Their cat died three days before their baby was born. When he was a very little boy, their son asked them why didn’t have a pet and they told him about the cat. After that, he would ask them a lot of questions about the cat who had died just before he was born.
Whenever they saw another cat, he would ask, “Did our cat run like that? Did our cat jump like that?”
“Yes,” they would say.
The boy began to miss the cat.
When they met his kindergarten teacher, she said to them, “I’m sorry about your cat.”
When they asked her what she meant, she told them that the boy had told the class that his cat had died.
They were not sure what to do. They did not want to tell him that the cat was not his cat. It was true that they hadn’t wanted a new cat, or a pet of any kind, since the cat had died. It had been a very good cat. So they told him that it was okay for him to miss the cat, but that if he told people that the cat had died, they were going to think he meant the cat had just died.
“But I’m still sad about it,” the boy said.
They wondered for the first time if they should get a new cat. They asked the boy about it but he said no. “I miss our cat,” he said.
Once when the boy was six, the mother overheard him telling his friend about the cat. He had all kinds of stories about it. “I was very little when we had it,” he said.
Whenever his mother and father mentioned a death, the boy would say, “Our cat also died.”
He had a happy life – he dreamt at night of baseball and ships and Rube Goldberg machines – but he also knew that death had been there from the beginning. Something had died even at a time when something like he himself was being born. He didn’t know anything about it. He was just a kid. But he was still a part of it. He wanted to remember the cat to remember how he was a part of it.
He made an altar in his room. They had learned about altars at school. They had learned how they were usually put up for a little while during a holiday, but he made his and kept it in his room. He thought about how nice it had been when the cat was still alive.
The mother and father did not talk about the cat as though it had died before the boy was born any more. They went along with the story he’d made, that they’d known each other too far back in the boy’s memory. It certainly didn’t hurt anything to go along with it. There were worse things a boy could want than a familiarity with death. He made the altar in the corner of his room and he didn’t say much about it, but they saw him looking at it sometimes at night and it helped him somehow.
It helped him to know that if there was a death, he could know what to do with his heart.
The boy did not keep the altar when they moved to a new house, and he could go for a long time without thinking about the cat as he grew older, but the belief stayed with him. The belief that when he had been a very little boy, barely old enough to do anything, it had been him and the cat and his mother and father, and that the cat’s death had been a real thing to him. And when he was in college, he told a girl he thought he might love that that had been his first brush with sorrow.
Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in London, Orange County, and Seattle. He came to San Francisco after college, in large part because of the way the city was portrayed in the short stories of William Saroyan. He has had some stories published in Faultline, Fourteen Hills, Prick of the Spindle, Your Impossible Voice, River and Sound Review, and one story is the recipient of the 2013 Very Short Fiction Award from Glimmer Train. His website, still a work in progress, is www.siamakvossoughi.com. Along with writing, he works as a tutor.