Raining Cats (Wettbewerbsbeitrag zur Ruth Rendell Short Story Competition 2022)

"Where is the cat food?"

Her husband did not reply. Instead, he turned the page to the local news. Another break-in on the Royal Mile, this time into a souvenir shop. The thieves had stolen plush animals. "To what end?" he mumbled, sitting at the table still in his pajamas.

His wife became impatient. "Kindly put the newpaper away," she demanded in an imperious tone. "Cosmo has to have his lunch."

The huge gray Norwegian cat lay stretched out on his artificial tree and stared out of the window. Nothing remarkable happened in the street below. Nothing remarkable ever happend in his life, which was limited to three tiny rooms in this dreary Edinburgh flat.

The man lowered the newspaper and shrugged. "Cat food was out at Murphy's. I will buy it sometime later."

Furiously, she started polishing the top of the stove. You never could rely on him. He had been sitting at home ever since he retired. Always reading, always whining. The lockdown during the past months had been nerve-wracking. He had been expecting her to endure his moods and petty complaints all day. He had not accomplished the simplest of tasks on his own. Like buying the cat food.

Poor Cosmo. Her eyes softened. She looked at the animal, who blinked back lazily, his left forepaw twitching. Maybe he was chasing an imaginary mouse. His confinement and the lack of entertainment were depressing him, too.

"This series of thefts is scary," the man said. "For the fourth time in the last two weeks a shop in the area got robbed. The thieves always take small things only. At Tesco, they stole canned sardines, then cheap wool scarves at the Mill and nail scissors in the Rag & Bone. Now, plush toys - of all things! I wonder what kind of genius is behind this venture."

She took a tea towel from the rail and started drying the breakfast mugs. "Maybe they pinched all Murphy's cat food, too?" she asked acidly. "When are you finally going to do the shopping?"

"Your darn beast is way too spoiled. It will survive half a day without getting stuffed." He rustled the paper. "Perhaps just boyish pranks?" He scratched his nose. "What could one do with stuff like that? One could eat the sardines, I suppose, but what anyone would want to do with nail scissors is beyond my understanding."

As was everything else. She put the dry mugs on the shelf and looked pointedly at this hands. "Maybe cut one's nails?" she suggested testily.

"You always nag. What is wrong with my nails? Nobody apart from you sees them anyway." Nevertheless, he got up. "I have to go to the loo." He shuffled heavily out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind him.

How fed up she was. Having wiped her hands with the towel, she picked up the newspaper. The report was just a small section. It did not tell much, the facts were simple. The robbers  came during the night, broke into the premises through poorly secured doors and only ever took trifles. The cash register and valuables were left untouched. Apparently a joke. Probably just a dare some bored university students challenged each other during lockdown.

Cosmo was watching her, his yellow eyes half shut. He was waiting for the familiar sound of the can opener. Apart from sleeping and eating, he did little. Should she buy another cat to keep him company? Two cats, though, eat more than one. No mention of all necessary equipment - soft little blankets and care utensils. Pets were demanding. Veterinary bills generally amounted to enormous sums. Since her husband's retirement, money flowed in sparesly, just enough to live on. She had begun to save on meat and beer. More reason for his complaining.

There was the sound of water rushing in the bathroom. In the morning, it always took him long to get going, even though at night he slept quite soundly. During the long years of their marriage, she had got used to his snoring, which had bothered her initially after the wedding. Now she hardly noticed it anymore. She had bought herself earplugs and a warm blanket for the nights that she spent on the couch in the living room when she could not sleep anyway. He never noticed when she was not lying next to him at night.

Cosmo was quite the opposite. The cat always woke up as soon as she came into the living room. She would then play with him, tugged at his fluffy ears and threw him plush mice that he obediently fetched and brought back to her. These nocturnal hours belonged entirely to the two of them.

She was wondering what it would be like if she had more appreciative company. Cats - soft, silent and contented creatures. The tiny flat would become tight. She smiled wistfully to herself. On the last page of the paper, she had seen an advertisement. Kitten giveaway. She would get in touch with the advertiser today. Maybe she could bring the sweet little things home before Christmas.

Cosmo, however, was entitled to his lunch now. She went around the table and quietly opened the sideboard drawer. The water was still rushing in the bathroom. She took out one of the cans of sardines and poured the contents into the bowl. Cosmo, gifted with the sixth sense of his kind, had already climbed down from his cat tree and threw himself on the food. If he noticed that he only ever got his favorite food from his mistress, he would not tell. Anyway, who knew what animals were thinking?

She threw the empty can into the garbage bin. Her husband would not notice. In tomorrow's newspaper, he would read about a break-in at a pharmacy nearby and the theft of some highly dosed sleeping pills. She would get him a beer for a treat and even serve it to him. He would swallow it without qualms and be none the wiser.

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