The Boiler

Philip Brunetti

GRIEVING CATS

1.

There were grieving cats in the courtyard. He could look down upon them from his window across the way. He counted the cats—four, five, six, seven. There were seven cats of varying size and color but all the cats were dirty and battle-scarred. They’d lived in the streets too long—their whole lives. Later in life they’d come to find this courtyard, an outdoor space opposite the front door of the Old Woman. The Old Woman had fed them daily at midday for the past five or six years. Before these cats there’d been others…but over time they’d died off or drifted away and new cats appeared. These cats. These were the cats that would somehow save the world in their natural catness. These were the cats that’d perform miracles…as long as the Old Woman was alive.

2.

The Old Woman had died. What was the point if the Old Woman had died? The cats came around. They pressed their noses to the pavement and sniffed their way to the Old Woman’s front door. They sniffed along the threshold and even scratched and clawed at the doorjambs. Several of the cats started meowing and rubbing their noses against the base of the Old Woman’s door. I was watching from my window while they did this. I was telling myself that my heart wasn’t breaking…I knew the cats had come to depend on the Old Woman. They’d grown old with her and no longer had the strength and ferocity to hunt in the sad streets. They’d probably have to hunt again anyway unless someone did something about it. I could do something about it. I could prepare a bowl of cat food and carry it out to the courtyard. I could allow the cats to rejoice—or at least satisfy their hunger. I might do this in fact. I just wasn’t sure yet. There was only one thing I was sure of: The cats were grieving. The cats were sensing the loss and feeling the absence of the Old Woman, the comfort of the courtyard, feeding time…

3.

I dressed as the Old Woman. I don’t know why I did this. I felt the cats had become despondent. I felt the cats needed more than just their missed-courtyard feeding. I felt they missed the Old Woman as well. They wanted to see her—be near her, in her presence. I was going to feed them and I was going to dress as the Old Woman in the process. I went shopping. When I got home I put on a long black dress that I’d purchased at Minetta’s thrift store. I put on women’s monk-strap shoes and a gray wig. I also wore granny glasses and carried a cane. I was the spitting image of the Old Woman. She’d been an ancient bird. She’d been the kind of old woman that used to walk the town squares of old European towns. She’d been from Italy or Greece—somewhere where there was once the promise of the old black dress for old women. Generally widowed women…I didn’t know if this old woman had been a widow or not. I didn’t even know her name and had only spoken to her a handful of times, nodding hellos. We were nobody to each other. Her courtyard was adjacent to my menial residence. My miniscule second-floor studio. It’s in this studio that I’d dressed as the Old Woman, that I’d pulled on black-seamed stockings and donned the black dress and shoes. I gripped the cane and carried the bowl of food. I went down the stairs, wobbly, and then through the entryway, turned and headed for the courtyard. It was lunchtime and the cats were still grieving. I’d decided I would perform a kind of miracle. A miracle of the absurd. I slogged along in the low-heel black shoes that were too tight and pinching. I leaned on the cane and carried the food bowl in my freehand. The cats announced me. They came around me and started yowling and rubbing their muzzles along my stocking legs. They put their pert noses in the air and smelled the cheap dry cat food I was delivering. I said something. I said something to the cats that the Old Woman had said daily: “Mangia i gatti. Mangia, mangia.” The cats were Italian-speaking cats. The Old Woman had seen to that. But now I was the Old Woman. I’d have to trace the trajectory of their grief. I’d have to gauge how long it would last and how long I could keep up this masquerade. I was confident that I could keep it up for days and days. Maybe weeks and weeks, months and months, years and years even.

“I’ve never been happy,” I said to the cats.

All seven of them had their faces buried in the food bowl. It was a big wide plastic bowl. I’d barely been able to maneuver it with one hand. But I had. And the cats were grateful—and feasting. And I was the Old Woman. I’d come around the courtyard to be the Old Woman for them. And it was all right. The cats seemed to think it was all right.

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Philip Brunetti writes innovative fiction and poetry and much of his work has been published in various literary magazines including Word Riot, The Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, the2ndhand.com, decomP magazinE, Lungfull! Magazine, and Crack the Spine.