Hello and welcome—or welcome back—to ‘Very short stories r us,’ where I am posting one one-page story a week for a year. Following is story number forty-one. Thank you for reading.
The cat, Parsley, disappeared in the spring. Polly and her daughter, Rachel, assumed she’d been felled by a raccoon or a car. Then one afternoon in midsummer, thin and matted and glassy-eyed, Parsley walked in through her cat door, lay down in her customary rectangle of sunlight on the kitchen floor, and died. Rachel caught this on her phone. She caught everything on her phone. She showed the video of Parsley dying to her mother while videoing her mother’s reaction, and then asked Polly to share her feelings. Polly wondered why Rachel requested, during the feelings-sharing, that Polly not refer to Parsley by name but call her only “our cat.” Turned out it was because Rachel had changed Parsley’s name in the video to The Rock. Upon seeing the video for the first time, before Rachel uploaded it, Polly did her best to find things to praise, like Rachel’s unsparing vision of life and death, and then said, “But honey, why couldn’t you let her be Parsley?” “Because, Mom, Parsley sounds too much like Polly, and Polly is too much like the way you want things to be all the time, and insist that they are even when they’re not. If I’m ‘unsparing’ it’s because you’re, you know, sparing.” This was more or less the same argument her daughter had made for legally changing her own name from Polly to Rachel a year ago. There was something else about the video that upset Polly even more than Rachel’s changing the name of the cat, but she didn’t have the heart to bring it up. In the first few weeks after Rachel uploaded it, millions of people watched, and then Rachel began getting interview requests from major websites. Polly was uneasy. This was not a heartwarming story about a cat. It was a story about a cat featuring cruelty, betrayal, loss, and death. After the studio audience at Rachel’s first TV interview laughed at a certain part of the video that featured Polly, Polly drove Rachel home gripping the steering wheel tight so her hands wouldn’t shake. Rachel was walking straight back to her bedroom, head down, thumbs pouncing repeatedly on the screen of her phone as she responded to congratulatory texts from friends and family, when Polly shouted, “Stop!” Rachel swung around, unused to being addressed this way by her mother. “They laughed at me!” “So?” “‘So?’? I’m your mother and you humiliated me.” “You humiliated yourself.” The part of the video the audience had laughed at was a seven-second freeze-frame of Polly’s face as she watched her daughter’s footage of their cat’s death for the first time. Polly’s look was not one of sadness, but one of disgust—a scowl, an ugly face that was amusing to an auditorium full of people. “Why did you do it, Rachel?” Polly asked her daughter in the carpeted hallway between the kitchen and their two bedrooms. “Because, Mom, underneath ‘Polly,’ that’s who you really are.” “That is not who I am, that is something you manipulated me into feeling in response to one creepy and disgusting video you made so you could capture me feeling it for another.” “You think my video is disgusting. I think your disgust is hilarious, and this morning 300 people agreed with me.” Polly slapped Rachel in the face hard and for the first time ever. Rachel stared at her in shock and then started moving toward her, face red and contorted. She balled her right hand into a fist and wound up to punch Polly. The little twerp was a terrible fighter—she telegraphed her punch and was neither fast nor strong. Polly grabbed Rachel’s punching hand and then the other one, pinned her arms to her sides, and hugged her tight enough that Rachel couldn’t get in a body jab. Rachel’s struggling and grunting soon turned to sobbing. “I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I miss her so much, she’s dead-uh-haaaaaah!” Polly checked in with her own chest and throat to see if there was any Pollylike sobbing developing. There was not. She wondered, as she’d been doing since the spring, if Rachel had acted in some way to drive Parsley out of their home, before she came back to die. No matter. When Rachel’s crying subsided, Polly released her. “Honey, may I have your phone?” Rachel handed it to her. Polly walked to the kitchen, threw it down on the linoleum tiles, and stomped on it seven or eight times. She picked up the phone’s remains and threw them in the garbage. “Now come on out back with me, dear, and let’s say hi to Parsley.” They walked out the kitchen door into their back yard, first the mother and then, head hanging down, the daughter. They stood at the fresh grave and paid their respects to the dead.