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There Are Kittens Better Than These

by Simon Owens


Two kittens show up at the front door. Two white kittens with the green-slit glow for eyes.

Brother, sister. I give them a home, the kittens grow into cats. I paint them for inspiration, white canvas, I sneak up on them when they’re sleeping and paint them. It’s so cliché it fits just perfectly. There’s a primal vibration in their purring sleep. It reminds me of Freud’s dream analysis.

I dream of two kittens, better than these. The old ones become orphans of neglect. Two kittens better than these and I am nothing but prejudice to the ones less beautiful — ugly adult cats that have lost their kitten innocence. The whiskers have grown and the playfulness has died with age.

I stroke the gray in my hair as I paint. “You are a lazy cat,” I say. It opens its eyes and fits the role, barely giving me the time of day. For the first time I look at the knife rack hanging above the sink. The glint catches my eye, and a shudder like soft purring runs up my leg, and with personal embarrassment I realize I’ve wet myself. I could swear I see the cat smile before closing its eyes and going back to sleep.

I dream what they dream. It doesn’t take long for me to realize this. They see the knife rack in my eyes. It’s the feline knowingness, the cunning of the cat’s mind. Everyone can feel it when a cat gazes into your eyes. I sleep less and they sleep more as the cashier at the pharmacy raises an eyebrow at the amount of paint and canvases I’ve been buying lately.

“You are a busy man,” the male says to me late one night.

“I thought you were sleeping,” I reply. I’ve been startled and my heavy eyes raise a fraction of a millimeter. “You two are so beautiful when you sleep.”

“Like none other,” I hear the female purr from somewhere beneath the couch.

“There is always better,” I mutter under my breath as I continue to paint. This will be my first time depicting their open eyes.

“Quite the artist you must be,” the cashier says to me. She’s in her forties and well on her way to growing a mustache.

“I wouldn’t say that.” I give the old modest shrug. Aww, shucks. I eye something behind the counter. “What’s that?”

“An electronic filet knife. Makes the job easier. My husband uses one to clean the fish he catches.”

I wonder if the saying is true, there is only one way to skin a cat.

It’s the fur. It’s becoming coarse and losing its beauty. What little sleep I get is plagued with the dreams of finding new kittens on my doorstep. They look up at me, so young yet already so wise. They have a sharpness to their eyes that cuts through you like a knife. An electronic filet knife.

Each day I wake up to the fact that there are no new kittens waiting for me on my doorstep. Each day I wake up to the fact that the two cats, brother and sister, are growing and losing the soft appeal to their fur. I no longer pet them because the repulsive feeling I get now when I do makes me want to vomit. There is only paint and the calluses growing on my fingers. It is one of these days that I realize I haven’t given them names.

“Marty,” the male says to me. I come back from whatever daydream I’ve been lost in.


“My name is Marty,” the cat says, impatient. “And my sister’s name is Trisha. When you were off in la la land, your boss called and left a message on the machine. You’re fired.”

How sad. I worked for almost twenty years at the factory. I first started with manning the machines working minimum wage when I was a teenager. After graduating from college they hired me as an accountant. Numbers were just about the only thing I was good at. I wasn’t exactly the brightest crayon in the box, and that includes my personality. No close friends. No wife. No future goals. You start to wonder sometimes on your lunch breaks what it all means. You walk in and see pictures of your boss’s kids on his desk. You wonder what it’s like to hold a baby in your arms, to watch it grow up and teach it how to play nice and all the other things you teach little kids.

The cats don’t play nice, they don’t even play at all. With a quick flick of the hand I send the paint supplies flying off the table as tears start to run silently down my cheeks. The cap to one of them comes open and the red paint slowly spreads into a puddle on the floor. Blood red paint, I can almost see my reflection in it. With the aura of someone noticing things outside of my body, I detect a dull throb in my hand. I display my palm for my eyes to see and notice for the first time that I’ve been digging my nails (I haven’t trimmed them in weeks) into the soft vulnerable skin just above my lifeline. A few droplets of blood drip onto the table. Within seconds Trisha springs up from her sleeping place and begins to lick vigorously at the blood on the table. Marty just opens one eye and smiles, and as I flee from the kitchen I can visualize Trisha pausing from her licking long enough to look up and smile as well.

When I was eighteen one of the workers at the shoe factory cut off part of his finger. It was the index finger on his right hand. I had been spraying down one of the rubber belts in line one when I heard the screaming. Inside the large factory it echoed and gave you the impression that more than one person was yelling. Someone hit the emergency stop button, the red one next to the terminal room, and all the belts shut off.

I didn’t know the guy. In fact I didn’t know too many of the people who worked there, but I rushed to him just like everyone else, more out of curiosity than concern. We found him in line three leaning against the wall, his right hand clenched into his left with his gloves starting to turn a scarlet red. With great reluctance, he gave out his hand to one of the workers for inspection. Slowly, the man stripped off the now-red glove and exposed the hand for all of us to see.

It wasn’t just cut, the machine had done a number on it. From the last joint it had been sliced clean off, removing almost a centimeter of the finger, but for the length that was still intact the machine had managed to rip the skin clear from it. It was almost as if a surgeon had gone at it with the motive of removing just the skin while leaving the finger still there. It was amazing.

I tiptoe through my own house at three o’clock in the morning as if it isn’t mine. I feel like a trespasser on my own property. The moonlight coming through the windows reflects off the shiny bit of metal in my hand. I’ve paid a recent trip to the store and made an investment just in case I ever have some fish to clean.

Every creak, every step sounds like a cacophony of thunder in my own ears. Cats are the lightest of sleepers it seems and the sounds I’m making would have woken up my near-deaf father if he were still alive. In the darkness my thumb roles over the switch that turns on the knife. I made sure to buy the cordless one.

They sleep in the kitchen, convenient for my painting. I can’t remember the last time I used the table for eating. In the faint light I can see empty Chinese food boxes and the kitchen smells faintly of old pizza. My heightened senses allow me to hear the purring of the two cats as they sleep. I can almost make out their shadows in the corner of the room.

The man at the factory, I didn’t know his name but I was amazed at how the skin was taken from his fingers. I woke up this morning with the saying there is only one way to skin a cat running through my head. It’s the kitten fur, it’s almost gone, replaced by the coarse fur of an adult. Both of the felines are at that brink of time, switching from kittens to adults. The beauty of kitten fur is almost gone, and from the looks of it I won’t be getting any new kittens on my doorstep anytime soon.

It is these two cats. Two cats that mock me. I’m almost forty times their age and they mock me. They use big words I could never understand and sometimes I get up late at night and pull out my Oxford English Dictionary because I just can’t get the words out of my mind. I went to college for four years and two animals that aren’t supposed to talk make me feel like an idiot. And I want their fur. I want to be able to sit on my bed and just rub my face in it like how people buy their mink fur coats and just rub their hands through them.

I bring the knife from my side and hold it up, pausing across the kitchen, looking at their sleeping bodies. They’re still small for cats, Trisha the smaller of the two.

I’m sure it’s Marty who opens his eyes and ruins it. I can see the glow of the moonlight shinning off his eyes as he lifts up his head and looks. My heart stops in my chest and I almost drop the knife onto to the floor.

“There are worse deaths than being skinned alive,” he says. “There are worse ways of living.”

I can’t even find the voice to speak, much less breath. The two glowing eyes look at me without blinking, piercing through the darkness and honing in on only me, a shadow in the corner of the room. I feel warm urine running down my leg.

“I smell your piss.” He puts his head back down. “You disgust me.”

What’s worse is that I disgust myself.

I fall asleep and dream. No new kittens, no new fur, just the satisfaction of being able to skin these cats alive. It’s gruesome in its cruelty but I don’t care. I don’t consider myself a violent person but for Marty and Trisha I’d like to make an exception. I’d like to take away the words and the fancy language of the cats, to make the purrs turn into shivers of death, straight from a horror novel.

I wake up with a smile on face for the first time.

Both cats are on my chest. Marty raises up one of his paws and I can see the claws coming out. He brings it down and punctures my right eye.

Trisha does the same to my left.

I am immediately blind and screaming, and I rise up, not even noticing as the cats jump from my chest and I run screaming into the walls. There are canvases everywhere, leaning and hanging on the walls, littering the floor for me to blindly trip over them. I must have spent hundreds of dollars on useless art supplies so I could paint the same thing over and over again.

Two kittens. Two sleeping kittens that a person would find cute at first glance, but after going through a few of my paintings would eventually grow bored. Dozens and dozens of paintings.

None of which I will ever see again.

There is only one way to skin a cat, but no way to skin two kittens.

There are no kittens better than these, none that I will ever see.



Simon Owens is an English major who has sold to several magazines and anthologies. To learn more about him, visit his web site


Winter 2004