All Baby Animals are Taurus
  Laurie Myers-Bishop

Kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty...

Melinda gestured at the backyard neighbour’s fence and rolled her eyes. She’s at it again.

Yep. Jace stretched his leg out on the small patio table, the one that doubled as a footrest; his calf had been seizing up on him lately, maybe a pulled ligament from playing badminton. He had become addicted to the game and played whenever he could.

Do you want another vodka tonic? I can make it without the rosemary simple syrup, although I don’t know what you find so offensive about rosemary.

Melinda had been making Jace sweet girly drinks or drinks that tasted like herbal medicine for the past month. She faithfully attended her mixology classes on Tuesday nights and stated, after forcing another concoction on him, that the instructor favoured her drinks for their nuance. Jace was also certain he lacked the ability to detect nuance, as his nose and taste buds were ruined from smoking and working at the factory, but he secretly wondered if Melinda was drinking a bit too much. They were going through vodka like water.

Kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty...

Have you met that woman yet? Jace, are you listening?

He nodded.

You have?

No, I meant yeah, I’m listening.

Who puts a Canadian flag in their backyard? That thing is the size of a goddamned parachute. And look at those pink Muskoka chairs. It’s bloody eye pollution. We paid extra to have a view of the green space from this moronic townhouse.

Melinda finished her cocktail. There were probably three shots of vodka in it, minimum.

Are you going to drink that?

He handed his glass to her, the condensation making it slippery under his fingers. The townhouse was still a little touchy between them; Melinda hated the idea of being attached to neighbours, but hated working full time more so Jace was funding their domestic situation. He worked at the cookie factory, had for the past ten years, ever since grade twelve. He started as a packer then became a mixer and was now an oven captain. He would be able to retire at the age of fifty-five with a pension. Plus the cookie smell was how he had won Melinda in the first place. He was steeped in vanilla. It emanated from his pores. She had inhaled him like a box of fruit cream when she first met him at one of Tim’s house parties. Her laugh had a reckless freedom he was drawn to. The vulnerability of her tiny bones fascinated him. She was more privileged and less fearful than the other girls he knew. None of her ideas seemed based in reality. They felt more like costumes she would try on and then throw away, bored. Before studying mixology, she was going to be a flight attendant, and before that, a travel writer. To give his heart to such a person was like bungee jumping from a jet, but he had always been a bit of an adrenalin addict. It came from playing sports.

I cannot believe you don’t love this. She finished his drink in two swallows. I’m getting more.

Kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty...

Melinda stood and looked over the fence into the neighbour’s backyard. Jace knew she had an unobstructed view of the older woman, who was likely in a sweater set and plaid shorts, bobbed gray hair bent over her flower garden weeding. He had witnessed the same scene many times.

That woman sounds Scottish or something. Did you notice that?

Jace had not noticed that. He did notice that Melinda’s voice was too loud and that her energy seemed to be escalating. The vortex, which is what Melinda called it, took hold of her every six months or so. He had been tracking the pattern for a few years. It made her do strange things. One time she repainted their entire house in five days, every room midnight blue except for the bedroom, which she painted a restless yellow. Melinda collapsed after she finished and cried for weeks about how she had ruined the house He had methodically covered the walls in Calming Mist to fix it. Another time she went on a shopping spree and spent almost 28,000 dollars. It took days for him to take things back while she lay paralyzed in bed, but he managed to return most of it. Now they had a mint green Vespa sitting in the garage that she was scared to ride but refused to sell. Eventually she would get up, have a shower and behave relatively normally until the cycle started again.

Do you realize all the babies born right now are Taurus? Isn’t that funny? So many earth signs in the animal kingdom, born to live with that stubborn will. Like you, born to live.

He felt a familiar dread. Her eyes seemed possessed as she rattled ice cubes at him.

Hear that?

Jace started to say no but Melinda shushed him with a lifted hand.

Listen, she hissed, and then he heard it: an insistent cry. What is that?

Hellooo, excuse me.

They froze.

Hellloooo, excuse me, you two young people.

Melinda mouthed it’s her.

Yes? he called politely. Hello?

Could you take this wee basket?

A woven basket made its debut over the fence.

It’s the feral cat, the Scottish woman continued.

Jace shot Melinda a quick look, and before she could protest he hurried down the stairs and across their sloped lawn to the fence. He took the basket, which was now at a precarious angle.

She had kittens on your side, said the Scottish woman. The basket was lined with cut-up flannel sheets and a few washcloths. I’ve been feeding her, you see. She was hungry and I was worried she would let the kittens starve to death. She’s a feral cat, as I said. It will be cold tonight and I fear the wee things won’t survive.

Oh my god, Melinda cried from the deck. There are kittens in the fucking composter! See the mother cat on the fence? Don’t touch them!

Jace cringed. Melinda shouldn’t swear in front of the Scottish woman. It was like spilling screech on a lace doily. He heard the whack of the screen door as Melinda ran inside to get something.

Now try not to frighten the mother cat, young man. I don’t want to upset her. Be a dear and put the kittens in the basket, then hand them back over, thank you. I shall take them to my vet to be checked. Be very, very gentle.

The screen door opened with another whack.

We need to call the humane society! Melinda threw down her domestic goddess rubber gloves, the ones she used for cleaning the toilet. They were pink with red sequins on the cuff.

The mother cat crouched on the fencepost above the composter like a runaway at a bus shelter. She was trapped. He could see that. He felt an understanding between them, a slight nod as if he were the authority, a cop or a fire fighter who would help her out of this chaotic situation. The tiny grey furred faces of four kittens looked up at him from the pile of decomposing leaves and tufts of brown grass where the mother cat had made an attempt to hide them; the fifth kitten, curled on its side, was dead. The rest were wriggling with life, and reminded him of the nest of mice he found on the grounds outside the cookie factory during a smoke break, babies naked and pink, writhing blindly on top of one another. More where that came from, his friend Tim said as the two men starred at the pile. They had to shut down the factory for weeks.

The biggest kitten gave a solid cry, loud as a human baby. The mother cat leapt onto the fence and jumped off again to disappear into the green space.

Well, now you’ve scared her. You’ve scared the mother cat. The woman’s voice was accusing and brusque. She doesn’t know how to take care of the wee ones; she’s not equipped.

Put on the gloves before you touch them. They could have rabies! Melinda’s panic radiated from the deck into the yard and hit him with a sonic boom. Jace! Don’t touch them!

Melinda, calm down, he said loudly. His heart was still for a moment at her outraged silence and the subsequent slam of the screen door.

Jace picked up the bubble gum hands from the patch of weeds where they had landed. The gloves were too tight, pink rubber stretched almost white across his knuckles. He leaned in to collect the biggest kitten. He could not feel anything through the rubber as he scooped it into his palm and wondered how something so light could be alive. Weightless life, he thought as he gently placed it in the basket, careful not to squeeze at all. Melinda was weighty life; she was thousands of pounds of life, a crushing vice of life. He picked up the next kitten and the next. The fourth appeared to be attached to something; a twig had somehow become lodged in its stomach. Jace inspected twig and realized it was the umbilical cord attached to a blot of withered placenta.

Young man, are the wee kitties in the basket? You can lift them over the fence. I’ll take them to my vet.

He lifted the last kitten, placenta still attached, away from its dead sibling and placed it in the basket. He studied the innocent faces and his thoughts turned to Meiying from badminton as they often did lately; the way she gazed at him, listening intently, awarding him with a sweet smile as he told her about his newfound passion for the sport. It could have been the language barrier, but he preferred to think of Meiying as both interested and patient. He made a point to watch her play whenever he could. Her movements were graceful and quick, returning the hardest smashes with a gentle flick of the wrist. Over the past month he had developed a fantasy of living with her, how neat and tidy their life would be, like her slick black ponytail or her white tennis skirt. The two of them would eat a quiet breakfast of tea and toast before work, play badminton afterward and have easy sex before bed. His soul would relax and expand like a deep breath in a healthy lung.

Here they are, he said as he lifted the mewing basket over the fence, the transfer of responsibility complete.

Oh, the wee babes! Now let’s get you some nice warm milk, shall we? We’ll do that. Your mother will be so happy to know you weans are safe and sound; you won’t be cold through the night, not on my watch.

The Scottish woman opened her own screen door and shut it, the sound busy and purposeful. Jace looked up at his deck, the one he had built with Tim when he and Melinda first bought the townhouse. The structure had always felt precarious. He had worried the posts were not set deeply enough, that an extreme wind or heavy snow would somehow hobble it. But it was stronger than he imagined; it had weathered three winters and was still solid on thin legs, the screen door a veiled third eye above the two small basement windows.

The temperature was already starting to drop. Jace glanced at the fist of grey at the bottom of the composter and caught the sweet-rot scent. He turned to get the shovel and came face-to-face with the mother cat once again crouched on the fencepost. She stared at him with cool green eyes, her tail moving slowly back and forth. She was so small she couldn’t have been more than a teenager, if that were a phase cats went through.

The Scottish woman has your babies, he told her.

She blinked at Jace then leaped off the fence and skulked toward the green space. He watched her narrow shoulders and upright tail as she crept into the wilful new growth to become indiscernible against the darkening sky.

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