Peter Battles the Demented Kitten

These are notes on the origin of my short story “Parabolic to Diapason” which, if you are interested after reading this, can be found on this site under the page Short and Very Short Stories. Thanks.

“Parabolic” is an intentionally cruel story, but it had to be written. In the end, it was either I inflict all sorts of gruesome torture upon unfeeling fictional characters, or I murder a living kitten. I had to choose as I did, or else get kicked out of my apartment.

This happened while in Italy. Rome in particular, but Italy in general is absolutely swarming with cats. They slink back and forth across the midnight streets; they do noisy battle with one another and with giant rats; they crowd the ancient ruins; they sit fatly on the sun-shiny stoops of caffes and trattorias; they drive dogs mad, serene in their high perches; they get scooped up as adorable kittens gratis from cardboard boxes outside random city doors. — This last is the one that concerns me.

One day I was at our kitchen table, scribbling something for an Italian composition class, when everyone burst happily through the door. George carried a pizza for lunch and Eva and Sophia jointly carried a bunched up blanket.

“What’s that?” I asked, and immediately this little, black, furry head popped out with a white nose, pointy ears and huge green eyes.

Dai, Pietro!” they cried, “abbiamo un piccolo gattino carino! [we have a cute little baby kitty!]” They spread the blanket out on the floor and set the creature in the middle of it, then stepped back to see what it would do. It just sat there, its enormous (compared to its body) head like a bobble. It fell over a few times. Everyone gasped adoringly.

Obviously kitty was here to stay. I swallowed my protests; I had not been in Italy long and always preferred silence to perpetuating “Ugly American” stereotypes, even if I did pay rent. Kitty’s fuzzy head was ripe for a pat, which I gave him, then quickly moved on because we were ready to eat.

The table spread with food, we dealt out the pizza and poured our afternoon wine, smoked our cigarettes and laughed, when Eva shouted out abruptly in pain “ahia!” and, reaching down, lifted up the black fur-ball by its scruff. She said, grinning, “He was trying to cimb up my leg, the little devil!” and plopped him back on the blanket, where he stayed for like a second. He climbed George’s leg next, then Sophia’s, then mine – and I can confirm that his bastard needle claws really hurt. He would not sit still, he was determined to have at our food by scaling our legs. The others giggled and cooed, but for me that was the beginning of the end. I begged permission to lock kitty in the bathroom. Permission was declined.

Now, before I detail the terrible battles which raged between me and this kitten, I think it’s important to mention there were also moments of olive-branch peace and dove-ish friendship. Enough, in fact, so that no one ever guessed at my gangrenous hatred.

In the beginning kitty was too small to sense the bigness of my contempt and would curl up on my lap while I read, or bat at my shoe strings, or climb up the sleeve of my shirt and fall asleep. I like early mornings and kitty and I would be alone together then, talking, waiting for the nocturnal Europeans to rise from their boozy slumber. At times I think we even understood something of one another. In friskier moods I would chase him around the apartment, unceasingly, for hours, while Sophia would smoke her funny-looking Moroccan hashish spliffs, squealing in stoned hilarity and crying out, “Ma che buoni amici siete!” [what good friends you two are!] and “sei il cacciatore, Pietro: ammazza quella creatura!” [you’re the hunter, Peter: murder that creature!]. And when I would finally sit down exhausted, kitty would jump at my head and get it started again.

Yet, beneath all these pleasantries, before the official declaration of war, there were ancient, irascible tensions at work. We were like Israel and Palestine, Russia and Chechnya, Haiti and literacy. Eventually it had to snap.

Attack — While cleaning the apartment one Saturday I was carrying kitty (who was making a typical nuisance of himself) from the kitchen to the bathroom when Eva suddenly turned on the vacuum. Kitty flipped out and, before I could scream in pain, ripped my hands apart struggling to get away.

Retaliation — I threw kitty against the wall, who then slid to the ground and took off to hide under Eva’s bed.

Attack — I dropped a piece of cured salami on the ground while cooking and kitty snatched it up. I tried to get it from him, reaching under the pantry shelves (it’s bad for them, no joke) and came away with two deep fang punctures in my finger and a badly scratched hand.

Retaliation — None, kitty went and hid while I nursed my wounds. I hope he had an awful stomach-ache.

Attack — Kitty sat at the door mewing and meowing endlessly while I tried to study, so I opened the door and kicked him out into the hall where he skidded across the floor and down a couple steps before regaining balance.

Retaliation — Kitty somehow found his way into the building’s attic and I was obliged to search up there for hours amongst dust, spiders, piles of rubbish and stifling heat until I could retrieve him. Not fun.

Attack — I wanted to impress a girl and had spent good money on a rack of lamb I intended to roast to perfection. My phone rang, which I hurried to answer guessing it was her, and spent the next ten minutes badly explaining directions. Returning to the kitchen I found kitty, on the counter, crouched over the lamb. It was all chewed and pawed at and had cat hair on it.

Retaliation — Since no one else was home I shoved kitty in my laundry bag and hung him from a hook on my door. I savored watching him thrash about in there, then ran out to get more lamb. The date went okay; kitty stayed in the bag the rest of the evening.

Attack — I liked to tie things to kitty’s tail: strings, pieces of paper, silverware.

Retaliation — Kitty liked to chew up my socks.

Attack — I came back from class one day to find that kitty had used some of my percussion instruments (which I had been learning to play with great enthusiasm) into scratching posts, rendering them unplayable.

Retaliation — I threw all kitty’s toys out the window. Weak, I know.

Attack — I convinced everyone that kitty is no good at cleaning himself and needs to be given a bath. I offer to do it myself, which helps in the convincing.

Retaliation — The next day my composition professor looks at the wounds on my hands and says, very matter-of-fact-ly, “vedo che hai un gatto.” [I see you have a cat.] It was still worth it.

By this time it had become a contest of will between us. For some reason the kitty liked to climb on top of the armoire in my room, and for some reason I couldn’t stand to have him up there. He would climb up and I would pull him down, dozens of times a day. I opened my door he would appear out of nowhere and dash up the armoire. It was infuriating. I knew he was doing it purely to spite me. How? Because the second he got up there he would stare at me, taunting.

Finally it got to the point where I tried to kick the creature every time I saw him, and had trouble falling asleep at night unless I had done him some sort of mischief that day. I began to understand how Muslim terrorists can become so saturated with hatred, and was myself on the verge of turning to religion, worried as to what was wrong with me.

Then one day, when no one else was home, while I was trying to eat my lunch, kitty started climbing my leg again to get at my food. In a moment I descended steeply into hellish insanity. I plucked kitty from my leg and, raving mad, threw him across the room, then chased after him as he took off to hide. I caught him under Eva’s bed (he always went there), grabbed him, shook him until he sounded like a vespa zooming rapidily back and forth — and then I caught myself one second before I was about to throw kitty out our fifth floor window so he could go play with his toys. I could feel wires shorting in my head. I had to do something.

So, I sat down and wrote a story, unleashing upon my characters all the cruelty I knew I had to spare this kitten. It only took me a couple hours (I was inspired), and the whole time the kitty sat on top the armoire staring at me.


~ by Peter on December 30, 2007.

One Response to “Peter Battles the Demented Kitten”

  1. I liked the bit about Haiti and literacy.
    Also, you’re a monster.

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