“Can’t you shut that cat up?” Veronica asked.
Gertie was winding herself around my ankles, yowling. I picked her up and she started purring.
“Are you finally hungry?” I crooned. “Poor kitty. Let me get you some food.”
Gertie hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning. We had arrived at the cabin last night, and she had gone directly from the carrier to hide under the bed. She had spent the morning cautiously exploring the space and was finally starting to settle in.
I got out a bowl and looked around for the bag of dry cat food.
“Where’s that box that I left in the corner?”
“It was in the way, so I put it out in your truck. It just had bags and empty totes in it.”
“And cat food.”
Veronica had arrived shortly after me and had brought what looked like most of her kitchen with her. Even though the cabin kitchen was perfectly functional, I guess she couldn’t manage for a week without her Wusthof knives and her acacia cutting board. Nothing was ever good enough for her.
She had moved my one and only box outside without bothering to ask me. I was irritated, but I didn’t want to start a fight when we were going to be stuck together all week.
I shoved my feet into boots and pulled on my coat, then slipped out the back door and headed for the lean-to. The snow had been falling steadily for a few hours now. According to the forecast, it was supposed to continue all day and into the night.
My brother Dean and I had been thrilled at the prospect of being snowed in at the family cabin for a few days. We had planned to come up here for a last hurrah to say goodbye to the place before we sold it. Neither of us used it much any more, and the upkeep was expensive. We were going to spend the week binge watching all ten of the Star Wars movies, and we had planned a simple menu of childhood favorites: frozen pizza, sloppy joes, chicken nuggets. The thought made me want to cry now. After missing out on another promotion at work, I had been looking forward to this silly little trip with my brother.
The guy who was supposed to cover for Dean at work had gotten the flu, so he had to cancel. Couldn’t be helped. He had sent Veronica so I wouldn’t be alone up here.
I would rather have been alone. She had been my sister-in-law for over ten years now, but we had never really hit it off. I had only been a few miles from the cabin when he called to inform me of the change of plans. Otherwise I would have cancelled.
The box had been overturned and the contents scattered all over the bed of the truck. I lowered the tailgate and climbed in. The cat food wasn’t in the box. I searched the rest of the mess, but it wasn’t there. I found a set of tracks in a streak of dirt next to the box. Raccoon.
I trudged back to the house. Veronica was putting sprigs of parsley on a couple of dinner plates.
“Where did you put the cans of cat food?” I asked her.
“What cat food?”
“I asked Dean to get some cans of cat food when he was picking up groceries.”
“He didn’t tell me.”
I was beginning to feel anxious. No dry food. No canned food. It had been his turn, but why had I trusted Dean with getting the supplies? I should have done it myself.
“Okay,” I said, trying to calm myself. “We’ll have to cook a little plain chicken breast or ground turkey for Gertie.”
“There isn’t any meat. I wanted to try out some vegan recipes.”
The anxiety was turning into full-blown panic. “You mean there isn’t even any cheese or eggs?”
“That’s what vegan means.”
I resisted the urge to smack her. Gertie might have eaten a little bit of scrambled egg or a piece of cheese.
“I’ll have to go to the grocery store.”
“In this? Are you crazy?”
We both looked out the window. The snow was falling faster now, and the storm was supposed to get worse. The nearest town was a thirty minute drive, under normal circumstances. In the snow it would take three times as long. If I was lucky. And I could easily get stuck somewhere along the way. The truck didn’t have snow chains.
“Look,” Veronica said, in the overly reasonable tone she used with her kids. “I’m sure we can find something for the cat to eat. I have some chickenless chicken and some veggie bacon. If she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it.”
I checked the pantry to see if we had left behind a can of tuna or sardines on a previous trip, but all I found were cans of beans and coconut milk. There were bags of nuts and seeds, and various kinds of grains and rice, but no turkey jerky.
Gertie’s meowing was growing more insistent. I offered her a little piece of cashew cheese. She sniffed it and looked at me like I must be joking. I tried a smear of margarine on a saucer, and she lapped it up. I gave her a little more and she sniffed it and walked away. She drank some water and I refilled her water bowl.
“Lunch is ready,” Veronica said, setting plates on the table.
When I sat, Gertie dug her claws into my pant leg and meowed. I offered her some bits of food, but she wasn’t interested in the quinoa patty or the spelt bun. She made an irritated sound and began grooming herself.
“How is it?” Veronica asked.
“Not bad,” I admitted. I reminded myself that the macaroni and cheese with hot dogs that Dean and I had planned would have given me horrific indigestion. It would have been worth it, though.
“Damned with faint praise. I thought you liked vegan food.”
“I don’t mind eating vegan. It would have been nice if you had asked first, though.”
“I didn’t realize I needed permission. So sorry the food I bought and cooked for you isn’t up to your standards.”
Always the martyr. Normally I would apologize, even though she had deliberately twisted my words. Today I wasn’t in the mood. We finished eating in silence.
After lunch, Veronica settled into an armchair with headphones and an audio book. I had thought I was going to be watching Star Wars movies and playing card games with Dean, so I hadn’t brought any other entertainment. On the bookshelf in the living room, I found an old paperback mystery and sat on the couch to read it.
Gertie jumped onto my lap, meowing and rubbing against the book, trying to knock it out of my hands. She didn’t understand how I could be so thick as to not realize she wanted to be fed.
I went in the kitchen and put some little pieces of chickenless chicken and veggie bacon on a saucer and offered them to her. She sniffed the plate then tried to bury it. She wouldn’t eat any of the other tidbits of food I gave her, either.
“I’m sorry, Gertie,” I said, picking her up and cuddling her. She struggled, scratching my hand before I managed to put her down. As blood welled to the surface, I smeared it on the saucer and set it on the floor. Gertie lapped it up and looked for more.
That was unsettling. I had heard stories of cats eating their dead owners but I had never believed that Gertie would do such a thing. But to be fair, we were all just meat in the end. Maybe I should cut off a body part to offer to her. Could I get rid of my love handles?
I smiled and shook my head. Gertie would survive a day without food. Maybe by tomorrow she wouldn’t be so picky and I could coax her into the vegan lifestyle.
The whole thing wasn’t so amusing at three in the morning when Gertie woke me for the third time with her mournful howling. When I started to drift off to sleep again, she climbed onto my mid-section and vigorously kneaded her claws.
I began to wonder what life would be like without a pinkie. It couldn’t be that bad, right? Or maybe I could whack off a toe. At least that would be hidden when I wore shoes. But how long would a toe feed her? I might have to cut off two or three.
I picked Gertie up and carried her into the kitchen. She consented to eat a little bit of margarine.
“If that cat doesn’t shut up,” Veronica said from the doorway, “I’m going to throw her out into the snow.”
She was rubbing her eyes and looking cranky.
“If you do that, I’ll whack you in the head and throw you out in the snow. Just play some white noise on your headphones.”
Veronica huffed and went back to her bedroom.
Gertie rubbed against my ankles. “It’s not your fault,” I told her. “It’s Veronica’s fault.”
How many times had I thought that over the years? I could see how miserable Dean was. Once while drunk, he had told me that Veronica was still hung up on her ex and always would be. She and my brother had separated more than once, but it never lasted.
It was the kids that kept him coming back. They had been a toddler and a baby when he married her, and he had been more of a father to them than Veronica’s ex. But she swore that if they divorced, Dean would never see them again. The thought was frightening for me, too. I couldn’t have children of my own, and I doted on my niece and nephew.
I’d had the thought, in passing, that if Veronica died in an accident, my brother would get to keep the kids. Their biological father wasn’t that interested in them.
This would be a perfect setting for a car accident. There were a couple of deep ravines nearby. I could say that she had decided to go home before the storm, and with the cell signal being so spotty out here, I’d had no idea she never made it. By the time she was found, it wouldn’t be surprising if the local wildlife had gotten to the body, so a few missing chunks would never be missed. Two birds, one stone.
I smiled and shook my head. That was crazy. I was just sleep-deprived. In the morning I would be horrified that I had even entertained the notion.
The rest of the night was rocky. Gertie continued to let it be known that she was one unhappy kitty. In the morning, I got up and shoved my feet into my slippers. The insole of the left shoe was squishy and cold. I pulled it off my foot and sniffed it. Cat pee.
As I limped to the bathroom to wash my foot, I reminded myself that I loved Gertie and it wasn’t her fault.
It was Veronica’s fault.
Gertie followed me to the kitchen, meowing plaintively. Veronica gave her a dark look, then turned back to her pan of veggie bacon on the stovetop. I had put on socks, but the cold of the tile floor seeped into my feet.
Outside, the snow was still falling but it had slowed. It would be a few days before I could get to a grocery store. I broke off a little piece of “bacon” and held it out to the cat. She sniffed it, then hissed at me. She went to her water bowl to try to fill her belly. How were we going to make it through two more days?
“Why don’t you put her outside?” Veronica asked. “Maybe she could catch a bird or a mouse or something.”
“More likely, some larger animal would catch her.”
“Sounds like a solution.”
I eyed the frying pan. It was cast iron, so I was pretty sure I could knock her out with it. But would that look like the blunt force trauma from a car accident? I loved my cat, but not enough to go to prison for her.
By the next morning, I was considering booting Gertie out the door myself. I might have done it if not for all the little sniffs and loud sighs Veronica was giving off. We had snapped at each other during lunch yesterday and hadn’t spoken since. I went out to the lean-to in order to check on the generator. And also to get away from the inhabitants of the cabin for a few minutes.
The snow was up well past my knees, so it was slow going. It looked like none of it had melted off, and it was going to be another cold day. I had brought the keys to the truck, and I climbed in and started it up, turning on the heater. I hadn’t been this tired since finals week during college. My eyes were gritty and my joints ached. I felt punch-drunk.
I had gotten Gertie as a kitten after my husband left me. She had given me unconditional love for twelve years, and I was failing her. A tear rolled down my cheek. Pretty soon I was sobbing and gasping for air. I hated my life. I hated the whole world. Except for Gertie.
When the tears had passed, I dozed off. I came awake with a start, checking the truck’s clock. I had only slept for about ten minutes, but I felt calm and resolved. I shut off the engine and went back in the house.
Veronica was sitting in the armchair, listening to her audio book. I waved to get her attention. She gave me a snotty look and pulled off her headphones.
“The generator is starting to misfire. I need to clean the spark plugs before the thing stops working altogether, but there’s a panel I can’t pry off by myself. You’re going to have to come help me.”
Did generators even have spark plugs? I didn’t know. Veronica wouldn’t, either.
She gave a long-suffering sigh.
“Okay. Let me put the bulgur on to soak first.”
I stumbled in through the back door, a ragged chunk of meat in my hands. Gertie perked up at the scent of blood. She yowled and rubbed against my ankles, almost tripping me.
“Just a second, Darling,” I croaked.
My hands were shaking. I set the meat on the acacia cutting board and hacked off a chunk with the chef’s knife, then chopped it into smaller pieces. I slid them onto a saucer and set it on the floor.
Gertie sniffed it, then looked up at me. She sniffed it again, then walked away.
“Oh, come on!”