by Logan Rose
“Go get the cat,” says Mother.
I roll my eyes.
“Roll your eyes one more time, young lady,” says Stepfather, who likely let the cat out, in the first place. He raises his hackles from the couch, ready to stand over me and emphasize his authority, as if it’s not already clear that he’s the grown-up and I’m the child.
It’s cold, but I don’t feel like an argument, so I put on my coat, grab the flashlight, and head out to call the cat.
“Cinnamon! Here, kitty kitty,” I cry into the night.
Cinnamon does not come. Shocker.
I scan the yard with my flashlight, looking for the light that reflects off Cinnamon’s eyes among the tall grass and tumbleweeds.
“Cinnamon,” I scold, as if I have spotted her in the distance (I haven’t), “Come here, cutie pie. Cinnamon. Kitty, kittyyyyyy.”
I look. I listen. There is nothing but silence.
If I go inside without the cat, it’s going to be a fight. Mother will be worried, which means Stepfather will be angry, especially if Mother blames Stepfather for “not being careful with the door.”
The night is cold, and I have a residual fear of the dark, but dealing with Stepfather is scarier. I’ve already received one threat this week, and I swear he gets closer to hitting me every time I dare him to follow through.
“CINNAMON!” I scream.
I wait for a moment, drawing circles with my shoe and watching my breath make pale clouds in the air. It smells like campfires and ponderosa pines. It’s too cold to taste the candied winter rolling in from the mountains.
Mother worries about the cat, and if I’m honest, so do I. We agreed to stop letting her out after Nutmeg “ran away,” but Cinnamon keeps ending up outside, late at night. Somehow, she always slips out the door when we’re away at school and work, and it’s just Stepfather at home.
I think he’s trying to get rid of the cat. If I didn’t know better, I would think he was trying to get rid of me, too.
The Boys never go outside to get the cat. The Boys roll their eyes and slam their doors. I slammed my door once. Stepfather took it off the hinges. He did it so roughly that there’s a hole where the hinges used to be.
“Jesus Christ, Cinnamon,” I lament to no one.
I shine my light one more time.
There they are.
Cat eyes, flickering yellow blue in the flashlight.
I keep the light on Cinnamon’s glowing eyes and walk toward her.
“Come on, Cinnamon,” I plead, hoping I won’t have to walk all the way into the weeds.
Of course, she doesn’t come.
I keep walking, slapping away stalks and burrs like I’m Indiana Jones.
Cinnamon refuses to move. She just keeps staring at me with her demon eyes.
Come on, Cinnamon.
Finally, I’m close enough to touch the damned cat. I start to reach down and anticipate the squirming mess of creature I’m about to have in my arms when I hear a meow.
I turn around, and there’s Cinnamon – wearing an innocent grin and waiting to be picked up and dragged inside.
I’m afraid to look back at the eyes, the too-yellow eyes that never stopped staring at me, not even once. Without looking, I see teeth and claws and everything evil, a belt snapped across a bottom so the marks aren’t visible.
I take Cinnamon in my arms and run towards the door. My coat snags on a spiny Goathead bush, collecting burrs in the process.
That’s going to be a fight tomorrow, especially when I inevitably track the sharp burrs into the house. I’m sure they’re in Cinnamon’s fur, too.
Hopefully Mother cuts them out before Stepfather notices and puts “the filthy animal” in the garage to “clean herself up.” Paprika disappeared from the garage after she was allegedly sprayed by a skunk.
I pause outside the door, pricking my fingers trying to remove as many burrs from my coat and the cat as I can under the porch light, looking over my shoulder for the yellow-eyed beast all the while and peeking in the window to see if Stepfather is about.
I take a deep breath and slip inside as quietly as I can, my back against the door and Cinnamon pressed to my chest with a low purr. It’s safe for now, and I’ve never felt so happy to be inside.
Upstairs I stand in the most private corner of my bedroom and slide my bra off from underneath my pajama shirt. Cinnamon rumbles quietly on the bed. I peek through the blinds before closing them. Nothing but my reflection staring back at me and the depth of the room behind me.
Stepfather stands with his arms crossed in the sitting room, which I can see reflected through the hole where my door should be. I wonder what he’s pissed off about this time. Maybe I was out past curfew grabbing the Goddamned cat.
Cinnamon paws at my back. I turn, and she looks at me with her comforting cat eyes – green and shimmering. She blinks at me slowly. I wiggle under the covers, careful not to make Cinnamon uncomfortable, and stare at her until I fall asleep, resisting the urge to check if Stepfather is still simmering in the common space.
In the morning, Cinnamon is gone.
Mother and I search in the closets and under the bed – even in The Boys’ rooms, where under the bed smells like socks.
We move the furniture, we shake the treats, we scan the field in the light of day. My pajama pants are wet with melted frost.
Stepfather doesn’t help. He watches, and I swear I can see him smile. There’s a yellow glint in his blue eyes.
I miss Cinnamon. I miss Nutmeg. I miss the door to my bedroom and the space where the hinges attached to the wall.
I step outside into the traitorously warm winter sun and call, in vain, for the cat.
Next time Stepfather offers to buy Mother another kitten, I hope to God she says no.
Logan Rose is a Los Angeles-based writer from Flagstaff, Arizona. She studied film at the University of Southern California and works as a freelance copywriter, proofreader, and story analyst for clients all over the world. Her hobbies include cooking, traveling, and taking excellent care of Rizzo the Cat.