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.