Today’s story got odder than I expected. The fabulous Christine Campbell has been doing Story A Day, too, and she’s been all about a pint of milk, so some of that leaked over onto my story. On Facebook, somebody posted a beautiful picture of a cat that seemed to be beckoning, and the multitalented Andrea Gilbey suggested it as a prompt. So, the following:
The Beckoning Cat
by Marian Allen
Dee eased her metal walking frame through the back door and onto the porch. If she fell again, her son would put her in a Home for her own good, in spite of the CareFree Alert necklace she had to wear 24/7. Good or no good, she wanted to squeeze out as many days here as she could, the way she squeezed out every possible penny of her government check.
What she was doing now wasn’t an extravagance. Not really. She only bought milk a pint at a time, these days, but she still couldn’t use it all before it went bad. Wasting food was a sin, with so many people hungry; so she’d been taught, and so she believed.
So, when a gray-and-white tabby had begun showing up in the yard of an evening (probably a feral cat, she thought, living in the woods beyond her suburb), she had taken to leaving a bit of milk in a saucer for it. She left it up here, on the porch, on the wide shelf with her scarlet geraniums, and she propped the screen door open just wide enough for a cat to slip through.
The cat came every evening, and the milk was gone every morning. She supposed it was the cat who drank it, though her Irish grandmother, Mama Deidre, for whom she was named, used to leave a dish of milk for the fairies every night.
This evening, though, the cat stood much closer than it usually did. This evening, it stood at the bottom edge of the ramp that led from the porch door to the back walk. It placed a paw on the ramp, then lifted the paw, pads toward itself, in a human gesture of beckoning. It did it again. And again.
Dee trembled all over, a signal she recognized as her body telling her it was about to lose strength. She backed up to a chair and lowered her fragile bones into it just as her legs gave way.
This was happening more often lately. It wouldn’t be long before she’d have to make use of that long-term care policy her son had been paying for for so long.
She closed her eyes until the dizziness passed and what strength she had returned to her limbs. Back on her feet, she looked for the cat. It was exactly where it had been. It beckoned again.
Well, time was short and life was fleeting. One last adventure, be it filled with grace or horror.
Dee considered writing a note to let her son know where she’d gone in case she didn’t come back, but decided to just go.
She inched out the door and down the ramp, not wanting to end the escapade within touching distance of the house.
The cat trotted away for a few steps, then turned and motioned with its paw in that oddly human gesture.
She followed into the premature twilight of the woods, where fireflies had already risen and crickets tuned up for the night.
Moving was strangely easy now. The path beneath her walker and her feet seemed smooth yet not slippery. The cat led her to a clearing where a dozen or more other cats waited. The air shimmered, and in place of the cats stood as many small people, with wide-set eyes and pointed ears, dressed in beautiful clothes. Dee’s visitor-cat was a woman in a flowing gray dress trimmed with silver, so delicate it might have been made of cobwebs and moonlight.
One final time, she raised a hand and beckoned Dee forward. With each step, Dee became smaller and stronger, until she left the walker behind and faced the small woman eye-to-eye.
The cobweb cat spoke in a voice like honey. “Never let it be said we don’t pay our debts. Your milk has been well worth the price you paid for it.”
A woman dressed in orange and gold held a large mirror of polished silver where Dee could see herself in it. She saw her younger self: strong, with skin of peaches and cream, and hair like spun copper. Her gown was of blackberry and bittersweet trimmed in milky white.
As she joined hands with her new family, she wondered if her son would find her, cold and free, in a chair on the back porch, or if he’d find an empty house and a mystery.
That thought flickered away like one of the evening fireflies, and Dee knew only joy.
~ * ~
MY PROMPT TODAY: milk, beckoning cat