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My Cat Gets Loose in the Steakhouse by Scott Garson


This month we’re delighted to feature single-paragraph flash fiction. In “My Cat Gets Loose in the Steakhouse,” Scott Garson captures the teenage voice and experience, the realization by the narrator of how little makes sense in the world, even in the very moment one is forced to take responsibility for something out of their control. With complex sentences woven throughout, this tonally sharp story is energized (see Garson’s author’s note for starting a piece with a title born of a dream). The setting, characters, and tension form a well-balanced scaffold for a resonance that simmers right to the closing line, a soft plea, earned of a shared experience of bewilderment felt by all humans and nonhumans involved in this moment in time. “Everyone’s holding their breath, like this is a movie, everyone’s startled and wanting to know what the cat will do next…”  —CRAFT


 

Mom says it’s my fault, because I insisted on taking the cat through the heavy twin doors, but who leaves a cat in a car in a parking lot on a seventy-nine degree day, with sun shining down and the windows only about two inches open, since the cat is small for a cat and would otherwise definitely wriggle and claw its way out, like anyone would if they didn’t know why they’d been left all alone in a hot metal box with not much air? It’s Mom’s fault if it has to be anyone’s. She is the one, not me, who lost the cat bag in one of the closets. She is the one, not me, who had the plan of mixing a trip to the vet with a stop at the neighborhood steakhouse, so I could see if they had any needs, like for me to bus tables, just for the summer, because I’m fourteen, which according to her is the age when you have to stop hanging around on the porch with a book while the grass on the hillside grows to where it gets streaked by the breeze. Here kitty, I say, more quiet than usual, because this is a restaurant where people are eating and not someplace where anyone really thinks you’ll be calling your cat. Here kitty, tch-tch. This is a noise I make because I have discovered cats like it. Mom puts most of her face in her hand, like it is a cone and her face is a scoop of ice cream. I wanted Dairy Queen before this whole thing started, and Mom had not said no in a super hard way, so I was hopeful, unlike now, because now, no matter what happens, I’m not going to be in any position to bring up the Dairy Queen drive-thru. Excuse me, you need to get hold of your cat, the manager person says. He thinks this is useful, like we wouldn’t know this, we wouldn’t realize there was a problem without his help. We would be fine with a cat in a steakhouse, jumping around, running circles through everyone’s legs, dashing the length of the top of the wall that shields some booths from others, leaping away—to the bar, then the floor, then an empty table, then two shelves, the second one high, very high, actually, a spot for two LED candles. Everyone’s holding their breath, like this is a movie, everyone’s startled and wanting to know what the cat will do next, or the manager person. It’s like slow motion, or maybe no motion, some real photographer’s shot of pale faces just hanging out there in the dark over plates of cooling meat. One person, this very large man who has a red cap pulled over his forehead, gives me a glare. What’s its name? What the cat’s name? the manager person says in my ear. And then for just a second or two I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I don’t know why I’m here in the dark and the cold when there is sun outside and it would feel great on my skin, or why people would pay for slabs of red beef in red juice, which probably means blood, or why my mom would believe that me coming here was productive. I just want the cat to come down. I look up at her, and she looks down at me, and I say, though no one can hear it, Please.

 


SCOTT GARSON is the author of Is That You, John Wayne?—a collection of stories. He lives in central Missouri.

 

Author’s Note

I used to worry about choosing just the right projects, not taking on the ones that were un-me. In part, that’s because I was young and Gen X. But in part, it’s less specific. I knew that good writing was magical, as an experience, while you were reading, and I guessed, by plain and faulty logic, that magic had to go into it. You had to be blessed, graced with the right story, as if from above. You couldn’t just pull yourself up to your desk and ask yourself what you should write.

That perspective, naive as it was, found support in interviews I was reading at the time. A writer, in a writer interview, might explain how they were a medium when writing whatever they wrote. It was like magic, a voice delivered into their mind. They mystified the process, in other words. It hadn’t yet occurred to me how mystification works against the whole point of such interviews. You read the interview to learn about writing. What you get: a clear-enough message re: the uselessness of trying to write something good if you haven’t been Chosen.

One other reason I was susceptible to this view: I thought writers had something to say. Their stories were pointed. Somewhat like their expressions in the black-and-white photos on the backs of their books, they were severe. They asked you to face something hard, to deal with it. I had no idea what. But I thought if I chose the right subject, I’d at least have a chance. I could be like a statement guy. A serious picture on the back of a book. Mr. New American Voice.

So yeah, I’ve learned better.

One part of that angle on writing has stayed with me, though: my interest in dreams. Dreams seemed like a decent place to look for mystic connection. Some of my first good stories came from dreams (including my novel-in-hiding, “I Knew Gable Roy Henry,” from my first collection). I learned how to wake myself up, partway, in a dream, or the hazy aftermath, and formulate something I would remember later, after I woke. This wasn’t mystical! This was just me, always looking for stories. In the case of “My Cat Gets Loose in the Steakhouse,” what I formulated was the title. I wrote something close to those words in half-sleep, with sudden bleary Writer Brain, and hoped they’d be there later on.

They were. I drafted quickly, without asking whether the story was me.

 


SCOTT GARSON is the author of Is That You, John Wayne?—a collection of stories. He lives in central Missouri.