creeping blackness slowly obscuring her
My parents were now living in Connecticut, having traversed the East Coast with me in tow,
wending our way from West Palm Beach to Chapel Hill to Princeton to Westport. I had just
graduated college and was moving into Sunset Park Brooklyn with my best friend Naomi.
Itty's antics had been reduced to stumbling around the screened-in porch, where my father's new
dog, a loping golden doodle, couldn't trample her. But still, my mother felt this was a rather
overwhelming environment for an ailing, old ,and decidedly blind cat. She felt guilty and rather sad
about the cat's condition and so rarely went to the porch, and then felt even guiltier because she so
rarely went onto the porch. Itty wasn't in any visible pain, so we were reluctant to put her down.
A solution was offered; I would take Itty to the new apartment in New York. There she could sleep
all day without worry of an errant paw striking her down.
"She can dunk her ass in your coffee now." my father grinned. I stuck my tongue out, but was
secretly pleased. I get lonely and thought a handicapped cat might be just the ticket to quelling my
increasingly frequent low-down moods. Or, I thought wincing, it could be rather depressing. The
truth is, I never found out either way.
Naomi and I moved into our new place on a cold, sunny day in September. She had her entourage
of strapping young cousins cursing and sweating their way from a minivan to our apartment on
the third floor. They marveled at our colorful mishmash of furniture; wicker met plastic and plaid
mingled with chintz.
My father directed from the sidelines of the sidewalk - citing a bad back - while my mother strode
up and down the block in a Virginia Slim-induced cloud of smoke, asking me if I really though this
neighborhood was safe.
All the while Itty slept on the sofa, seemingly exhausted from the day's trip.
That night, Naomi and I curled up on either side of the cat, relishing our new chapter of adulthood
with clinks of cheap champagne.
Bubbles quaffed, I told Naomi I was going to take a shower before I went to bed.
"Wash all those sins away," she laughed.
I was slick with soap and a little drunk when Naomi knocked.
"Yeah?" I said, hollering over the hiss of the steam.
"Meowing? Maybe she's hungry, I don't know - I'll feed her when I get out," I offered.
"No, like, she's really meowing," Naomi said. "Like, loud."
I squeezed the damp ends of my hair and turned off the water. Then, above the last plopping drops
of water came the plaintive cry of Itty. My leg hairs bristled.
"Man. That is loud," I said, stepping onto the bathmat and into the hall.
"I thought she couldn't even meow...that her like, vocal chords were melted or something." said
Naomi, her forehead spaghettied with wrinkles.
I walked toward the cat who had moved beneath a chair and curled up on Naomi's sweatshirt.
"Meow, Meow, MEOW," Itty screamed, her legs tucked beneath her shaping her into a tiny, angry
loaf of cat.
"Hey, hey," I whispered, reaching out her. "What's wrong," I asked. "Itty, you OK?"
"Maybe she's homesick," Naomi said. "Maybe she's scared. Maybe she smells a ghost."
I turned to face Naomi with a laugh, when Itty's cries became ragged, hysterical.
"Meow, Meow, MEOW! "Meow, Meow, MEOW! The black triangle of her mouth revealed her
pink tongue, which had begun to loll and pant.
"Jesus," Naomi whispered, "what's wrong with her?"
That's when the first drop of blood fell from Itty's eye.
"Oh, shit," I stammered. "Shit! She's bleeding!"
"Bleeding? What do you mean bleeding, from where?"
"Her eye! Her fucking eyes are bleeding! Something must have burst or something."
"Dude, I don't know. All I know is her eyes are dripping blood."
Itty's cries were growing louder. The fur on her face was wet and glistening from her own blood.
I ran and got a dishcloth and tried to dab at her eyes. She gnashed her teeth and howled.
And then...I'll admit it. I kind of snapped. I stood up and ran into the kitchen to hide.
"Excuse me, where are you going?" Naomi demanded.
"I just, can't," I whimpered. I flapped my hands and started to cry.
Itty's meows had devolved into guttural growls and moans.
I covered my ears and paced the floor. I spotted a hammer and picked it up.
"Should I...just...whack her I can't just let her writhe around all night! It's terrible! She's in so much
pain I could just put her into the tub and you could hold her and then I could just her one good
whack and then..."
"No one is murdering a cat tonight. Good lord," she said. She took the hammer.
"Seriously though, I'm not trying to freak you out but what the fuck else can I do?! Just go to sleep?
That poor fucking thing is dying." My voice had dropped to a whisper. I didn't want Itty to know
the sweet chariot was coming to carry her home.
Naomi's hands her held her own face, she was deep in thought.
"Ok. There must be a vet we can take her to."
"Like, an emergency vet." Naomi darted over to her computer. Her fingers clicked madly across the
keys. "Ok." she said, her eyes darting from the screen to my face. "There's an emergency clinic on
5th and Bergen. Now, a cab."
I kneeled beside the cat. "Itty, I'm sorry," I said. I pet her as softly as I could staring at her sodden
"You don't have a cage? How the fuck did you get her here?"
"On your lap?! The cab isn't gonna let us in holding a bloody cat on our laps!"
"OK, OK." I spotted a small duffel bag in the corner. "You think this will work?"
Naomi's phone rang again. "Yes, yes, just put her in there, CMON."
The sweatshirt was sticky with blood. Itty tried to protest, but it wasn't much of a fight. Soon I had
her in the bag gathered tightly against my chest.
We burst from the building and into the cab.
As I sat down, the cab lurched forward and Itty screamed in unison.
"What the hell was that?" the driver demanded, his eyes finding mine in the rear view mirror.
"Aw, hell no. I ain't taking no cat in no bag anywhere." He swerved the cab to the curb. " 'Specially
no screaming cat."
"No, no please sir!" Naomi cooed. "We'll pay you twice, three times the fare. The cat is dying,
we've gotta get to the vet."
I started to cry again. Itty howled. I could feel the heat of her body through the nylon.
"Aw shit," the driver moaned and swerved back into traffic. "Thank you," I mumbled, my face half-
buried in my coat. I opened the window a little and turned my face into the wind. I let my eyes tear
up and tumble down again and again, letting the liquid blur the steady stream of traffic lights and
neon signs, of street lamps and their spectral halos. I wondered where Itty would go, where we
would all go. Or if our heat just slips back into the ground. Or a nylon bag.
I heard the driver sigh a tired sigh and I looked down at his identification: Chris Rogers. There was
his whole face, not just his angry eyes, peering back. He looked serious and sad with big brown
eyes peering from a dark brown face. He was young, younger than me I realized, but with a voice
like a motorbike on gravel.
He braked for a stop sign and Itty let out another moan, her claws found my things. His eyes
appeared in the mirror again. I smiled not showing my teeth. Naomi squeezed my hand.
Then he refused our money when we finally pulled up to Bergen.
"Naw, you girls got a bad night aheada ya." Naomi threw a twenty onto the passenger seat as he
The driver thrust his hand out the window and into the sky, waving. His taillights grew smaller and
I watched him recede into the distance. Naomi was already inside, I could see her gesturing madly
to a man in a white coat at the counter.
I watched her realize I wasn't there. She turned to face me. Cmon! her hand said.
I hitched Itty a little higher and walked inside, the door tinkling with those little bells.
"Hi, I, my cat is sick, well, not sick, she's, well her face, her head, is, my cat is bleeding I think she's
going to die."
The man nodded and beckoned me to a swinging door. Naomi sat down and got a magazine. I was
I placed Itty on the big metal table and un-zipped the top of the bag. The doctor looked inside and
then carried them both away to the back room. I paced and bit my fingernails, tearing at the cuticles
and feeling slowly calmer. The worst of it was over. I breathed in and out eying the tidy jars of q-
tips and gauze.
The doctor swung through the door. He grasped his hands behind his back. "Ok," he said. "There
was a growth behind your cat's eyes. Which has ruptured. And caused the bleeding. I think we can
save her. We'll take out both eyes and stitch them shut. Truthfully, it won't be that different than the
life she's had up until tonight. Blind."
"I...how much would it be to..." I looked at the floor.
"About 3,000 dollars," he said. "Do you have insurance?"
"I...I dont know. Maybe I could call my parents?" I looked at the clock. 2:30 A.M. it said.
The doctor nodded to a phone on the wall and left the room again.
I picked up the plastic receiver and moved my fingers over the buttons. I heard three rings and then
my mother's frantic voice thick with sleep.
"Mom! Itty's eyes, they've kind of burst and she's bleeding. I'm at the vet and I thought they'd put
her down but they said they can save her and..."
"Lucy!" She was awake enough now to be yelling. I pulled the phone away from my ear a little.
"That cat is 14 years old and blind and bleeding and they want to rip out her eyes for 5,000
"so she can hobble around confused for another year before something else gives out?! Jesus, this
isn't Pet Cemetery."
The doctor walked back into the room lifting his hands in apology.
"Is someone there? I want to speak to them. This is unacceptable."
"No Mom, No. He's not here, they have Itty in the back..."
"Lucy, you just tell them enough is enough. You want that cat put down. And don't you feel badly
about. I mean it." She paused. "Oh darling. Quite a first night."
"Yeah, I'm alright. OK. I should go. I love you."
"Do you want to say goodbye?" I thought about it.
The doctor leaned into the hallway. "Brian, could you bring in the cat please?"
Brian, who seemed no older than 16, was also in a white coat. He walked in carrying Itty in what
looked like a big roasting pan. Her face had completely collapsed inward, her fur clotted with blood
and mucus. She looked as though she had been hit. Again and again.
"What is wrong with you?" I screamed. Brian recoiled looking to the doctor.
"Why would you bring her in looking like that? There isn't a washcloth or a hose or a mask,
something back there? I want to look at my cat half-dead in a pan?!"
"This is standard procedure?!"
Brian stood there arms outstretched, offering Itty like a Thanksgiving Day goose.
"Get her out of here!" Brian back-peddled into the hall. The door swung shut.
I dug the heels of my palms into my eyes. "Can I just...pay you or whatever happens now?"
The doctor started to apologize again, but I waved it off and walked back into the lobby.
Naomi glanced up and mouthed "you OK?" "Not really," I laughed.
I signed a ball for $210.15. The doctor said they'd call about the ashes. I saluted my farewell.
Naomi and I walked outside and began walking home.
A week later I got a call from the vet saying that Itty's ashes were ready. I was greeted by a cheery
blond who handed me a little blue urn with a smile and a flourish of the hand. "Tada," she said.
Hilarious, I thought. I had an urge to bring the glass vase down on her head.
I walked outside with Itty under my arm. I took out my phone and dialed a cab. The dispatcher
came on. "Brooklyn Cars?" he barked. "I, uh, need a cab,"
"Uh huh, where are you honey?" he said. "Well I, actually, I'm looking for someone. I, is Chris
Rogers working today?" Silence. "Yeah, why? You got a problem with my man Chris?"
"No, no," I shook my head in protest. "I, just...well, he took me with my cat the other night, she was
really sick and I know it's silly I just thought, well I needed a cab and..."
"Ooooohh." The man let out a long incredulous laugh. "Girl with the cat. Yup I know 'bout you."
"Yeah he said he picked up a spooky little girl with a screaming cat in a bag. Just the other night.
Just about ruined his night." He laughed.
"Right. Yeah. I can see that." I tried to laugh too.
"Where you at? I'll see if Chris is around."
"Uh, I'm on Bergen and 5th...by the vet."
"Got it." The line went silent. I counted the cracks in my square of the sidewalk. I cracked my
knuckles. The dispatcher came back. "OK. Ten minutes. You take care." I opened my mouth but he
I walked to a sunny patch on the street to wait and turned my face up to the sky. Itty was so light, I
could hardly feel the urn in my arms.