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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/04/2006 Archived Entry: "J LHLS 9: Wanted: Hunter and Gatherer"

Wanted: Hunter and Gatherer
By Jessica Groper

Five months after graduating from college, Andrew and I were frozen in our lives of unemployment. Our windfall high-paying summer internships had not led to permanent jobs as we'd hoped and the money we'd saved on the off chance that we'd be unemployed was beginning to run out.

We were trying very hard not to give in to necessity and take minimum wage paying jobs. We wanted to believe that the very expensive college degrees we'd gone into severe debt for would prove to be the tickets to a higher level of job opportunities. Every day we took turns on my laptop, searching the employment websites and e-mailing resumes. When one of us had an interview we'd research the company and try to come up with original answers to the predictable questions.

In the evenings we'd eat feasts of tuna fish, saltines, instant ramen, and, as a treat, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We pooled all our money into one bank account and carefully budgeted every cent. One evening, after convincing ourselves that we could bear to continue eating the way we had been and agreeing that we'd keep all lights in our little rented guest house turned off at night unless they were needed, we figured out that we had enough money to pay bills and survive unemployed for two more months

We sat at the kitchen table, Andrew and I, staring at each other. Two months isn't a very long time and we were already having nauseous reactions to the smell of tuna and the texture of ramen noodles. Overwhelmed by the silence in the kitchen I stood up and turned off the tiny light over the stove. Andrew turned in his chair to watch me.

"I could call my parents..."

"We said we wouldn't do that."

"I know."

"I could apply for the job at the video store."

"I could do that too."

"I don't want to."

"Me neither."

Too depressed to deal with the situation any more, I went to bed. Andrew followed soon after. When we woke up in the morning we both headed straight for the computer. We had begun to turn into laptop zombies in the passing weeks. Every day began and ended with an e-mail check, just in case one of our job applications had gotten a response. We didn't seem to be capable of going more than an hour without checking in. That morning there was no e-mail waiting to rescue us. Andrew offered to make breakfast, but my stomach turned at the thought of the inevitable menu choices and I decided to pass.

The day was painfully uneventful. We didn't receive a single e-mail between the two of us and there were no calls for interviews. When we'd first become unemployed a day like this would have been like a mini vacation. We would have gone for a walk to the nearby park, or read books, or just lazed about, enjoying the freedom to take naps in the middle of a work day. Before money was tight we might even have gone to see a movie at the cheap matinee prices. Now the day was just intolerable waiting and hoping. We didn't talk much, there was nothing new to discuss. Around 5:30, after checking our e-mail in case anyone had sent something just before leaving their office, I sat down on the couch next to Andrew. He put his arm around me and I snuggled into the curve of his body. Before I could say the words to the suggestion I'd been formulating all day, a strange sound broke into our silence. It was a very loud but low creaking sound. Almost like a rusty screen door swinging back and forth. Andrew sat up and listened. I shook my head in confusion when he looked at me questioningly. The sound was coming from outside and we stood up to follow it. Whatever it was, it was persistent.

When we opened the front door we didn't see the cat immediately. We looked all around the yard and saw nothing. Only when I looked at the ground about three feet away did I see him. A large black cat with a smudge of white on his nose. He was sitting up staring at us and yowling insistently. I pointed him out to Andrew.

"What does he want?"

"How should I know?"

"Maybe he's hungry."

"Tough luck for him then. Sorry guy, we don't have any food for you."

The words were scarcely spoken when I saw that there was something behind the cat. He was so big at least two feet long that his body had obscured it at first. A little nervously I moved toward the cat to see what he was so eager to show us. Immediately the cat jumped to the side to give me a better look. I picked up a whole cut up chicken, still cold and plastic wrapped. One corner of the styrofoam tray it sat in was torn up and punctured with little cat teeth sized holes. The black cat paced back and forth, purring now instead of yowling, while Andrew and I stared at the package.

"He dragged it?"

"He couldn't have, it's too big."

"He's pretty big himself."

"Where did it come from?"

"The label doesn't say. But look, the sell-by date isn't till tomorrow."

"So, it's still good?"

"It's still cold, it must be."

"What should we do with it?"

"Well, there's no place to return it to..."

We both looked at the cat who stopped pacing, turned giant yellow eyes on us and licked his lips.

I dipped the chicken in the small amount of Italian dressing left in a bottle on the door of the fridge, and then put the entire thing in the oven to roast. While that cooked I boiled up the liver and other slimy brown entrails that had been included in the package. The cat had not come into the house, but he sat in the doorway washing himself and occasionally looking at me expectantly. Andrew sat at the kitchen table looking bewildered.

"How can a cat go into a market, jump into the refrigerated meat container, and pick up a whole chicken?"

"Maybe he lives there, maybe the market people own him."

"Then why would he be stealing their food and bringing it here?"

"I have no idea."

"This is too weird Ames."

"Trust me I know."

"I mean, Amy, what are the chances that a random giant cat would come to our house and bring us food when we most need it?"

"Andy, what are the chances that a cat of any size would bring us food on any day?"

"This is too weird."

I spooned the cooked entrails out of the boiling water. The cat instantly started making noises at me.

"You have to wait for it to cool, you'll burn your tongue."

He stared at me indignantly and said,

"Mrooower."

Andrew burst into laughter.

"You'd better give it to him, he looks pissed."

"Fine, it's his tongue."

I put the food in front of the cat in a little dish. He licked at it tentatively. Finally judging for himself that it was still too hot, he nonchalantly went back to washing his face, refusing to look up at me.

Soon the smell of the cooking chicken was making Andrew and my mouths water. The cat was just finishing up his meal when I decided the chicken was fully cooked. Andrew put a bowl of cool water down for the cat and then we sat down to eat. It felt magical eating something different for the first time in months. Our temperamental oven had somehow cooked the meat to a tender perfection, and the salad dressing flavored the skin delicately. We didn't have the makings of any side dishes, but it didn't matter. We both had two pieces and then carefully wrapped up the rest to enjoy tomorrow. We were so immersed in our dinner that when we finally looked for the cat we realized he had drunk his fill of the water and then left. We wandered around outside for a little while making "Mrooower" sounds, but he wasn't anywhere to be found in the darkening yard.

The next day Andrew and I both got calls for job interviews. It felt so amazing to go off to an interview without the taste of tuna on my breath or the fear that a dried ramen noodle might be stuck to my suit coat. I was able to be friendly and articulate without a tremendous effort and I left the building feeling confident that I'd done well. It was a feeling that had slowly been draining away from me leaving an empty sense of powerlessness in the face of human resources personnel. Andrew returned home with a similar look of renewed confidence. We feasted on the remains of the chicken, sucking the bones clean as we had never before done in our lives. We sat outside until sunset, hoping the cat would return, but he made no appearance.

"Maybe he was an angel."

"A cat angel?"

"An angel in cat form. A messenger from God."

"You really think God sends cats around feeding hungry college grads?"

"Well maybe it was God's way of telling us to hold out, that we'll get dream jobs soon."

"Andy you are such a dreamer! If God wants us to have dream jobs he should just give them to us."

"Ah, but Amy, God works in mysterious ways. He wants us to know that patience is a virtue and that if we wait long enough we will be rewarded."

"So he sends us a chicken delivering cat?"

"It could be."

We hadn't had a good laugh in weeks. It was a perfect night.

The next day, tuna didn't taste half as nauseating as it had. We were both able to get half a can down along with a handful of saltines. We continued our e-mailing routine all day and watched for the cat again in the evening. Andrew continued to ruminate on the origins and role of the cat.

"I've been thinking Amy..."

"Yes?"

"Maybe the cat is God."

"I'm sorry?"

"Maybe the cat was God in disguise."

"Why would God disguise himself as a cat?"

"Because he's God and he can do anything he wants."

"Well that's a good answer."

"I'm serious. Have you ever seen a cat as big as that guy was?"

"No definitely not. He was halfway to panther."

"Exactly. I think the cat was God."

"What does size have to do with it? If God can disguise himself as a cat don't you think he can disguise himself as a small cat?"

"Yeah, but I think that if God's gonna be a cat, he's gonna be a big one."

"You're losing it."

Two days later, before the sun had even begun to set, we heard the strange yowling again. We both jumped out of our chairs and ran to the front door. Just as before the cat was sitting directly in front of the door, his massive body partially hiding his prize. While I examined the latest gift, Andrew pet the cat, praising his skills as a hunter. He hefted the cat up into his arms grunting at the weight. The cat purred loudly bumping his head under Andrew's chin and gently digging his claws into Andrew's arm.

"It's steak," I said interrupting their love fest.

"What?" I thought he was going to drop the cat.

"It's steak."

"Still good?"

"Sell by tomorrow."

"I think we should name the cat Jesus."

Since we didn't think cats really liked steak, and since he didn't show much interest in it, Jesus was given a plate full of tuna and the water from the tuna can. He seemed very pleased with this and ate heartily. We didn't have the means to grill the steak or do much with it, but seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a pan it still tasted heavenly. We ate carefully, our stomachs unaccustomed to red meat after so long. This time we kept an eye on Jesus, the cat. When he seemed to be finished eating and drinking we moved from the table to the floor and cuddled with him. He was happy to receive our attention. He purred happily and batted at my braid when it swung forward over his head. After about twenty minutes of attention, though, he stood up and walked right out the kitchen door. In the dark we lost sight of him quickly and couldn't even tell which direction he went.

The next day, coming home from an interview I happened to see our landlord. I stopped the car and went over to say hi. He was very friendly and interested in our job prospects as usual. After a couple minutes I had to ask him about the cat. I didn't mention the cat's gifts to us, only that we'd seen a very large friendly black cat and wondered who he belonged to. Our landlord had never seen Jesus the cat, and had no idea where he might be from.

The steak lasted two more nights, and Jesus did not show up either time, despite Andrew's wandering around calling him by name. I told him to stop, that the neighbors, our landlord among them, might hear and think he was going crazy. But I wanted the cat to come back too, not just because he brought us food, but because he was our good luck charm. Since his first yowl cut across the living room air our lives had seemed a little brighter and we had felt less like failures. We were still laptop zombies, but our e-mail checks were less frequent, less desperate, and less painful.

Five days after the steak ran out Andrew got a job. It was okay pay with opportunities for advancement. He started immediately. He came home from his first day with a grocery bag full of food for us and Jesus. I boiled up chicken livers and Andrew opened the last remaining can of tuna. We arranged the fish on a large plate and went out into the front yard making "Mrooower" sounds and calling Jesus by name. I don't think either of us really expected him to know his name or to appear. We left the food by the front door and went inside to make our first big meal in three months. As I was mixing the salad Andrew called me to the front door. Jesus was sitting there licking his chops after having polished off all the food. He looked very pleased with himself and let us play with him for several minutes. He followed us when we went back to preparing dinner and watched us from the kitchen doorway, eating bits of food when Andrew held them out. He waited until we sat down at the table with our meal. We lifted our glasses of wine in a toast.

"To Andrew and his new, well-deserved job."

"To Amy and the hope that she too will soon have a new job. And to Jesus, for getting us through the last two weeks."

We toasted Jesus who stared at us and then pronounced,

"Mrooower," before turning and disappearing out into the darkening yard.

Jessica Groper is a long time English major who hopes one day to finish her graduate education. She splits the 25 hours a day in her life between being a college English professor, a Pilates instructor, and a dedicated reader of anything written in the 19th century.

Back to Issue 9

Replies: 1 Comment

I almost laughed out loud while reading the part about Andrew wandering about the neighborhood yelling for the cat.

"Jesus!! Jesus??!! Where are yoooouuu?? Jeeeesus??!!"

LOL. good stuff. Thanks for the little break at work!

Posted by Jean @ 04/05/2006 12:23 PM PST

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