I was thirteen when my father came up to me with a box. He handed it to me and told that there was a dead cat inside and asked me to bury it. I took the box into my hands and obediently went outside. There I stopped, however, and instead of heading to the nearby meadow, I opened the door to our basement. I had come up with the idea of opening the box to look at the cat, but didn’t want to do it so that my parents could see. And so I walked the stairs down into the darkness and the smell of mold and sat down on the cold stone floor with the box in my lap. The box was of brown cardboard and had been previously used by my aunt who had sent me birthday presents the previous week. Our address was still written on it with little hearts as the dots of “i”s and a stamp with flowers in the corner. But now the books and the doll had been replaced by a dead cat. My father had sealed the box with a string tied around it and I fingered it absent-mindedly. The box felt so light in my arms, it was hard to believe that there was anything inside. Suddenly I felt a shudder down my spine. I stood up and placed the box on a shelf between my father’s garden tools. Then I turned around and ran the stairs up.
At night, I couldn’t sleep. I turned and turned around in the bed and blamed my sleeplessness on the summer heat. But it wasn’t the heat, I knew. It was the cat. My thoughts kept on going back to it. Alone in the cold, dark basement it lay, I thought, and almost forgot that the cat was dead and could not feel the cold.
I spent the next day playing with my sister in the meadow, but throughout the whole time the cat was on my mind. I was struck with sudden fear that my parents would find out about the box that was still in the basement. If my father needed his tools, he would see the box, I realised with panic. When we returned home for dinner, I immediately ran down to the basement. The box was still on the shelf and I sighed with relief. I took the box and carried it inside the house and up into my room. I guess I was still afraid my parents would find out I hadn’t buried the cat. I hid the box in my closet and covered it with clothes to make sure it stayed hidden.
A few days went by and I forgot about the box. Every night, however, I had uneasy dreams in which someone scratched at my door with long nails and I would wake up in the morning with cold sweat on my brow. Then came a night when I woke up in the middle of one of these dreams and realised that the sound I had heard wasn’t only my imagination. There was a distinct scratching noise in the room and it came from my closet.
The cat was alive.
I could hear its claws scratch frantically against the cardboard box it had been put in. The box it had almost been buried in. I sat up on the bed and dared not move. Could the cat really be alive, I asked myself. My father had said it was dead. It had stayed in the box for days, I reasoned, how could it be alive.
As I wondered at these questions, the scratching noise stopped. I lay down again, but kept my eyes on the closet door. Nothing happened for a while and I had just decided that I had only imagined the noise when suddenly there came a couple of soft thumps. I closed my eyes. The quiet creak I heard next was the sound of the closet door opening. I gathered my courage and opened my eyes again, but saw nothing. The closet door was closed and I heard no sound in the room. With a sigh of relief, I turned to my side and there the cat was.
It was large and its eyes like two lamps shining. It sat by the edge of the bed looking at me and I felt my hair stand on end. All the cat did was sit in silence and stare at me without blinking its eyes, but my blood ran cold when I met its gaze. Then all of a sudden the cat leaped towards me and I couldn’t help it, I screamed. As soon as I heard footsteps hurrying towards my room the cat jumped off the bed and disappeared mere seconds before my parents came inside. I told them that I had just had a nightmare and gladly accepted my mother’s offer to spend the rest of the night in their room.
The cat didn’t come back for days, but I didn’t dare touch the box in the closet. Every night, I’d stay up as long as I could, waiting for any sign of the cat, but none came. Almost a week had passed before I heard the scratching again and for the next couple of days the quiet scratches against cardboard were the only things I heard. Then some nights there would be the thuds of the cat getting out of the box and pushing itself against the closet door and then the sickening creak of the door being opened.
During these nights, I would pull my blanket over my head and just listen. I listened to the soundless sound of soft paws on the floor, heading my way. Then there came a moment of silent anticipation and I would wish that the cat had gone away, but then I felt something jump onto the bed. Slow, small steps were taken from the end of the bed towards me and I would hold my breath.
But nothing ever happened. The cat stopped and just sat there like it had done the first night we had met. I kept myself under the blanket, but I could feel it looking at me and sense the air of malice and enmity that always seemed to surround the cat. There it sat and stared until the sunrise when I would feel it jump off the bed and soon hear the creak of the closet door and just like that another night had passed.
As time went by, however, things started to change. The malice I had so strongly felt softened and turned into something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The cat started to spend the nights lying next to me and I could hear it purr quietly. Its body felt warm and pleasant by my side and I would stroke the silky fur until I fell asleep.
Slowly, the cat became my friend. My special, secret friend that no one knew about.
It was a loving friend. It kept me company during the dark nights and purred at me from behind the closet door during days. It talked to me when I was lonely and it told me it loved me.
The cat was also a cruel, punishing friend. It never forgave either me or my father for having almost buried it alive. There were mornings when I woke up with scratch marks all over my arms and I had to hide them from my family. The cat told me that it was for my own good. I had to atone. Only then could the two of us be truly friends.
There were times when the cat didn’t appear for days and I never knew how to feel. What if it never returned, I asked myself with worry. What if it never returned, I asked myself with relief. But it always came back and I always was happy to see my friend again.
The next spring, my family moved to another town and I took the box with me. The cat wasn’t pleased with the move. I tried to explain that my father had a new job and we had to move and the cat was happy to find a new reason to hate my father. And as weeks and months went by, I started to understand this hate. I started to see all the things that my father was doing wrong. Everything he did built secret hate and disgust inside of me. His laughter sounded harsh to my ears and his voice always too loud. Even his smile soon sickened me and it became hard to look at him in the face. I slowly realised how right the cat was when it talked to me of my father. The cat helped me understand so many things and that’s why we were such good friends, it told me.
My father and I were sweeping leaves from the roof when I decided to kill him. I left no time for hesitation and pushed him over the edge. I crouched down and watched how he lay on the ground with limbs twisted in unnatural directions and a pool of blood forming beneath his head which had been hit against a rock. The rock had been put there by the cat, I was sure of it. We had done the murder together and we were the best friends and the cat was going to love me for doing what it wished.
The death was automatically passed as an accident. Why wouldn’t it? They knew not of my father’s sins that he had to be punished for. Even if they did, how could a fourteen-year-old girl like me have the strength to push the man down? They didn’t know that the cat had given me the power.
A few days went by with no sign of the cat and I was confused. I had thought it would be celebrating with me. It wasn’t until the funeral day that I realised what was wrong. The cat had wanted my father to be buried alive. Just like the cat had almost been. I had made a great mistake and I would have to pay for it.
My sister, mother and I returned home from the funeral in the evening and I was in a panic. After the others were sleeping, I was still pacing around my room, trying to think of what to say to the cat. The night wore on and I finally lay down on the bed. The cat was coming, I knew. And it was coming for me.
I had to get away.
I got up from the bed and decided to push my desk in front of the closet. I had no doubt that the cat could get out anyway, but at least it would buy me some time. Time to do what exactly? I had no idea. All I knew was that I had to get out. But as I started pushing my desk towards the closet, I heard the old familiar scratching sound. Only this time it didn’t come from the closet. It came from outside my room. I was trapped.
I quickly rushed to the door and locked it and then stepped back with my hands shaking and my heart beating like a drum. The noise of claws against the door got louder and I forgot how to breathe. What could I do? Would the cat accept my apologies? I didn’t think so.
The scratching stopped and a horrible silence fell. Then I heard the click of the lock and the door opened and I saw the cat. And it wasn’t the same friend of mine anymore. It had grown to a monstrous size and the lamp-like eyes were locked in mine with the same hate and revulsion it had used to reserve for my father.
With the desperate courage of one who knows she can’t win, I ran towards the door and somehow made it past the cat and avoided the sharp claws aimed at me. I headed for the stairway with the cat at my heels. At the stairs, I fell down and was sure I was done for, but then there was the sound of a door being opened and my mother came out, asking me what was wrong.
“The cat!” I screamed at her.
But the cat had disappeared. I heard the creak of the closet door from my room and dragged my mother there with me. I would show her the box. Confess that I had never buried it. I would let her know of my friendship with the cat. I would tell her what had really happened to my father.
I opened the closet and dug out the box. I placed it on the floor and with shaking fingers untied the strings and opened the box that I had never opened before. And it was empty.