Town gossip gone awry in times gone by… that’s the story Jana Oliver is bringing to you today for our Halloween Flash Fiction blog event. Her story was inspired by this image…
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The Cat with No Name by Jana Oliver
I was surprised to find that the old homestead hadn’t changed in all these years, still rundown and bone tired. Spanish moss isn’t something when you’ve seen it your whole life. It was the twin graves, marked with those crude wooden crosses, that brought me back after all these years. My “aunts”, Marion DeVere and Evelyn Cherney, live under those crosses. Devout Christians both. Not old, but not young. Always there until they weren’t.
They took me in when I was eight, after my parents died. At first, they told me my ma and pa were in heaven, but then they stopped lying. They told me they’d take care of me, and after a fashion they did. They made sure I was fed proper meals, said my prayers on my knees every night before bed, and taught me how to take care of the stray animals that showed up at the farm. They gave me homemade clothes and an old doll named Lucy. I still have both tucked away in a box somewhere.
We went to church suppers every now and then. Sometimes only I noticed that none of the men would come near the two aunties. In fact, they kept a goodly distance from them like they had some disease or another. One of them said it was because Evelyn and Marion weren’t right, but I never knew what he meant. Maybe it had something to do with the cats.
Seems we always had a lot of them—small ones, big ones, one with a missing leg and another with messed up ears. The aunties loved them and they loved the aunties back. If someone came to our farm all the cats would appear from nowhere and stare at whoever had come to visit. Word got around that we were odd. We didn’t mind.
I didn’t go to school much, mostly because the aunties had already taught me all I needed to know. I learned words from the dictionary and the battered old encyclopedia Marion found at a library sale. It was enough for someone like me.
When I was fourteen Derrick Pinton noticed me. Derick thought I should like him, said he didn’t want me to be Iike Evelyn and Marion. I didn’t know what he meant. I figured it out right quick when he put his hand on my breast. I left him crying about how I’d hurt him. Maybe I had. After that he wouldn’t come near me. I liked that better.
Marion thought the world of Reverend McKinley, said he was a righteous man. Then he started talking to her about Evelyn and me, about sin. It made Marion very sad. Because of that, I didn’t like the reverend any more than Evelyn did.
Things changed when the last cat found me, the one I never named because no name seemed to fit him. He was all manner of colors, like he was wearing a Joseph’s coat or something. He was behind the Tip Top Store where we bought groceries and Evelyn her smokes. He was waiting for me, not pawing through the trash like the others I’d found. I brought him home. None of the other cats would come near him. The aunties didn’t like him either. It wasn’t until later I figured out why.
I was just sixteen when they died. Marion went first. It was a surprise because she’d always been there, like sweet tea and fried green tomatoes. She liked watching the TV and smoking her little smelly cigars. She always had time for a skinny teenager who had no friends. A teenager who asked no questions about why two women lived together out on a farm where there were no men.
I was the one who found them. The knife came from the kitchen and it was buried in Marion’s heart, nearly cleaving it in two. I found her killer sitting in the porch swing, holding her, singing an old lullaby as the blood slowly poured around them. Evelyn always knew the best lullabies. When I asked why she’d hurt Marion she said couldn’t lose her to sin. Couldn’t let her go. Evelyn died right soon after Marion, but then there was no way she could have lived, not with the three bullets I put in her chest. She wanted to die that way, and I’d been taught to respect my elder’s wishes. Always have.
If the townsfolk had known about the deaths, and what I did, they would have claimed it was the will of the Lord that claimed my aunties. Others would say it was the Devil his very own self who killed them. That they reaped what they’d sewn. But I knew the truth—they were friends, nothing more. Only dear friends. Funny how people think things are one way, and they’re really another. Pointing a finger at someone for some sin is just a way of pointing it away from yourself.
It took a full day to shift all that dirt for the two graves, another day to make sure Marion and Evelyn were buried all proper-like. I dressed them in their best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. Church clothes. In Evelyn’s shroud I put a pack of her favorite cigars. For Marion, the pretty embroidered handkerchief she’d bought in Chattanooga all those years ago. While I worked, The Cat with No Name watched, dark eyes unblinking. When it was all done, he meowed once, then vanished into the night.
At least that’s the way it seemed back when I was sixteen. Now, at eighty some years, I know better. My joints ache as much as my heart, my knees creak and my bones are so weary. Derrick Pinton is long dead and so are most of those who spoke bad about us. Like the reverend, who had his own sins to answer for. Time is as sharp as the Reaper’s scythe.
Last night, when I was standing in front of the aunties’ graves the Cat with No Name showed up. He’s watching me now, sitting there like he did that night when Marion and Evelyn were laid to rest. Waiting. Always waiting. He’s here to show me the way home. I could not ask for better company. Well, except the aunties, of course.
Soon I’ll be standing before the Almighty Himself. Will He think what I did was evil or good? Some might say even He wouldn’t dare. But I know better. The cat at my feet has already judged and my many sins are no more.
Cats never lie. Not even the ones with no name.
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