Short Story: The Search

Here’s something I’ve been working on for a while. I keep putting it down and then coming back to it… I figure I should just get it finished so I can move on to the next one finally.

The Search

You would think by the time I found the fourth dead kitten I would have stopped screeching about it; but you would not be correct. I had stopped gagging by the third one though, so that was something. I sat back from digging through the shoes and boxes in the back of my grandmother’s closet and tried to wipe the sweat out of my eyes without dislodging the bandana around my nose and mouth. Or touching my skin with my dead kitten gloves.

You know the most surprising thing to me about this whole mess? The most surprising thing was not my grandmother turning into a shut-in who died suddenly last week. Nor the cat collecting thing. It wasn’t even the state of her house or the desiccated kitten corpses in the back closet. The most surprising thing to me was the rats.

I had asked the demolition guy about that when he told me what was planned for the place. For the most part the decision was based on the hantavirus risk, turns out. From the rats.

“Seriously. Rats? In a house with a lady who never went outside and had thirty cats?”

“Rats are smarter than cats, sir. We’ve set out poison to kill them; can’t have them running to the neighbors when the place comes down on Thursday. But I can tell you I’m not setting foot back in there without a full suit and respirator.”

So that explained the bandana I was sure wasn’t helping. And while the boxes of baking soda I had scattered everywhere did not help with the infectious disease risk it did cut the dead rat and cat pissy ammonia smell a bit. Now every floor and surface was covered in white powder. The coffee table looked like Tony Montana’s. Say hello to my little friends! Or not. Since they’re dead rats and kittens.

It had obviously been different when I had lived here. When I had come as a sad and scared eight year old kid the house had been clean and mostly empty. Back then it was full of bare walls and empty tables. Never warm and cozy, I guess, but stable and quiet; just like my grandmother- back then, at least.

But things fall apart. My twenties had been spent thinking everything does, but I know better now. Not everything falls apart, not always. The hard part, of course, is knowing when it is inevitable and when you could be the one to hold it together. Because some things verge on fate… and some things hinge on our decisions. But which is which… that’s a Hamlet level question, right there.

Looking at my grandmother’s shoes on the closet floor again, I got up and followed my own footprints back through the hallway, the baking soda crunching underfoot. I went into the living room for fresher air. I went out to the back yard when I didn’t find it. I lit a cigarette.

All of the cats were gone now. That was how I had found out about all of this, a news story on Sunday night focusing on the cats. I had watched the video of workers carrying cage after cage of raggedy cats out a familiar looking front door, the anchor’s voice stating the need for foster homes floating over the scene. That had been how I’d found out about my grandmother’s death though it wasn’t the focus of that particular story. That same night I had driven to her house and sat out front by the curb, weird buzzing in my brain. And I had come the next day, and then the following one, armed with a bandana and a case of baking soda. I also came armed with a weird protective numbness floating somewhere near my heart.

Far down on the list of things that I wanted, but the only one that was possible now, was to find at least something of my earlier self here. What that meant, specifically, were my eight school pictures that had hung in the front hallway. My eyes had snapped there immediately when I walked in, but the pictures were gone from the wall. Of course they were. Hours of searching had passed but no luck. I don’t even know why I thought she might have kept them. If she had though, it could mean she had still cared for me and had felt sorry for kicking me out. Finding them could mean that she wished she had found another way, all those years ago. And that would mean she and I could have had one thing in common at least, here at the end.

That horrible night she had told me to get out and never come back and I had screamed back that I would do exactly that. I was in love and it had all seemed worth it. Of course now I could see that all those years of sadness would be started by a guy who would walk away from me forever a few short months later. But of course it had never been about him. It had been about me. Now it was all a week too late- years too late- and the only thing possible was looking for some pictures in a dead woman’s closet.

I finished my cigarette and looked for something to put it in. I grabbed something suitable off the concrete and then raised it up further to take a closer look. Turning it over I saw the cleaner side was a familiar looking dusty pink. How it had gotten out here I had no way to know, but here was the trashcan from the hallway bathroom. This is what my grandmother had always put next to my bed when I was sick. Sometimes she had rubbed my back when I would throw up in it.

I didn’t put my cigarette in it.

As I went back inside I stopped suddenly; there were cat prints in the baking soda on the coffee table. After all the death, filth, cat traps and rat poison, news stories, hantavirus, and who knows what else… after all of that there was still a cat here. A cat had survived all of it. I smiled to think some smart little creature had so easily avoided me as I moved around the house on my search.

I opened the windows, pushed the screens out, and left the back door open. Somehow I knew the cat would make it out before the place came down.

All I took was the trashcan.