My Job as a Cat

My Job as a Cat

This is my fourth day working as a cat.

Not too bad a gig. I sleep most of the day. Canned tuna for lunch. However, I drew a line in the sand at the litterbox.

As she enters the room with the pet brush, I tell Mrs. Cummins, "Listen, lady. I'm not pooping in that thing."

"Good Lord. A talking cat," Mrs. Cummins says.

"You don't have to say that every—"

"But I could've sworn cats can't speak."

"Right. Sorry, I mean—mrrrouuu."

I'd lost my job at the bank six months prior, and finding steady employment was slow going. So, when my wife saw a friend's social media post advertising her grandmother's need for a cat-sitter, she thought of me.

The advertisement read, "WANTED: CAT COMPANION. Lonely cat in desperate need of companionship. Must work onsite. Male companions preferred. $20/HR (Negotiable)."

"You love cats," my wife said.

"I have a master's degree."

"And you'll find a job worthy of your education and energy. Soon. In the meantime, why not make money doing something easy? Something you'll enjoy."

Except we'd misread the ad. The old lady wasn't looking for a cat-sitter.

She wanted someone to replace her dead cat.

* * *

My job as a cat is to roll around, look adorable, and chase the occasional laser pointer. Primarily, I'm supposed to connect with Lela, a 17-year-old gray tabby, who has stopped eating since the passing of her dear brother Charlie.

To complete my transformation and maintain verisimilitude, Mrs. Cummins ordered me a $70 full-body black cat costume, complete with paw-gloves, whiskers, and a tail.

When I asked if Charlie was a black cat or a tabby like Lela, Mrs. Cummins shrugged and said, "That stupid cat won't tell the difference."

"She won't mind me towering over her either, huh?"

"Just try to get her to play with you and eat some food. Treats even. But, from the looks of it, you might want to lay off the treats for a while," she said, poking my stomach.

I batted her hand away with my fluffy paw. "Don't touch my belly."

* * *

My first morning of employment, Lela kept her distance. The sight of a 6-foot stranger pawing at her to come out from under the bed might have turned her off slightly.

By lunchtime, however, I had her wrapped around my little toe-bean. Batting balls. Chasing strings. Nearly every inch of me was marked as her territory.

We both ate some tuna. Lela licked the can clean. I put the rest of my sandwich in the fridge as a snack for later.

Come nightfall, I was more than ready to head home.

"Done, already?" Mrs. Cummins asked as I shed my costume.

"Quittin'-time. My wife's got dinner waiting, and I'm looking forward to a bath not involving my tongue."

"Same time tomorrow?"

"But Lela's eating. She ate, like, a whole can of tuna."

"You did such amazing work with her; I'd appreciate it if you could come back and make sure she doesn't relapse. She may miss her Charlie-bear and decide life's not worth living."

“Why don’t you just get another cat?”

“Oh, I did.”

“I don’t mean me.”

“Me neither. Found another gray tabby tomcat. Named him Charlie and everything. Thought the two of them would take to each other. Maybe cheer her up a bit.”

“I assume it didn’t take.”

“She ate the little guy.”

Looking down, I saw Lela batting at my shoestrings.

Mrs. Cummins sighed and said, “Woke up to a pile of bones in my slippers.”

At that moment, Lela nipped my left ankle, and I startled at the touch of her pinprick teeth.

“Good Lord, you’re gullible,” said Mrs. Cummins. “But no, they didn’t get along at all. Apparently, bringing in a new cat can trigger territorial anxiety. They fought constantly. Lela lost most of her fur, went from barely eating to not eating at all. Even though I got rid of the tomcat, she still wouldn’t perk up. Not until you came along.”

Lela wrapped her tail around my right calf. I bent down to rub under her chin.

“You’re certain you can’t come back tomorrow?” Mrs. Cummins asked.

"Sure. I'll be here bright and early," I said.

As I walked to the front door, Mrs. Cummins said, “You forgot something.”

I turned to see Mrs. Cummins holding my folded kitty uniform. She handed the suit to me and cooed, "G'night, Charlie."

"You know that's not my name, right?"

"Of course, Charlie."

* * *

For the past three days, I've arrived at Mrs. Cummins’s doorstep, stretched the kitty-cat costume over my large frame, and lounged about her home cuddling with Lela.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Cummins sits in her chair, watching soap operas and the 24-hour news cycle. She's nice enough. As long as I commit to my role as Charlie. The first couple of days when I would stand to stretch after hours of crawling on all fours, she’d blast me in the face with a spray bottle.

"Bad kitty," she'd say.

"Come on, Mrs. Cummins," I'd protest.

"What's that?"

"I—mrrrouuu. MRRROUUU," I'd yowl, settling back onto the floor.

At $20 an hour, this is, sadly, the best money of my career. All it costs is my dignity and sense of self-worth.

The scratches behind the ears are nice, though.

* * *

Today, only four days in, I've finally had my fill.

Following our argument over the litterbox, Mrs. Cummins distracted herself by brushing Lela. The cat is painfully skinny with thinning fur. Her flesh shows through on her back, which makes me worry that the metal brush must feel like a hundred needles. However, Lela rubs and grinds against the bristles in utter delight until she's had her fill.

Then, Mrs. Cummins turns to brush me.

"Nope. I'm out," I say, standing up.

"What do you mean?" Mrs. Cummins asks.

"It's a costume, ma'am. The only reason you'd need to brush me is for some weird kink, and I'm not about that life."

"I just thought it might feel good, or you might think it was funny."

"Funny? For a grown man to get a full-body brushing? I used to have a good job where I was at least halfway respected. Now, this is the best I can do?"

"I have great respect for what you're doing for me. And for Lela. Ever since Charlie passed, it's been nice to have someone in the house. My life hasn't felt the same since he's been gone and—"

"Look, I appreciate that you loved your cat. And I'm glad I've been able to help get Lela back to enjoying what little time she has left. I'm just not cut out for—this."

Mrs. Cummins nods slightly, saying, "I understand."

"You do? Because I'm not meaning to be a jerk here. You're a nice lady; it's just—"

"It's fine."

"Right," I say and quietly head for the front door. When I reach the handle, my plush paw slips against its metal finish.

"Whoops," I chuckle. "Forgot the costume."

"You can keep it," the old woman says as she settles in her recliner.

"Okay. Thanks, Mrs. Cummins. Y'know, I never got your first name."


"Huh. You named your cat after yourself?"

She shakes her head. "My husband named his cat after me."

Lela rubs her face against my ankle.

I say, "And you named yours after him.”

Mrs. Cummins sighs. "Stupid cat has my name but always adored him. Charlie was my boy, though. He'd cuddle with me and keep me warm. Just sat there and let me rub his head. Let me go on and on about my day."

I pretend not to see Mrs. Cummins reach down and search her purse for a tissue. After a few moments, she asks, "What do I owe you?"

And for the first time, I don't see a crazy cat lady. I see my grandmother in the nursing home, waiting for someone to visit. I see my mom staying up past her bedtime for my phone call informing her my wife and I made the drive back home safely. I see my wife worried I don't take good enough care of myself. Worried, one day, she’ll outlive me.

Before I can question my rationality, I return to all fours and crawl to Mrs. Cummins's recliner. She makes eye contact with me, and I rub my neck against her knee.

Mrs. Cummins says, "You don't have to—," but I'm already perched across the armrests, lying in her lap. My best attempt at a purr quiets her protests.

            Her hand rests on my head, and I lean into the scratches behind my ears. We sit, gently rocking for a few minutes when a strained squeak escapes from Mrs. Cummins.

"Am I crushing you?" I ask.

"A little," she gasps.

"Sorry, I'll get down."

"Cat's can't talk."

"Right. I mean—mrrrouuu."

Ben Pyle

Ben Pyle is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership. His research, "Organizational Change in Law Enforcement: Community-Oriented Policing as Transformational Leadership" with Dr. Joseph Cangemi was recently accepted for publication in Organization Development Journal. His prose short story, “School Spirits” will appear as the featured story in the October 25, 2019 edition of Page & Spine. Ben’s webcomic with artist Marc Rene, Project: Auroral reached Top 20 in Stan Lee's POW Entertainment 2016 Line Webtoon contest. He has three comic book short stories for publication in 2019 with artist Renan Balmonte: "Lavinia" will appear in My Kingdom for a Panel by Arledge Comics, "Blood Borders" will appear in Monster Mashup: A PDX Anthology by Grit City Comics and "Echoes" will appear in Elsewhere by Unlikely Heroes Studios. Ben also provides reviews and editorial duties for the comic book and pop culture review website Sirens of Sequentials.

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