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New California Fiction : BAD LUCK WITH CATS

July 17, 1994|CRIS MAZZA | Cris Mazza, whose first book was "Animal Acts," says she is "known for writing about animals. I am interested in how people relate to animals and pets and how this reflects on how they relate to each other." She has five dogs and two homes: In the summer, she lives in north San Diego County, and during the academic year, she is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches fiction writing. Her fifth book, "Exposed," was published by Coffee House Press in May

She was half dressed, wearing black underwear and one of Jerry's undershirts, when someone she didn't even know knocked on the door. "Do you have a black-and-white cat?" the someone asked.

"Jerry, stay here," she called over her shoulder as she ran on her toes down the front walk.

He was already in the doorway. "What?"

"Get back inside!" She scooped up the mess in the street with one hand. One eye was dangling out of its socket.

"Brenda, what're you doing?" he shouted from the front yard.

"Go away. Get back!" Trying to hide the cat's body, she rolled it up in the bottom part of her undershirt. Jerry was coming toward her, but she made a wide circle around him, running over some finely crushed glass in the street, then down the alley to the first trashcan she could find. There was blood on the front of her shirt. A few nights back she'd had a dream about going to a symphony concert without a shirt on. She thought, So this is what that was all about. She dropped the undershirt in the trash on top of the cat then held an empty box over her chest as she jumped the back fence and went in through the back door. "Jerry, you here?" He didn't answer. She left the box by the door and went into the bedroom, scooting quickly past the still-open front door.

Jerry was on the bed, lying diagonally like he had the last time, his face turned away from her. "Honey? Jerry?"

"It was Ozzie, wasn't it?"


"You don't even care."

"Don't say that."

"Well, you don't."

"Don't start it again." She took out another one of his undershirts.

"Like clockwork," he said. "Every six months."

"It was almost a year ago."

In a way, though, he was right--it was only six months since he'd stopped mourning for Mikey, the dumb one, found stone dead in the gutter, not a mark on the body. Just too damn dumb to get out of the street. She hadn't been home. Jerry had carried Mikey up to the porch, then went to the neighbor and asked what he should do next. He saved his crying until she got home, and he confessed that Mikey had been pestering him while he was practicing the xylophone, so he'd put the cat out, probably just 20 minutes before it happened. But he'd stopped crying and closed himself in his music room for several hours when he found out she'd thrown Mikey away instead of burying him. At least when they lost Big Sam there was no evidence; he'd just stopped coming home, disappeared one night.

She thought, It's getting messier every time.

Jerry rolled over. He was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Bobby Fischer on the front. Brenda got the penny jar from the dresser and poured a pile onto the mattress, then kneeled on the floor and started counting out sets of 50.

"I think we'd better go through with it," Jerry said.

"With what?"

"You know."

"I don't think this is a good time to talk about it. Especially not now." She found a slug among the coins and swore under her breath. Every time a cat died, he asked for a divorce.

"Where are Bessie and Spunky?" he asked.


"Do you think they miss Ozzie? Think they saw it happen?"

"Come on, Jerry." She shook her head and began stacking the pennies in wrappers from the bank.

"You're right, what a stupid thing to say. Typical, though, right? I thought I would someday grow up and get over this kind of stuff. But no ."

"You're too old to grow up anymore." She smiled at him.

"Yeah. How'm I gonna be able to suddenly become a pizza delivery boy or a popcorn vendor at the stadium?"

" How to do it is simple--you just do it." She had three dollars in pennies wrapped, so she put the remaining pennies back into the jar. "Besides, the symphony isn't folding; it's just a strike."

" I'm not striking," he said. "Anyway, we've got to figure out what to do with Bessie and Spunky."


"This is a crummy place for cats."

"So what do you suggest?"

"We could move," he said.

"You kidding? Eventually, yes. But now? Just for the cats? You're out of your mind!"

"Then let me move."

" Let you? Who's stopping you? I just think it's a dumb idea."

"I know. Aren't all my ideas dumb?"

"Hey," she said. "Want to walk up to the store with me? I've got to get some milk and eggs."

"No. I'm going to get Spunky and Bessie and keep them inside until I think of what to do with them."

When Brenda came back, he told her he'd arranged to give the two remaining cats to a friend's father who had a small farm off the old highway that snaked through the Indian reservation. They would deliver the cats to the friend at the union hall after the meeting that night, and the friend would take them to his father. So Jerry was keeping the cats inside until it was time to go. The cats sat at the front door, looking over their shoulders and crying, standing up on their hind legs and sniffing at the keyhole, digging their claws into the carpet by the doorway until Brenda shouted at them. She and Jerry were sitting at the kitchen table deciding what he could do.

"It won't last forever," she said. "You could find something temporary."

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