Even five years out, you still come home and want to shout “GI-RLS, in that sing-song voice and then do that “psst psst” thing that let you pretend it was a secret message between the three of you.
Back then they rarely came slinking down the steps at your hopeful call. You knew they’d be splayed on their bed—the one you slept in also, eyeing you from upturned heads that might rotate in disinterested greeting.
It took a while, but you finally noticed they stopped jumping up to things—chairs, tables, and then the bed. Just stayed on the ground and looked up mournfully, giving you a mouthful of injustice and demands. You never noticed the smell. Not until they were long gone and you’d been away for a while, cleansing your sinuses in non-feline tricked-out spaces.
The black one went first. The one you adored the most. Smart as a whip. Could communicate needed information like an empty water bowl by insisting on drinking from your glass. Or the time she had gotten outside and then wheedled her injured back under your nose until you stroked her and found the raised and bloody bites. Not the prettier of the two, but so damned clever by any measure.
Her sister, gray, possibly Persian, with fur you never wanted to stop touching. You’d come home at the end of a hard day and plunge your face in that silky neck and all stress evaporated. Beautiful animal, but dumb as the day is long. Got herself stuck in small spaces—ones she fit in as a kitten, but oh, that was over a decade ago. So much for the precision of whiskers. The black one would stare at her and then up at you as if to say, “Relatives. Hmmm. You just can’t pick ‘em,” and you’d nod in agreement.
It became obvious that her time was here. It was your time to act like a grownup. The black one met you in the foyer on that horrible day. You had the cage in your hand and sadness in your soul. She stared up at you with a look that you hoped meant, “Yes, it’s okay,” but you took as, “Don’t even think about doing it!”
And then after. After the tears and the apologies, after the grey one finally hissed and slunk from the extended, substitute hugs, and you dragged yourself out of the house, puffy-eyed and drippy, and drove to the supermarket, you heard her. Strong and clear in the middle of the parking lot. Not an animal anywhere around, but you heard her. She said it was okay. It hurt a lot and now it doesn’t. You were right, that’s what she was trying to say in the foyer. You’re sticking to that story.