Sonny Smith’s aversion to cats began long
before he opened the door to the deck on
a mild morning in late June and saw
splattered across the floorboards (“do they
ever need a new coat of stain,” he thought) the
remains of a gray squirrel. Its body ferociously and
methodically dismembered, left in tatters, the reddish
eyes of the creature staring at him which only
heightened his revulsion.
Disgusted, Sonny picked up the four pieces one
by one with a paper towel, placed them in a plastic
bag, tied it and tossed it in the outside trash. Then,
stepping around what was left of the mess in his
bare feet, he grabbed an empty cool-whip container
that Jill had put out to be recycled, filled it with
dish detergent and warm water and splashed that
over the residue. Once, twice, three times.
His mood had turned surly and it was only 7:15
Sonny remembered northern New Jersey, around
1966. Territory that he and his newspaper buddy
John Latham had been haunting on the weekends;
barhopping, chasing women. John had caught
word of a house party being hosted by a girl he
knew from Iona College. “She’s my gift to you,”
John said. “A knockout. You’ll like her. Well-to-do
folks, big place near Parsippany.”
The home’s doors and windows were thrust wide
against summer heat, overhead light bathing
twenty or so people who were congregated in the
huge living room. All were in their early twenties,
chugging beers, sipping wine. “Not my kind of
scene,” Sonny mused. “Much more to John’s liking.” John
had grown up just outside the city, was at ease on the subway,
had introduced Sonny to midtown Manhattan (Jack
Dempsey’s restaurant, Madison Square Garden) and Greenwich
Village, would soon be best man at Sonny’s wedding.
The girl , blond, voluptuous, obviously popular, obviously
spoiled, ignored Sonny from the outset. Her name was Anne.
Everyone drank too much. Most stayed overnight.
Sonny awoke the next morning to a cat on the bed he had
been assigned. A calico draped over his feet, acting for all the
world as if entitled to the space.
“Some sex kitten you got there,” a wiseacre—muscled,
deeply tanned, a regular Mr. Universe—cracked, walking past
the room. “Nice score, my man!”
The incident was all a dog lover like Sonny needed to think
of cats from then on as an enemy. He resented their inherent
laziness; it was objectionable to Sonny who was by nature
industrious. Their sneaky ways, creeping around, annoyed
him. A cat rubbing against his leg always gave him a start.
Their meowing, their purring, none of it fit with his persona.
One spring Sonny and Jill’s daughter Ivy moved out, wound
up with her then-boyfriend in a second-floor apartment two
and a half miles away. Ivy took Smokey, who was her cat, with
her. “I will miss that cat,” Jill said, thinking of it jumping into
her lap in the recliner—snuggling deep.
“Smokey’s gone!” Ivy said. “He clawed through the screen
and ran off!”
Jill hung up the telephone. “Smokey’s disappeared,” she said
to Sonny. “He escaped. He didn’t want to leave us. This is his
home. What are we going to do?”
Sonny’s dreams were haunted by visions of Smokey trying to
make his way back. Sonny pictured Smokey foraging for
scraps, entangled in briars, ravaged by tics, fighting for his life
with a raccoon or a skunk, killed attempting to cross the state
highway or the Providence & Worcester railroad tracks.
Sonny sat bolt upright in bed, hearing the blast of the train
whistle at three in the morning. He slowed the car to 20 miles
per hour every time he spotted a dead animal on the side of
the road—just out of curiosity. Told by a neighbor of a cat
that had been hit nearby, he went to check.
Sonny was standing on the walk in front of the house one
afternoon when a cat—charcoal black, scraggly, wary of his
surroundings—approached on tiptoes.
“Hey!” Sonny yelled. “Come here!”
The cat darted at the sound of Sonny’s voice.
“I think I saw Smokey,” Sonny told Jill. “Can’t be sure.”
Six weeks had passed. An eternity for Jill and Ivy.
Later that same day Sonny, his ears perked to a familiar
scratching noise at the back door, let Smokey in.
Sonny got a can of tuna fish from the basement.
“You must be starved. Eat, little fella,” he said.
“It’s good to see you, pal.”

Smokey   A Short Story/ROD LEE

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