Maybe you’ve heard about these people who have a lot of cats and how sometimes their cats eat them after they die. That really happened to my mother, twenty cats, something like that. And they didn’t just take a few bites out of her.
She had been dying in and out of the hospital for months and one day she just stopped going. This is what they told me, that she stopped showing up and there was nothing they could do. The hospital has to respect a person’s decision not to deal with their health.
So, all right, she wanted to forget about dying so she could relax in her apartment and die. I should have been checking on her more often. The fact that her cats ate her is terrible, but it’s not like they killed her. She was dead. She loved the cats. In a weird way she may have wanted it, or at least preferred it to letting them starve.
But the point is that all of the cats survived. People don’t just swing by and clean everything up. Sure, they take away the body, but it’s the family that does everything else.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I got there, like whether I’d somehow forgotten about the cats or what, but I open the door and there are twenty-something starving cats looking at me.
What happened was that she had one cat that was never fixed and wound up adopting a stray and that stray knocked up her original cat and so on. Twenty or so inbred cats, all because my mother couldn’t be bothered to spend fifty bucks at the vet.
The place smelled awful, like something sweet mixed with bleach and paint thinner. I didn’t know what to do. They surrounded me. Their collective meowing was like an air-raid siren from hell.
I found my mother’s stockpile of tinned cat food, opened a few tins, and whipped them around the apartment before I ran out the door. I had to get rid of those clothes. It took three showers to get the smell out of my pores.
I’ve done this a few times now. A friend who paints cars lent me a mask. I’m not sure who to call or what to do about these cats. I don’t even know how to start packing up my mother’s junk. The stockpile of tins is running low and I’ve already paid an extra month on her rent. The neighbours are starting to complain about the smell and the meowing, and my mother’s landlord has been leaving messages on my phone. I’m worried I’ll be charged with animal cruelty or neglect or something. At the very least they’re going to try to make me pay for some cleaners to come in. The carpet is finished. They’ll never get the smell out of there.
Matthew K. Thibeault's stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in F(r)iction, The Globe and Mail, and The Malahat Review. He received the 2015 Ernest Hemingway Prize from Fiction Southeast. He attends the University of Victoria and spends his summers in Dawson City, Yukon.