The Boy’s Cat

When the boy was nine, he noticed a large black cat in their Leon Valley neighborhood. It dominated other cats. Sometimes, he would hear intense whining or crying and see the black cat on top of another cat, pinning it in place with his fangs embedded in the other cat’s neck. Once, he saw boys throwing rocks at the black cat because it was mauling another neighbor’s cat.

One day, the black cat marched into their open garage and refused to leave. After two days, the boy’s mother surrendered and bought food for him. Soon, he was allowed inside, and soon after that, he had a litter box, a food bowl, and a water bowl. Mom let the kids name him, so he became Blackie. He was never a fully indoor cat, though he settled into a partial indoor life after he adopted the family. He was always athletic, muscular, and large without being fat. He was a savage hunter who brought home a variety of lizards and birds as presents that he deposited on the front or back porch. He abhorred being dirty or leaving messes–once, they found him sitting on the toilet attempting to pee because the laundry room with his litter box had been closed (he got it all over the toilet seat). He was also always a tiny bit dangerous, even to the people he loved the most. He hated anyone touching his belly, he kept his front paws razor sharp, and he never lost his quickness in clawing someone who touched him wrong.

In the summer before fifth grade, after their move to Corpus Christi, Blackie struggled to adjust to new hunting grounds and a new home, though he kept up his normal routines of sleeping inside, exiting in the morning, and returning in the afternoon.

This particular scorching afternoon, the boy lets Blackie in. Blackie heads over to drink water, then comes into the front room, where he sits and licks his nose over and over. The boy sees what looks like a bubble in the center of his nose and finds it curious that it doesn’t pop or disappear when Blackie licks it. The boy moves closer to look at it, and Blackie gets edgy.

“Mom!” he calls. “I think something’s wrong with Blackie’s nose.”

She emerges from her bedroom. “What’s that?”

“I don’t know. He keeps licking it, and there’s like a bubble or something there.”

Mom moves over to him and lifts Blackie under his front paws on his ribs. She sets him on her lap, and though he isn’t happy about it, he lets her tilt his face toward her.

“I have some tweezers in my makeup bag in the drawer next to my bathroom sink. Go get those,” she says to the boy.

“What do you think it is?” he says standing.

“I don’t know. It’s metal, I think. Looks like it’s lodged in there. No idea how he did that.”

The boy returns with the tweezers. “Sit next to me and hold his paws down,” Mom says.

The boy does as she asks, though Blackie doesn’t fight. Mom holds his face steady with one hand, then grips the object with the tweezers and starts to pull gently. Somehow, Blackie barely flinches, almost aware that this is necessary.

“What in hell did you get into?” Mom mutters to the cat.

Finally, the object comes free of Blackie’s nose, his mother holds it with the tweezers, flecks of blood all over the portion that had been buried.

“Son of a bitch,” says Mom. “Will you look at that?”

“What is it?” the boy says.

“A pellet,” says Mom.

“A pellet?”

“Yeah, like from an airgun. Some vicious little shit has shot our cat. And fortunately for Blackie, it seems to have done no real damage.”

Blackie sits in Mom’s lap licking the quarter-inch wound. The boy takes him and hugs him. He already does not like Corpus Christi. It is far more humid, he has no friends, he doesn’t want school to start, he is mostly bored, and now someone random kid out there has shot his cat. Why did they come here?

That night, he brings Blackie to bed with him, and Blackie sleeps on the boy’s pillow next to his head. Blackie will do this for the rest of his life, periodically biting or licking the boy’s hair, and he will be the boy’s cat.

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