Red, yellow, green, red, repeat. My gas-pedal foot is idle so I tap on the floor and rehearse the words in my head; Jeff works in Melbourne, he’s a doctor. Yes, Mom, Australia is a long way but we can Facetime. It’ll be like I’m in the room with you! Next to me a tractor-trailer pulls up, its giant hubcaps splattered with mud.
A movement in the middle of the road just beyond the lights. I peer over my glasses – a black kitten clings to the asphalt, free-climbing across a sheer mountain face. Grabbing the door handle, I put one leg out and the lights change to green. Behind me, an angry honking of horns.
I stand between the kitten and the huge truck, my arms in crucifixion stance. The eighteen-wheeler eyeballs me and I inhale its hot diesel perfume. I raise my hand in a halt position, hoping the driver can see it; with the other hand I lean down to pick up the tiny creature. The truck driver bellows out his window, and I jump to the side so he can pull away. Antsy motorists zig-zag past me. Only one man gives me a thumbs up.
I put the kitten on the passenger seat. Its claws are slivers of a miniature moon pummeling for milk. When I arrive at Greenfields, I tuck the little thing under my coat.
I take off my coat and put kitty on an armchair.
“Give her to me, sweetie.” Mom reaches out both arms.
Her eyes are luminous in a way I haven’t seen for ages so I oblige. Kitty’s little claws cling to the upholstery but I pry them loose.
Mom strokes its head with her index fingertip, and looks up at me. “Where has she gone?”
“Who?” I ask, knowing the answer.
“She left a few hours ago.”
“Such sublime eyes. A woman like that never need pander to a man.”
I raise my eyebrows. I have never understood Mom’s obsession with Elizabeth Taylor which has only gotten worse since she’s been in the home. The kitten’s meow is high and plaintive but snuggling into Mom’s sweater it quietens and falls asleep.
I tell my mother about Australia and Jeff, the man I met online. She looks blank, still gazing at the foundling in rapture, so I repeat the news, louder this time.
“You’ll not take kitty, will you?”
“Of course not. It’s far too young. Look, I’ll come back tomorrow. You’re not yourself.”
“Who am I then?”
“Just give me the kitten, please.”
A wail as high as a police siren brings a breathless nurse into the room. “Where did that come from?”
“I have no idea where it came from.”
The nurse pulls up a stool close to Mom. “Little mite needs a bath. I’ll bring her straight back afterwards.”
“Make sure you wash behind her ears.” Mom relinquishes the kitten, but I can see her pulse throbbing in the tracery of veins on her temple.
The nurse looks at me as if I’m hopeless. “Under no circumstances, Miss Dyer, are animals allowed into Greenfields.”
“I haven’t seen Mom look so happy in months, actually. So maybe you should consider allowing animals in. Therapy ones? They do it at other homes.”
At a vet’s office on the outskirts of town, they tell me the kitten is female, too young to have left the nest. Tomorrow they’ll ring the cat’s shelter and find a surrogate mother. Tears thrum at my throat as I leave. Her eyes follow me out the door. The empty space on the passenger seat makes me sadder still.
Back home there is an email from Jeff marked urgent. He needs just 3,000 dollars more for the deposit on our beach home. The house stands atop a sand dune, huge glass doors flung open towards the sea. I’ve had the picture as wallpaper on my computer screen for weeks. I cup my chin in my hands and stare at the monitor which pixellates and morphs into the kitten’s face. Amethyst and blue flames oscillate around a dilated pupil as deep and dark as a black hole in space. A door slams in the unit upstairs. Kitty’s face segues into a human face, but those irises remain unchanged. Elizabeth Taylor gazes right back at me, her eyes windows onto a whole new world.
Susan Carey lives in Amsterdam where she teaches English as a second language and writes stories in between the more important jobs of dog-walking and dreaming of worldwide renown. She has had short stories and flash fiction published and performed by amongst others; Mslexia, Liars’ League, Writers Abroad, Reflex Fiction, Flash Flood Journal and Casket of Fictional Delights.