The White Cat

by Gordon Grice

Summer, and me thirteen. My dad wanted to kill a white cat, a halfbreed albino that lived by night. She must have had some Siamese blood, the way she screamed. He’d stumble through the dark house and damn her mother, who’d been our barn mouser, and her unknown father. He’d fumble with his shotgun and cup his hands around his eyes at the windows. Sometimes she’d be plain in the elm, floating like a ghost, her lambent eyes locked on his before she vanished.

I loved the way she ticked the old man off. I thought of her as his personal scourge, vengeance in a veil of white fur. I didn’t hate my dad, not much. I only hated the way he fit into the life I loathed, early mornings and country music and the stripe the heavy grain bucket left in my hand when I fed the pigs. I was bristling, my muscles pulling tight, my bones aching as if they contained all my desires. When I was restless in the night I liked to hear the voice of the cat, its ripped-tin edge of murderous love.

I never told my father her lair was under an old truck among the weeds. I’d climbed out a window to find her one night when her cry came sideways to the wind. I saw her move across the corral like blown snow to her path through the weeds, carved by many passings.

The day my dad decided to start that rusted truck he hadn’t used in years, I kept quiet. Our hands dug through the dusty engine in the morning steam and came up skinned and greased. At noon we washed at the hydrant but the black still lay in the life-lines of my palms. My hands had grown long-boned and thick like his; I hated that.

After lunch I followed him back to the truck. He stepped onto the running board and into the cab. I saw scraps of his face through divots in the dusty windshield. The engine kicked but its sound was sliced by a scream that struck me before it fell within the reach of my ears. Then there was only the sputter of the truck. The left side of the hood folded back like a beetle’s wing beneath my hands. The cat’s body lay deep in the shadows, her hair darkened with blood. Her head circled in and out of darkness on a wing of the fan, every circuit bringing the black slashes of her eyes around to face me.

My dad cut the engine. I looked into his eyes through pawprints in the dust.