My family lives on an old Christmas tree farm in rural northeastern Ohio. When we moved into our house four and a half years ago, an ancient cat came with it. Coco had spent her entire life outdoors, which made her advanced age all the more surprising. She was deaf and very arthritic and she generally stayed pretty close to the house. The previous owner had tried to take her away with him, but the poor creature fell into a woeful state of depression, wallowing in a bottomless litter box of self pity and threatening to slit her own paws on a daily basis. This particular house and its surrounding landscape were all she had ever known during her lifetime and she would not – could not – live anywhere else.
And so began my first and only epoch of cat ownership.
I’m not a fan of cats, which is a matter of fact about myself that I don’t go to any lengths to hide. The only critters of the feline persuasion who have ever taken a shine to me have ironically always been the same ones who don’t like people. Perhaps they see me as a kindred spirit sharing in a mutually passionate disdain for one another. Most likely, though, snuggling up to me is an act of pure spite – the cat knows I don’t like it, can’t stand it, so it goes out of its way to create immediate and sustained contact with my person whenever I am near. Cats are maliciously evil hellbeasts beneath their soft, come-pet-me fur.
I felt differently about Coco. Maybe it was the idea that she had to live outside and constantly brave the oft-wicked elements, or maybe it was the fact that in cat years Coco was pushing 1,000 and I was always taught to respect my elders. Whatever the reason, something about her made me want to go the extra mile to take very good care of her.
Coco’s former owner told me that she wintered in a cardboard box with a light bulb inside it to keep warm. I thought that was a ridiculously effective fire hazard, so I built an insulated, waterproofed cat shelter for the second-story porch so she would be away from snow drifts and a little safer from roaming wild animals. It was also conveniently located near a power outlet, which I needed for the heated water dish I had purchased so her water wouldn’t freeze. A weight-activated heating pad kept her toasty and comfortable inside Casa de Coco all winter long.
I babied that cat like I’d had her all my life. Me, doting on a feline. That’s like Seventh Sign kind of shit, right there.
My youngest daughter was also incredibly fond of Coco. At the time, Destruction was a four year old princessy-princess, a frilly-sparkly-everything-pink kind of girly girl. Dainty and highly disliking of dirt and of all things potentially gross and disgusting.
But oh, how she loved that rickety old cat.
On a sunny spring day, I was working outside while Destruction was playing on the upstairs porch. She was wearing her sparkly ballet flats, dancing around in a tutu and having a wonderful time entertaining a deeply enthralled Coco. At some point, the graceful ballerina twirling became an enthusiastic Irish step dance of stomping stomping stomping. A few moments later, Destruction casually seated herself beside Coco at the top of the steps, and nudged something toward the cat.
I was walking up the stairs to investigate when I first saw it: the bloodied mess of something piled atop a piece of leftover roofing shingle had been placed before Coco, who sat there looking rather unamused.
“What in the world are you doing?!” was the only thing I could think of to say that wasn’t “What in the mother FUCK is THAT?!”
“I needed to grind up the mouse so Coco could eat it, Mommy.”
It took me a moment to process that information before the gravity of the situation made the pit of my stomach lurch and I took notice of the blood and chunks of fur and tiny little guts that were stuck to the bottoms of her glittery shoes. You’ve got to be kidding me. My sweet baby girl found a dead field mouse and decided to give it to Coco as a meal, but not before tap dancing the carcass into oblivion and serving it up on a platter.
I suppose I should be thankful – I am apparently raising a very thoughtful and considerate little girl, so there’s that.
After I disposed of the revolting mess of a dinner that Coco had no interest in partaking of, I scrubbed my kid like no one’s been scrubbed in the history of ever and the bloodied ballet shoes magically *poofed* out of existence while the little psychopath wasn’t looking. “I don’t know what happened to them,” I shrugged. “I’ll buy you some new ones the next time we go into town.”
And I did. But only after she promised not to feed the cat ever again.