Photograph by Brianna Harden
by Rita Buckley
He was the last cat, in the last corner, of the last cage in the animal shelter—a black and grey-striped Coon cat with grayish-green eyes and double front paws, a genetic defect I found endearing. He was big, a least 15 lbs., with an intelligent look on his face. His name was Mr. Jones.
We hit it off right away. He was stretched out along the back of the cage, by all appearances sound asleep. But when I peeked in on him, he was on his feet in a flash and beside the cage door, slapping at it with his big paws. I figured that this was a smart animal with a mind of his own, a strong and independent sort—my kind of guy.
Issue #23 soundtrack: Holy Spirits "White Walls"
The woman from the shelter was a rail-thin, somewhat faded, middle-aged blond. She got up from her chair behind the counter and walked over.
“I see you’ve hit it off with Mr. Jones,” she said, looking into the cage.
“Meow,” Mr. Jones said in a loud, clear voice.
“It seems that way,” I said.
“He’s a Coon cat, you know. Upcountry,” she explained.
Mr. Jones rubbed against the cage and purred.
“Rrrgh, rrrgh, rrrgh.”
The purr came from somewhere deep inside his chest. It sounded something like a soft roar.
“Rrrgh, rrrgh, rrrgh.”
“He likes you,” she said. “Usually he’s kind of stand-offish, the only cat in here who doesn’t play the ‘I’m adorable, adopt me’ game. He’s been here a while,” she said sadly. “If no one takes him home with them today, I’m afraid we’ll have to put him to sleep. We planned to do it tomorrow morning.”
Mr. Jones was busy batting at the cage door.
“That’s sad,” I said.
I held my hand to the cage and Mr. Jones rubbed against it. He might’ve been cool to others, but as far I was concerned, he played the ‘I’m adorable, adopt me’ game like a pro.
“I’ll take him,” I said, with some degree of ambivalence. He’d wound up in shelter, and I thought that maybe he had some kind of weird cat mental health problem or something.
“Anything wrong with him?” I asked.
“He’s perfect,” the shelter woman said.
She smiled and patted me on the back.
“Good choice,” she said. “He’s quite a cat.”
“Do you have any children?”
“Do have a full-time job?”
“I work at home,” I said. “I’m a writer.” I was waiting for her to ask what kinds of things I wrote, like everybody else does, but she just nodded.
“Do you rent or own?”
“Are you married or single?”
“Do you have any other pets?”
“Have you ever owned a cat?”
“Most of my life,” I replied.
“A cat person. That’s good,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. She finally broke the gaze when I cleared my throat.
“What’s your annual income?” she asked.
“High enough,” I replied.
“Congratulations,” she said. “You passed the test.”
I signed a bunch of papers, gave her $150 plus the cost of a cat carrier, water and food bowls, a purple litter box, a bag of kitty litter, a scratching post, and a case of tuna-flavored Purina cat chow. I also bought Mr. Jones a small dog bed; figured from the size of him, he could use a little more space.
“Do you have any toys?” I asked.
She rummaged through one of the drawers.
“Here,” she said, handing me a ball of yarn. “Give him this. It’s free.”
I brought Mr. Jones into the kitchen, put his carrier beside the table, and opened the front. He stuck his big head out first and looked every which way. Then the rest of him followed, warily at first.
He was bigger than I thought, a good 20 lbs. of cat. “No one will ever pull your tail,” I told him.
“Meow,” he said.
Curiosity overcame suspicion, and he checked out the room. He walked around like he owned the place, peering left and right. Then he jumped on the counter and sniffed around for something to eat.
“Here’s your food,” I said, pointing to the bowls of food and water.
I walked into the bathroom off the hallway. Mr. Jones followed me.
“Here’s your litter box.”
He climbed onto the vanity and tried to find water in the sink. I was starting to think he’d had a hard life until now.
I walked upstairs. Mr. Jones followed.
When we got to the bedroom, I pointed to the cat bed. I’d put it right beside mine. I didn’t want Mr. Jones to feel lonely.
Then we went back downstairs to the living room.
“And here,” I said, pulling the big ball of yarn out of the bag,” is something for you to play with.”
Mr. Jones loved it. He batted it around the room for a few minutes, pouncing on it each time it stopped rolling. Then he ripped it to shreds, leaving a pile of light blue yarn on the oak floor.
“I see you liked it,” I said.
Mr. Jones followed me everywhere—from room to room, to the bathroom, the car, onto the patio. He stayed on the sofa in my office while I worked. He ate when I did, watched TV with me, ran errands with me, hung out under my chaise lounge when I sat by the pool. He even slept when I did, stretched out beside me.
He wasn’t the type of cat who’d sit on my lap and purr, but he liked to be petted on his head, under his chin, behind the ears, and down his back. When he wanted attention, he’d bat me on the arm with one of his big paws.
“Meow,” he’d demand.
We communicated well; understood each other.
“ME-ow.” Rub my back.
“Me-Ow.” Let me out.
“Meow Meow.” Let’s play mouse.
“Meow-Ow” Turn down the TV.
“Meeee-ow.” Let’s go for a jog.
“Meow meow meow.” Get off the phone.
He was somewhat demanding, but in a playful kind of way.
We were coming back from a routine errand, cutting through the park at night, when three thugs came out of nowhere and surrounded me; sinister bastards who looked like they’d just stepped off chopped hogs, and were out for a fun night of rape, murder, and mayhem. I looked around for Mr. Jones and didn’t see him.
One of the guys ripped my bag off my shoulder and rummaged through it. He took my money and credit cards and dumped the rest of the stuff on the walkway. Another tore away the front of my shirt. I could see that he had a gun tucked into his pants; could smell the alcohol wafting off him.
I shoved him away and shouted: “MR. JONES.”
That backed them off for a second and I ran like my life depended on it, which it probably did. I didn’t look back until I heard the gunshot. One guy was on the ground, another looked like he was on fire or being choked from behind; I couldn’t figure out which. The third was stumbling away.
The thrashing thug fell on the ground and rolled around. I saw a double paw slash him across his face and eyes. He screamed. Then I heard sirens. Someone had seen what was happening and called the police. I wasn’t about to wait around for them.
“Mr. Jones,” I yelled and started running again. He was right beside me when I got inside the house and slammed the door behind me. I leaned against it trying to catch my breath. I was shaking and felt kind of nauseous.
“Mee-oow,” Mr. Jones said.
I picked him up and hugged him.
“Rrrrgggh,” he purred, “rrrgggh.”
I took him in the kitchen and washed off his bloody paws.
The cops knocked on the door two hours later. I was waiting for them, Mr. Jones beside me. I knew they had my empty wallet along with the rest of the junk in my bag, and would be along at some point.
They handed me the pocketbook, and asked to come in.
“Of course,” I said, and pointed toward the sofa. “Would you like a Diet Coke or some water?” One of them asked for water and I brought it in from the kitchen. My hands were still shaking so much, I almost spilled it all over him.
The cop took the water.
“Thank you,” he said.
“We have a dead man, a blind man, and a .38 special covered with paw prints. A witness reported three males attacking a woman. Was that you?”
They looked at me, then the cat.
“Could you tell us what happened?”
I told them the story, leaving out the part about Mr. Jones.
One of the detectives wrote down everything I said. “Do you know a Mr. Jones?”
“No,” I said. “I just yelled out the first name that came to mind to distract them. He was an old teacher of mine.”
“A witness said he saw a wild animal attack the men. They were covered with bites and scratches.”
“It must’ve been a rabid raccoon,” I said.
“A stroke of luck,” one of the cops replied.
“I’ll say,” said the other.
Mr. Jones rolled on the floor.
“Meow,” he said.
One of the cops reached down and patted his head.
“Would you like to go to the hospital?” he asked me.
“No,” I said, still shaking. “Was the cat with you tonight?”
“No,” I lied. “He was here alone, watching CNN.”
“Nothing like a well-informed cat,” one of them said.
The other mused about what happened in the park.
“The gun must’ve slipped out during the struggle and gone off. Damn coon got the bastard right between the eyes,” he said.
I looked at Mr. Jones. He was rubbing against the cop’s leg and purring.
“Rrrrrgh, rrrrrgh, rrrrgh.”
“Nice cat,” he said. “What’s his name?”
“Eric,” I replied.
Rita Buckley is an award-winning freelance medical writer based in Boston. Her fiction has appeared in print and online within Versal, Danse Macarbre, Bartelby Snopes, Calliope, and other journals. Visit Rita online at buckley-swartz.com.
Brianna Harden is based on Los Angeles, where she is enrolled in her senior semester at Art Center College of Design. Her work centers around people, plants and animals, and in her free time, she enjoys crafting and photography. Brianna's work can also be found at GOOD Magazine, where she illustrates a column called "No More Dirty Looks" about cleaner beauty/lifestyle choices. View her online portfolio at briannaharden.com
Holy Spirits is based in Brooklyn. "White Walls" is a track from their self-released 2010 EP "The Afternoon's Blood," which is available for download via their Bandcamp site.