Win a Year of Online Classes When You Refer a Friend or Sign up for a Free First-Time Consult!

Student Spotlight | 9 Minutes

Student Piece - The Cat Problem

Written by Jesse Brooks
Student Piece - The Cat Problem

Below is a story written by a student in our Fiction Writing Workshop class. At the end of the year, students are required to submit one of their four short stories written throughout the year to a publication. To learn more about our Fiction Writing Workshop and other English classes click HERE.

The Cat Problem

By Kayla Cannon

She lived in a fortress of books.

They covered her desk. They cluttered the hardwood floor of her room and stood in precariously high heaps on the end of her bed. Often Megan teased herself that the stacked books, along with the water bottles and cereal bars stashed beneath the window of the cozy alcove room, gave the space the impression of being under siege.

They did nothing, however, to keep out the enemy.

He slunk, lithe and black, beneath the curtain pulled across the doorway and wove a pathway through the books to the heart of the fortress. Then he sat up erect, tail-tip twitching with barely-constrained malice as he stared at the gerbils.

“Hey!” Megan flicked water into his face. The cat glared at her.

Her phone dinged. She turned away from the cat and blinked at the name. Janice. She searched for the face it connected to, but came up blank. Well, one of Chrissy’s friends. I wish Chrissy would stop giving out my phone number to them. You’d think she would have realized by now that I like to come to my room for peace and quiet, and having constant message alerts kind of defeats the point.

Her eyes scanned over the text. ‘Hiya! Want to hang out at the mall? Chrissy said that she’d ask you, but I wanted to make sure the message got through. I know how it can be with older sisters.’ A merry winking face followed the sentence.

Megan bit her lip.

Typing ‘Sorry, I can’t...’ was almost involuntary. The simple response. The isolated sound of her gerbils’ digging rattled off the walls. She erased.

‘I’d love to!’

Her breath caught and she erased again. What if she doesn’t really want me to come? What if she’s only being nice?

She clicked the phone off without answering.

A swift movement beside the gerbil cage reminded her of the cat’s presence. “Really. I’ve had enough of you.” She reached for the nearest book.

“Don’t!”

Chrissy’s voice arrested her. She looked up to her sister standing in the doorway. Her ears turned hot. The book fell onto her mattress.

“What were you doing to Flynn?”

“Shooing him out of my room. What else?” She stood up, although Chrissy still had a few inches of height over her. “He needs to stop bothering my gerbils.”

“You don’t have to be so mean to him.”

“Wait, me? Mean to him? This is my room--which makes it their room too--and he could kill one of them!”

Chrissy shifted her purse higher on her shoulder. “I think you’re overreacting. I mean, really, they’re in a cage. And they only live, what, three years? If by some weird chance you do lose one to Flynn, I’ll pay for another. Please don’t hit him with books.”

Megan could not trust herself to speak.

“Well, I was coming to ask you if you wanted to come to the mall with me and Janice…”

Now she could gather specifics on the texter. “Janice?”

“She’s coming to our high school next year, remember? Or, rather, your high school.”

Yes. The face came together: shoulder-length cinnamon hair, hazel eyes, inviting smile.

“And she might be able to take Flynn while I’m away at college.”

“Oh.” Megan looked at the floor, then back to Chrissy. “Wouldn’t it be simpler all around to just find the cat a permanent new home? Last year you had a hard time getting someone to take him, and this year has been even worse. Are you sure your friends aren’t starting to feel pestered?”

“Why would they?”

Megan’s hands clenched, bitter disbelief on her tongue. She doesn’t even notice how the cat is destroying relationships, even as we speak. He was weaving through Chrissy’s legs, exerting himself to pull Chrissy’s attention away from her sister.

“Because no one wants to babysit your cat,” Megan said. “I’m surprised none of them has said something, the way you’re constantly at them. We can’t keep him, Chrissy. Just face it.”

The words stung her ears as soon as they left her mouth.

Chrissy’s brown eyes went hard. “We? Flynn is my cat, Megan, and I decide whether I can keep him. Just because you don’t like him, doesn’t mean he isn’t part of this family. I’d just as soon consider finding you a new home as him.” Her chin raised a fraction of an inch. “If you’re coming, Janice will be here in half an hour.”

The curtain fell closed behind Chrissy and Megan fell backwards onto her bed.

She wished that she could turn back time. Back to the day when Chrissy had first brought the sleek black kitten home.

I can’t change what happened five years ago. But I can do something about the coming thirteen. She cringed from the idea of being distanced from Chrissy for another thirteen years by the cat.

A nervous thrill ran through her spine as she sat up. Her phone felt heavy in the back pocket of her jeans. If Janice does not agree to take him for this coming school year, it sounds as if Chrissy won’t have anyone else to ask.

She pulled the phone out. Her breath came faster as she tried not to think of all the ways her idea could go wrong. Typos appeared and self-corrected beneath her nervous fingers. ‘Hi! I wish I could, but I can’t leave Chrissy’s cat home unsupervised.’

Waiting for a response, she tried to hold her hands steady. Calm down, Megan. It’s only a text message.

A text message that could be interpreted a thousand different ways.

What if she regrets ever texting you?

One minute… Two minutes…

The screen lit up again. ‘Oh, why not? We won’t be out late.’

‘Yes, but he’ll bother my gerbils if I leave them alone for more than thirty minutes.’ She hesitated before adding a face with the tongue sticking out.

‘You should tell Chrissy! Maybe she could crate him while we’re out.’

Or she won’t care. ‘Maybe. You’re thinking of taking him this school year, right? Lucky you don’t have small pets!’

‘Actually, I do have a bird.’ Smiley face.

‘Oh...that complicates things…’

Shoving the phone back into her pocket, Megan dropped her head to her knees. You’re giving Janice fair warning, not manipulating, she tried to reassure herself. And getting rid of the cat will be as good for Chrissy as for you.

She had twenty minutes until Janice arrived. Twenty minutes to arrange the proof. When Chrissy’s friend stepped through the front door into their family room, she would see for herself that the cat caused too much harm.

The first part was easy. Only Megan and Chrissy knew that the cat had torn long strips in the sofa cushions on an evening of boredom, since Chrissy had flipped the cushions to hide the damage. A quick re-flip brought the crime to light.

Next the tuna can. Her mother had found it, the inside fuzzy with turquoise mold, that morning beneath the kitchen cupboards. Since the cat took possession of all newly emptied tuna cans in the house, he must have shoved it out of reach as he licked it. Megan rescued it from the trash and positioned it halfway under the rocking chair, so that it drew no overt attention while being impossible to overlook.

She surveyed the damage, knowing that it was lacking. Her eyes fell upon the golden-orange begonia in its blue enamelled pot. Usually it stood centered on the coffee table, but now it tottered only centimeters from the edge, and the rumpled table runner suggested the reason. A skulking black form caught the corner of her eye.

Would I dare?

She pulled out her phone. Her finger hovered over the button that turned on the small, bright flashlight.

This is ridiculous. You should clean this all up and just explain the trouble that the cat is causing to Chrissy.

She won’t understand me. Not as long as the cat is around.

She flicked the flashlight on.

She saw the cat’s ears prick. His body crouched as the point of light zig-zagged over the floor, tantalizing all his hunter’s instinct. His shoulders wiggled.

He dashed forward. The light leaped back. His paws scrabbled for it madly as it flashed on the legs of the table. He lost it. It hovered unnoticed on the tabletop itself.

She brought it back to the floor. He spun and snatched at the edge. Once his antics would have aroused a laugh, but her purpose was too serious, the stakes too high. She fell into the rhythm of light and cat, teasing his whiskers, keeping his focus.

The light swooped around behind him and brought him in a complete circle. It sped under the table and he sped after it. It scampered onto the sofa cushions. With a dip of shoulders and a whisk of tail, he attained the sofa as well. Bright white and shadow black leaped onto the table.

A quick scuffle. A crash. The cat streaked away.

The light halted on shattered pot and spilled soil, blue and black on the pale carpet.

Chrissy’s rapid footsteps sounded in the hall.

Megan turned off the flashlight and fled to her room. She dropped onto her bed and caught up the nearest book. She tried to ease her heartbeat, cool the anxious burning of her ears.

The curtain rustled too soon. “Megan! Did you have anything to do with what happened downstairs?”

“It’s all things the cat has already done.” Her eyes refused to leave the page of her book.

“But why?

The words on the page could have told the most amazing tale ever, or they could have been blank. She did not see. Yet she spoke toward them. “Chrissy, I wonder if it has ever bothered you that I’m your own sister, and you hardly know me.”

“Of course it has!” Chrissy’s high voice pierced her ears. “And I’ve tried and tried and tried! Why do you think I keep asking you to come hang out with me and my friends?”

The book slid in her hands. “But I’m never sure- I mean, what if you all don’t really want-” Megan stammered.

“What if I don’t mean it? Seriously, Megan. Everyone in the world isn’t against you! Just give us some credit for actually wanting to be your friends!”

Megan glanced toward the gerbils. “People never understand me.”

“And the gerbils do?” Chrissy gave a humorless laugh. “They’re rodents! They don’t understand you any more than you understand the emotions of a cricket! And you can’t expect people to understand you either when you won’t give them a chance! But fine. Stay shut off in your room, if that’s what you want.”

Her fortress seemed to constrict around Megan after Chrissy left. The cat slipped into the room.

She looked at him and he was only a cat, whiskers trembling with curiosity, tail curling with excitement, mind oblivious to the rest of the world. And the gerbils were gerbils, busy with their own affairs of nests and cardboard and sunflower seeds.

The text alert on her phone went off; another message from Janice. ‘Are you coming?’

She responded: ‘See you in five minutes!’

She added a smiley face.

And she went after her sister.

END

Kayla Cannon is a high school senior living in Glenmoore, PA with her six siblings and an assortment of cats, gerbils, dogs, chickens, ducks, and geese. When she’s not in the midst of schoolwork, she enjoys reading, writing, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends. She wrote The Cat Problem because she had a vivid picture in her mind for the beginning scene, though in the end she cut that particular scene out of the finished story.