Sunday, July 22, 2012

Zoe's Eyes by CD Carter

Maddie and Nick are expecting a baby daughter, to whom their cat Mr. Mike is growing awfully attached; by CD Carter

The night-black cat lie in his usual position, atop Maddie Tamme's midsection, which, for these past six months, had been home to a fetus named Zoe.

The golden glow of Mr. Mike's eyes sliced through the noiseless dark of the bedroom. The feline's paws were outstretched. He purred a low rumble.

Nick Tamme, the father of said fetus, stood in the doorway between his bathroom and bedroom and tried to win the unwinnable war: a staring contest with Mr. Mike. Through the thick darkness the two glared at each other until, finally, Nick's eyes dried and his eyelids shut.

As soon as Nick's eyes opened, Mr. Mike blinked lazily, a big middle finger in the face of his owner. The cat looked away from Nick, toward his favorite, Maddie, and finally, at Maddie's swollen stomach, at the future baby they had named Zoe. Mr. Mike laid his head on Maddie's protruding belly and rested. The stubborn thing acted like he wasn't kicked out of the bedroom every night.

"You have to go, Mister," Nick said, leaning across the bed and grabbing the cat around his middle. Mr. Mike, as soon as Nick's fingers touched his fur, raised a paw, extended his claws and took a chunk of flesh from the back of Nick's hand.

Nick held his scream, wanting anything but to wake the pregnant woman sunk into the tenth level of REM sleep. He reached again, and again was met by the hostile talons springing from his cat's left paw. The golden eyes burned through Nick as the cat emitted a long, hateful hiss.

This, like the staring contest, was futile. Nick washed his hand, wrapped a few Band-Aids around his wounds and ignored the throbbing in his fingers long enough to fall asleep. Mr. Mike had won the night.

"He slept on me all night," Maddie said the next morning while satisfying her pregnancy craving for cold oatmeal. "And he sleeps right on Zoe - never moves. I think Mr. Mike is defensive of our little bub-bub."

"Maybe he fancies himself Zoe's guardian," Nick said, examining the deep crimson grooves on the back of his fingers. "Whatever he is, he's a monster."

"I think it's sweet," Maddie said, slurping down the last of her breakfast. "Cats are instinctive like that. He knows there's someone in there."

"I know," Nick said. "I find that incredibly creepy."

"How dare you," she snapped, hormones flaring. "You're the monster, not Mr. Mike."

Probably that was true. Mr. Mike had been an exemplary pet for three years, complying beautifully with the unacknowledged intrinsic agreement between animal and owner: love for food, snuggling for shelter. Mr. Mike wasn't a classic lap cat, but once in a long while, he'd hop on Nick and sleep in a tight ball of black fur while football or baseball or boxing blared from the TV. He was a good boy, and sometimes, when Mr. Mike lounged in the sun, he looked majestic, like the beloved favorite beast of an ancient queen.

So Nick let Mr. Mike sleep on his wife's belly for the next few nights. When Maddie rolled over, the feline repositioned so that he was, once again, cuddled against her growing stomach.

Next to Zoe.

This went on for the remainder of Maddie's pregnancy, an easy one, as pregnancies go. Mr. Mike never got up to empty his bladder in the litter box or grab a late-night bite to eat from his bowl in the kitchen. He stayed there, always there, perched atop tiny Zoe in Maddie's enormous stomach.

Once in a while, Nick's eyes would ease open in the middle of the night, and drunk with sleep, he'd look into Mr. Mike's blazing golden peepers. There was something so fundamentally unsettling about the way this cat staked its claim to Maddie and her unborn child that Nick couldn't help himself but to sometimes try to nudge the sleeping cat from his post. Every time, just like the first time, Mr. Mike would take his battle stance as if defending his own young: ears back, razor teeth showing, claws out and swatting at the damn fool who dare move him from his rightful spot.

On one of these nights, exactly fourteen nights before Zoe was due to finally emerge from her comfy maternal home, Nick woke from a fitful sleep and what he saw made him fall to the floor. Mr. Mike, that royal feline, did not stare back at his owner – his enemy – with the eyes of gold Nick had expected. The cat's eyes, on this night, were a startling blue – if there was an opposite of gold, it was not silver, but the blue of Mr. Mike's eyes.

It wasn't, however, the unexplainable color change of the cat's eyes that made Nick push himself across the bed, away from Maddie and the cat until he was face down on the floor. It was the expression in those eyes. Drowning in the deep blue of Mr. Mike's gaze, Nick didn't see the look of an animal, that primal innocence that, no matter how domesticated and people friendly, betrayed their animal instinct. Mr. Mike's new blue eyes had the unmistakable shine of a person. Nick could almost hear someone speak through those people's eyes imbedded in the black cat's head.

"Just a nightmare," Nick explained to Maddie when she awoke with a start as Nick crashed to the bedroom floor. "It's over now."

It wasn't over, and Nick knew as much. For fear of being committed to an asylum, he said nothing to Maddie about Mr. Mike's suddenly blue eyes, which were once again golden the next morning.

Nick was shaving on the morning of Maddie's due date when Mr. Mike trotted in and hopped on the closed toilet lid. There he sat on his haunches as Nick made his right cheek taut and ran the blade over his coarse brown stubble, ignoring the cat for as long as he could, trying not to remember the night Mr. Mike's eyes turned blue, and failing repeatedly.

There was no audible noise; the words were given voice in Nick's head: "Look at me." He refused, and kept shaving. His hand trembled, he nicked his chin, and blood spilt down his neck.

"I will not," he said to the cat.

"Look at me," Mr. Mike said again, the words rattling between Nick's ears. "Look at me, Daddy."

Nick whipped his head around and met Mr. Mike's insistent glower. There they were, the blue eyes, the human eyes that bore no resemblance to an animal's. Those blue eyes cried out to Nick with great affection. Nick screamed some string of indecipherable words until his cell phone rang. He dashed to the bedroom and answered it.

"Nick."

"Yes, Maddie. What -"

"It's happening. My water broke. Oh my God, it's happening."

Mr. Mike was on the bed, looking at his owner – his father? – with loving electric blue eyes. Nick dropped to his knees.

"Zoe is here," he breathed.

"Yes," Maddie yelped, "she is."

"No," he said, "she's here. She's here with me."

3 comments:

  1. i think this is quite clever, there is a good build up to the finale, which i think is handled very well.have i missed something?
    well done

    michael mccarthy

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi!
    Dear mr. Carter,
    May I publish my translation of your story on russian website (Proza.ru)?
    With the best wishes,
    Anna F.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, I meant "Dear Mr. Carter".

      Delete