As Told By A Grandfather Clock
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Remote"
Originally featured on 12-07-2009
As part of our series "The Future Was Now"

That day, Betsy and John were both home from work because it was a Sunday. Betsy scrubbed a casserole dish from the night before in the kitchen sink. John sat in the living room reading the Classifieds, looking for work. I was in the dining room like usual. There were still boxes everywhere in the dining room with me. It sucked. But they’d just moved in. Matilda, my last owner, had moved, decided to go abroad the previous spring, and had left me behind just like that. And just like that she’d gotten rid of almost all her things, even her cat. She gave it to Mrs. Estanbauer down the block.

 

So John’s scribbling away on the Classifieds and Betsy’s scrubbing away on the dish, when there’s a noise that comes from the basement. A faint cry that neither Betsy nor John heard. It keeps going, the crying, and then Betsy turns off the faucet and John stops focusing on the ads for used furniture and they both hear and turn towards the basement. John gets up from the sofa.

“Honey, did you hear—“ said John.

“John, there’s something—“ said Betsy.

And they both walked around listening closely to the boxes in the dining room and then to me for a second and then the walls. Then they figured out it was coming from the basement. John and Betsy walked over to the basement door.

“Well, it sounds like—“ said John.

“Open it, John,” said Betsy.

“Okay, right away,” said John sarcastically.

“Seriously, John,” said Betsy.

“Okay,” said John, reaching for the doorknob.

John opened it and into the room burst the pudgy white and gray cat that used to live here. He walked out into the room and meowed at them. Then the cat walked over and started rubbing up against Betsy’s leg.

“Aww, what a cutie!” said Betsy.

“Hmm, how’d this cutie get in here?” said John.

The cat continued meowing and rubbing up against Betsy’s leg. Betsy started to bend so she could pick up the cat.

“Careful Betsy, you don’t know this cat,” said John.

Betsy paused.

“You’re right. I don’t know where this cat’s been,” said Betsy.

“Yeah, it looks cute but it could be from anywhere,” said John.

“Yeah, John, exactly. We don’t know where this cat’s been,” said Betsy.

“Exactly,” said John.

“In fact,” Betsy said, stepping abruptly away, “what the hell am I letting this cat rub itself on me for?”

“No good reason,” said John.

They both began to retreat from the cat. So I spoke up.

“The cat used to live in this house,” I said.

“I hope he doesn’t have rabies,” said Betsy rubbing the cat hair off of her jeans.

“It didn’t bite you, you’re okay,” said John.

“Focus,” said Betsy. “How do we get him the hell out of here?”

“We could just open the door and let him out,” said John. “Okay? Okay? How’s that?”

“Don’t panic John,” said Betsy.

“I just want him the hell out of here,” said John.

“Well then open the door like you said,” said Betsy.

“I was gonna ‘til you said not to panic,” said John, “which made me panic to my core.”

“Just open the door,” said Betsy.

“Okay!” said John.

John ran to the front door and fiddled with the lock. Then he turned the knob and swung open the door. He opened the screen door and stood behind it.

“Psss-wsss-wsss-wsss,” coaxed John.

“Go on, go on you little devil,” coaxed Betsy.

The cat meowed and walked towards Betsy.

“Oh Christ, go on,” said Betsy.

“Psss-wsss-wsss-wsss,” coaxed John.

The cat rubbed against Betsy’s leg again. She recoiled and ran across the living room and out the front door to where John was.

“The cat rubbed against me again,” said Betsy.

“I saw it,” said John. “Gross.”

“Let’s coax it,” said Betsy.

“Psss-wsss-wsss-wsss.”

The cat meowed and hopped up on the couch.

“Noooo,” cried John.

“Oh, what are we going to do now?” said Betsy.

“I refuse to be a hostage here,” said John. “We just bought this house.”

“Yeah, John, that’s the spirit,” said Betsy.

The cat circled and then lay down.

“I’m going to get a glass of water to throw on it,” said John. “You hold the door open so he has somewhere to run.”

“Okay, be careful John,” said Betsy.

He ran through the living room into the kitchen.

“The cat used to live in this house,” I said, louder.

The cat was licking his hind leg. I heard John turn on the water. Then he crept back into the living room with the glass of water in one hand. John’s other hand was poised like he was ready to block a punch. John was a couple of feet from the cat, readying himself to throw the water when he noticed something.

“Betsy,” he whispered. “There’s a collar on him.”

“Whew,” sighed Betsy, walking immediately back into the house. “Looks like we were worried about nothing, if he has a collar.”

“Yeah. False alarm, honey,” said John, taking the spot next to the cat on the couch.

“Check where he lives,” said Betsy.

John reached and grasped the tag on the cat’s collar. The cat kept cleaning itself.

“Honey?” John was still staring at the tag.

“Yeah, sweetstuff,” said Betsy.

“You love me, right?” said John.

“Well, of course, why are you asking me—“

“Good, Cause I’m freaking out over here.”

“What’s wrong, John?”

“The tag says that this cat lives…here,” said John.

“What?!” said Betsy.

“The cat used to live in this house,” I said again.

“The tag says that this is somehow…our cat,” said John.

Then John turned to Betsy with a scowl. “Do you know anything about this?”

“What?” said Betsy.

“Do you know anything about this? Did you, like, go out and get this cat while I wasn’t looking?” said John.

“John, I’m shocked,” said Betsy. “That’s a shocking accusation.”

John’s face softened.

“You’re right,” said John. “I don’t believe you would do that. I’m sorry.”

“Are you really sorry?” said Betsy.

The cat licked its other hind leg. John smiled.

“Yes. I’m sorry,” said John. “You wouldn’t just go out and get this cat behind my back like that.”

Betsy smiled. “Then I accept your apology. But that still leaves the mystery about why this cat’s tag says that it lives here.”

I chimed in again at this point. “The cat used to live in this house.”

“Well maybe somebody made fake tags for the cat with our address,” said John.

“Unlikely John. That’s really unlikely. Maybe it’s one of your brother’s practical jokes.”

“What, Bill? Get us a cat as a practical joke? That doesn’t seem like Bill’s style, but let’s find out.”

John pulled out his cell phone. As he waited for Bill to pick up, he shook his head at the cat.

“Hi Bill…yeah, it’s me, John…well, yeah I love talking to my little brother, it’s good to hear the sound of your voice too…well, funny you mention Betsy, because it was her idea I call you…no I don’t mean it like that, don’t take it like that…I call you as often as you call me…anyway, let me tell you why she wanted me to call…okay, fine, I’ll make more of an effort, anyhow, we’ve got this cat here…yeah, a cat…it’s white…so is this your idea of a practical joke?…no just the usual amount, a bottle of wine last night between the two of us…okay so I’m getting that this isn’t your idea of a joke…well, okay then I’ve gotta run, but I’ll make more of an effort…yeah, well I’ve got this mysterious cat to deal with now, so so long then, talk to you soon Bill.”

John shut his phone. John shook his head and shrugged at Betsy.

“Maybe it’s a gift,” said Betsy.

“Maybe it’s like an omen,” said John.

“An omen?” said Betsy.

“Yeah, like that we shouldn’t have moved here.”

“Like a curse? The cat’s a curse?” said Betsy.

John slid away from the cat. He looked at Betsy.

“Well I like living here,” said John.

“Me too,” said Betsy.

“And I’m not willing to let this cat come here and screw it up,” said John.

“Right,” said Betsy. “Me neither. Enough is enough!”

She marched into the kitchen and returned with a carving knife.

I shouted. “The cat used to live in this house!”

Betsy ran and then dove at the napping cat with the knife.

“The cat used to live in this house!”

John grabbed Betsy before the knife reached the napping cat’s stomach.

“The cat used to live in this house!”

“Wait, just wait,” said John.

Betsy struggled in John’s arms.

“Why, John?”

“Because I have a theory, dammit!”

“What, John?”

“Remember how we’ve always said we’d be open to getting a cat?” said John.

“Yeah?” said Betsy as she stopped struggling.

“Well maybe this is that cat,” said John.

Betsy smiled at John.

“You mean?” said Betsy.

John nodded.

“Yep. This cat might have gotten unstuck from time.”

“How, John?” said Betsy.

“Well any number of ways. It could be a cat we have when we’re married forty years and something happens…maybe nuclear…by us…and then the cat ends up back here.”

“Oh come on,” said Betsy.

“What? It’s plausible. One theory is just as good as another, when nobody knows.”

“Well if that’s true then I—” Betsy dropped the knife. “…almost…killed…our cat.”

“The cat used to live in this house!”

John put his arms around her and Betsy rested her head on his shoulder.

“But you didn’t,” said John.

“Thanks, John,” said Betsy. “Thanks for understanding. I just wasn’t willing to lose everything.”

“I can understand that, I guess,” said John. “How long do you think he’ll remain here, in our time?”

“The cat used to live in this house!”

“I don’t know, John. How could I know that?”

“Perhaps we should compose a note and put it on the cat’s collar. A note to ourselves in the future,” said John.

“To tell the future us where our cat has been all this time?” asked Betsy.

John rolled his eyes.

“I don’t think you grasp time travel, Betsy. Do you think that you do?”

“I guess not, John. So?”

“So just think before you say things,” said John. “I don’t want to feel like I’m married to an idiot, ya know.”

“Oh, fine!” said Betsy. “Your silly wife who doesn’t understand complicated matters will just keep her mouth shut. Happy now, John?”

“Don’t make this more than it is. I’m not saying that you are an idiot. You understand complicated things, just not time travel. So, just keep it mind, that’s all I’m saying.”

Betsy scowled at John.

“I love you?” said John.

She continued to scowl.

“I love you too,” Betsy finally said.

“The cat used to live in this house.”

“Well, I’ll get working on the note,” said John.

Betsy nodded and shook her fists.

“I’m so excited. What shall it say?” said Betsy.

“I don’t know yet,” said John.

“Well, can I add something to it when you’re done?” asked Betsy.

John put his hands on his hips.

“What?” asked John.

Betsy shrugged, holding back a smile.

“Oh…just something.”

“Betsy, tell me what it is,” John commanded.

“Alright,” said Betsy. “I was going to write a little note to future me and say I’m glad you stuck with John. I think she’d like that.”

John looked at the cat. The cat looked at John.

“I don’t want that in the note,” said John.

“But why?” said Betsy.

John sat down next to the cat and patted its head.

“It’s seems derogatory against me somehow,” said John. “Like it’s passive aggressive or something.”

“Oh, here we go with that again! Well that’s not how I meant it,” said Betsy.

John stood up and nodded his head. “Okay, Betsy. You can write that if you like.”

Betsy stepped forward and took John’s hand in hers.

“No, you’re right. It was passive aggressive. I feel really pressured ever since this cat showed up—”

“Got unstuck,” corrected John softly.

“Yes. And see, I want things to go back to the way they were. What if this cat doesn’t ever get…restuck?” said Betsy.

“Well, there’s nothing we can do really, Betsy. This cat is our responsibility now.”

Betsy nodded agreement. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

Betsy walked over, petted the cat and held its tag.

“This tag proves it,” said Betsy.

“The cat used to live in this house.”

“We’re going to need cat food and a dish,” said Betsy.

John jutted out his chin.

“How much does that cost?” said John.

“I don’t know, but the cat’s got to eat, right?” said Betsy.

“Oh, wait a sec, Betsy. Money is tight, you know that. We’ve just moved. How much does cat food cost?” said John.

Betsy walked over to John’s paper. After a little shuffling, she pulled off a circular and held up an ad for cat food.

“Just 2.99 a can,” said Betsy.

“2.99 a can?” said John. “How many cans do they eat in a day?”

“I think twice a day,” said Betsy.

“So that’s, like, one hundred and eighty dollars a month in cat food? Is that right?” said John.

“Yes, I think it is,” said Betsy.

John cradled his head in his hands.

“Maybe this cat’s not from the future, maybe my theory’s wrong,” said John.

“But then how do you explain the tag?” said Betsy.

“Well, I don’t know,” said John. “Maybe it’s an old collar. Maybe the cat used to live in this house.”

Read More By Doug Dean

COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Archives Archives
Advertise