mako, the dictator
He is a cat. He’s been seven years a cat. He hasn't always been a cat. In the cold drafty nights while his owner re-heats her own unpleasant food, (after serving him dinner, dry and wet food), he warms his hairless rear on her router. Technology doesn’t take to him. He smells Enzymes. He can’t taste. Delicious, pleasant sensations now are rare. The international papers once called him an autocrat, in his prior life. But then he had his own army, back then, of newspaper editors. Long-living, puppy-eyed cooks would prepare his favorite dinner: herb-roasted turkey and fresh cranberry sauce; a baker turned out flaky baklava every month; heated pools wide as lakes, museums housed relaxing butterflies, servile enemies, paradise birds, and domiciled monkeys. He missed his former life. It’s true. He missed the love of his people weighing on his conscience conspiracies, taxes, parliament, draining his spirit.
Homicidal boredom leeches onto him now. The young Japanese woman named him 'Mako.' So much is so boring. Day by day he makes do with his smaller world in his tiny wrinkled body. Half his skin is bare. Ungainly grey fur is scattered around his pinkish belly like a shredded blanket. The fur below his chin drapes around his neck like a white cravat. Between his front legs a grey snow-bank. The rest is as hairless as a sphynx cat. His eyes are goblin-green. His little chicken legs and webbed toes he tucks under his wrinkled butt, spotted like an old man.
He dreams of tasting food again. He learns to scream, a dry, itching shriek designed to catch Mako’s owner. He’s found a pitch when hungry, thirsty: he teaches her with that cry so bad she shouts, annoyed, and feeds him quickly. This way she learns obedience; biting her palm on her lap if she makes a poor scratch, biting her fingers if she rubs his pink belly for too long (an angry bite right after he’d shut his eyes, blissed out). He’s otherwise sweet, learning her by purring. Other times he grovels beneath her, meowing where she walks, circling her in the
mornings, reflecting his young days aping generals, sucking up to old dictators, buying voters, greeting parading troops, thanking foreign nations funding his coup.
At first, he believed this was just some mistake. Perhaps another stupid government mishap? Even God’s bureaucracy fails. It reminded him of the stench of clerks, accountant snails, lawyers, managers: this life must be their error. He never hated cats, not as much as attorneys general. He still retained a hold on the thousand memories of his country home, its roads, his mother’s shack, shutting up reporters, staying sober. Shouldn't he have started over? Shouldn’t he have shed all those old memories of his ministers, his palace, that journalist they took out, the aids who carried his shoes and parcels? Shouldn’t he have started over with a fully feline brain, a fresh mind? Or would he slowly feel shades of cat deflate his humanity? The mice and catnip growing more attractive? And look how far he could jump! This inhuman leaping, the thrill of smells and air whisking through his fur, his incredible balance achieved with his whiskers, this astonishing speed he heard his body sprint.
But his human brain persisted. Day by day Mako (his cat name. He can’t tell the woman his former human name) makes do with his smaller world in his tiny body. He makes do with pleasures in his tiny body. He’d stare out the window, follow strangers like Napoleon exiled, sunning himself on the sill. In the following weeks ahead, Mako's owner-and partly protector-stayed in bed all sick, cuddling a blanket featuring cartoon girls. She now won’t leave her room, snorting mucus, acting limbless. Mako climbed on top of her. She shrieked. He tried to settle on
her back. When she reached for a spray bottle, he leapt across the air to the desk before the shot could singe his naked skin. He found the closest scar of sunlight marking the carpet near a corner.
This weak Japanese invalid sprayed words at him, words he knew could only mean curses. Wasting on the bed, she cursed her pet with nonsense, since the cat knew only Spanish and Russian. In the darkness he could see with his feline vision the sleeping form of the human beached on the bed. Mako cries. No human speech exhales, but a dry heave, a dull-nailed scratch in the air. A thought terrifies him. Should his protector die, there wouldn’t be any way to leave. Could he survive? He leapt to the tallest tree. It was not a tree, just a bookshelf. He flung through
the cold air onto the bed, landing on his care-giver. Was she a corpse? No. She cried and moaned. A hand exhaled from the blanket. She rubbed his fur, against the grain. What a sick, cadaverous weakling. He snatched at her fingers with his teeth and she pushed him away, pushed him with the full force of a mudslide. Prohibited from the warmth emanating from her body, he felt like a prisoner dispelled in Siberia. Jealous, he ran out of the bedroom with full fury, launching himself on to the kitchen counter.
Her dead, he felt terrified.
But her alive, he burned with anger, filled with spite.
As the days moved on, and his owner grew healthy boredom weighed down on him like a sickness. One day, as a laugh, his owner picked him up and took him outside. Picking him off the window, giggling, cradling his old man but, she walked out the door. The sun met his flesh; fresh air, he felt like a political prisoner freed a spare moment, a taste of beach air gifted to POW. She teased him outside. Tokyo shouted back at him from the cars and crowds and houses, feet and grocery carts and trucks, rushing by like invading tanks, thunderous submarines,
threatening his tiny body. Then she took him back inside. She lifted him close to her lips, and gave him a kiss. After all that time he attacked her when she was sick, after all the time he woke her up and yelled and cried at her, she couldn’t do the decent thing and hate him. She couldn’t let him feel justice, revenge, retribution, hatred. No, she still loved him. It was like nothing he did would ever have any consequence again. God, he hated it.
She let him go, he hunted for the warm box she called the router by the wall. Hateful, he would sleep for five hours, maybe ten, the whole day, ruminate and think: if I did anything wrong in life (I missed my mother's birthday, I broke my brother's toys, I lied to my mother once), this is my punishment: brief milky pleasures in a small feline space.
Sean Campbell has previously been published in Literary Imagination (from Oxford University Press), Boston Review, the Battersea Review, Critical Flame, and BU's Clarion magazine. Sean holds an MFA from Emerson College and currently resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.