Written by Dia VanGunten
Art by Katy Somerville
A pastel record played on a Fisher-Price turntable. Puff the Magic Dragon. The basement smelled of damp concrete and old carpet, but I wasn’t down there long. He called from the living room: “Front and center!” It was Dad’s shorthand for “No yellin’ questions from the basement!” I trudged up the stairs and through three rooms. The TV was just a few feet from his outstretched legs. Change the channel, will ya? I turned the dial until he settled on a caper. Goldie Hawn & Chevy Chase. He pointed to the porch, and I retrieved the paper.
“Dad, you need a robot dog like George Jetson. Maybe like a few robots.”
“Nah, I have you kids.”
“Then I need a robot. Mine will do nice stuff for all of us.”
Dad opened The Toledo Blade with a big to-do: an unfolding swan, wings flapping. I reached for the Peach Section—the pink part in the middle, with the comics.
“Get back, Jack. That’s for me and a friend for later.”
“It’s me, Dad. I’m that friend.”
“Sure ya are, but first I gotta read Doonesbury.”
“Garfield is better.”
“Yea, he’s alright. He’s a hedonist.”
The fat cat loved naps and lasagna. He hated Mondays. That was something Dad admired about Garfield. On the TV screen, a doorbell rang. Goldie straightened her curls before answering.
“Ya still gonna marry Chevy Chase when you’re 18?”
“Probably. Or Jeff Goldbum. Jeff is smarter.”
Dad tossed the newspaper aside and told me to put on my sneakers. They were purple KangaROOS with a secret compartment for a quarter. I could always go to any payphone, wherever I was, and he’d come and get me. If he sent someone else, they had to have the secret password. Godzilla.
We drove across town to the Toledo Sports Arena. Dad parked and pointed out cat-themed bumper stickers. I Brake For Burmese. Inside, there were cages everywhere. An old lady in a furred sweater brushed a glamorpuss who was adorned in a pink satin bow. So THIS was a cat show? I’d always pictured more of a circus, but with feline ringmasters. Every time I asked to go anywhere, he’d whip it out: “Why, I wouldn’t take you to a cat show!” But now he’d gone and done it, so he couldn’t say it anymore. We passed an immortal—hairless, wrinkled, ancient. I pointed to a pair of Siamese-you-please, like from Lady and the Tramp.
“Dad! Look at them guys! Brat cats!”
He’d disappeared. No surprise. Imagine—so many cats all together in one place. There was a giant MEOW noise from all their secret names, like in the T.S. Elliot poem where every cat has a marvelous, unknowable, inscrutable name. A magic spell. The unpettable part of themselves.
“Excuse me, Ma’am. Are the stickers scratch ‘n’ sniff?”
The stickers were tuna scented. The lady was careful to tear off a square from every kinda feline: orange tabby, snooty siamese, black and white Sylvester. I passed over the dollar Dad had given her. He wasn’t hard to find; just next-store, the closest bar. I scrambled onto the swivel stool and set off spinning. Dad lifted his hand and ordered a kiddy cocktail.
“Ya had your fill of the cat show? What? You expected something more whimsical?”
I nodded, my mouth full of peanuts. Dad cracked a few more and handed them over. The waitress brought a Shirley Temple with extra cherries. I popped a glowing orb into my mouth, which was still crammed with peanuts. The taste was sweet and bright red.
Dad tsked into his glass. He never missed the chance to say it.
“Whatever maraschinos the cherry, maraschinos you.”
I said it with him, my mouth full, cheeks puffed.
Neon goo oozed from my lips.