They had been married long enough to get hopelessly in debt. They filed for bankruptcy and they filed for divorce.
He brought papers to sign, “Our only assets are the car and the cat.”
“How can we divide one car or one cat?” she asked.
“I’ll take the car.”
Before she could protest, the tabby rubbed against her legs.
She heard a voice in her mind, “Take me. I’ll shake your life. Stop being a wife. Take me. I’ll shape your life, the end of strife.”
The woman picked up her pet, “I’ll take the cat.”
The end of one thing is the beginning of the next.
She began her life of not being a wife. She lived in a room in a friend’s beach house. She found a job and after work she pet her cat. She avoided friends and other employees. She spoke to the cat, waiting for his response. She grew vegetables, weeding as the cat rolled in warm dirt.
Several months later the owner left on a yearlong cruise, “Stay in the house. I can’t remember why we’re friends, but I love you. You’re working, pay the electric bill.”
She rode the bus to work. She squeezed fresh lemons to make lemonade. She squeezed lemons over fish she caught in the bay. She mixed lemon juice with oil for vinaigrette to dress tomatoes and zucchinis she grew. She sat up with the cat at night watching satellite TV about unhappy lives: talk shows and reality shows, court shows and magazine shows.
She lost her job when she tired from chemotherapy. She didn’t tell anyone about the cancer. Not her friend who e-mailed from the cruise, her employer or neighbors who walked by on the sand smiling at her cat. She listened to TV every hour.
She completed her treatments. Without money or job, the electricity was disconnected. She found earthquake supplies: candles and canned food. Three cords of wood were stacked on the north side of the house. Wood purchased for bonfires on the beach.
She lit candles, burning wood in the fireplace. She ate from the garden and the bay, opening cans. Her eyes itched and her head throbbed from fatigue. Her toes tingled and her legs ached. She read with the cat in her lap. When too tired to read, she stroked the cat. When too tired to pet him, she rested her hand on his back as his breath lifted her hand.
Pale and bald, silent and tired, little changed for our heroine. The cat remained warm and plump, wise and centered. When the woman slept, the cat visited neighbors. He breakfasted with an old woman three houses to the south. Lunch came from the scruffy teenager in the A-frame next door. He received dinner from the family in the green house near the pier. The cat decided to shake his mistress, to shape her.
While eating breakfast, the cat spoke to the mind of the old woman scratching his ear, “Help her now. You know how.”
The cat told the brain of the teenaged musician at lunch, “Help her now. You know how.”
At dinner, the cat entered the mind of the listening children, “Help her now. You know how.”
The old woman walked the beach. She noticed the young woman digging in the garden as the cat rolled in dirt. She saw baldness under the young woman’s bandanna. She crossed her arms over her chest, remembering her full breasts before they’d been sliced. The old woman brought a casserole dish with garlic bread and a bag of lettuce that night.
When she knocked on the door she stumbled her greeting, “I thought you might like lasagna. I make too much for one. I forgot salad dressing, do you have any?”
“I make my own. Thank you. I don’t know what to say.” said the young woman, uncertain hearing her own voice.
“I used to make dressing. Do you use oil and vinegar?”
“I use oil and lemon juice. I’ve got a lemon tree. Do you like fresh lemons?”
After picking lemons and lighting candles, they shared a meal and shared their lives. The old woman paid the past-due electric bill the next day. Her children were grown, but she’d found a new child to care for. She knit sweaters for the young woman.
The next evening, the young woman turned on the lights. She opened a book she’d read before. She had read every book in the house. She heard music played by teenage boys next door. The wailing was disturbing and stimulating. She listened with the cat for company.
When the old woman stopped by in the afternoons, they cut lemons to squeeze in tea. Their friendship grew in comfort, cup by cup.
Alone in the morning, the young woman began humming. When the cat jumped on the desk to bat at a pen, the woman played sword-like with it. She tidied the papers spilled on the floor by the cat and grabbed paper to scribble. Two hours later she had written lyrics for a dozen songs.
She found a hand-held harp in the garage. Strumming the strings, she stepped in the sunshine where children built sand castles. As she sang, they played closer.
After her friend remained in France and gave her the house, the house became busy. She shared tea with the old woman, sang to children and jammed with teenagers’ bands. Two decades later, her cat was dying.
She told him, “Let’s stay together forever.”
She saw the cat nod and point toward the garden. She carried him to find the beanstalk extending into the clouds. They climbed to live in the heavens.
The end of one thing is the beginning of the next.
Laura Beasley has lived 13 years beyond cancer and has been married 35 years to her high school sweetheart. They are expecting their first grandchild. Her stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Enchanted Conversation, The Story Shack and elsewhere.