Copying The Cat

Entry by: FrankieMae

18th November 2022
Copying the cat

When I was young I knew a man, blind in one eye. It feels like a poem when I tell people, I feel as though I should follow up with a rhyme, but there is none. There’s no he couldn’t lie. He touched the sky. Sure didn’t he die.
It had simply, unpoetically, been poked out with a stick when he was six and playing in the garden with his brother. Of course, his mother had warned him against this exact outcome “you’ll poke an eye out” she’d said. But when he’d clambered into the kitchen with one eye in his head and the other in his hand, bleeding, she’d still held him for a few minutes and then taken him to get it sorted. There was never an “I told you so” from her, even if he was expecting it. Never a sense that she had seen this coming and he should feel guilty. Maybe losing an eye was enough of a punishment.

They’d given him a nice replacement, it had taken months to construct and in the meantime he’d wandered around with a patch while his classmates called him Pirate Murphy. Even long after the new eye was in place, the name stuck, he was Pirate Murphy forever. When he got it they’d delivered it to him in a box, almost like a Christmas present. It was glassy and pearly white, the red lines like threads where the little arteries snaked around the pupil so accurate that it sometimes looked like it was following you. He’d throw it at me sometimes “here Beth, catch, look out”. It was always slightly warmer than I was expecting, I’d hold it in my hand like an oversized marble and make it wink at him. “Pirate Murphy look, my hands can see” He’d usually let me hold it for much longer than you’d ever think a man would let you hold his eye for. I’d roll it back and forth across the wooden floor of his kitchen making the cat chase it and when I was done he’d rinse it in the sink under scalding water and pop it back into its socket. I hated looking at what was left when the eye was zipping around the room, a gaping cavern, dark and mysterious and pink. It didn’t look sore but I reasoned it must have been. He seemed calmer with it out. Maybe pretending to see was tiring.

There were days when he didn’t want me to hold it and I’d know as soon as I sat as his table. He’d look at me, equal intensity and darkness from both the flesh and the glass. On those days I wouldn’t ask, wouldn’t even hint. I’d play with the cat instead but even she would be put out, she’d look at me and I’d look back and share in her disappointment. “The eye is a treat, Maggie” I’d whisper to her when we halfheartedly threw around her felt mouse. It wasn’t the same.

Sometime around Christmas the cat and I developed a real attachment to the eye. I’d look into the pupil and imagine that I could see his thoughts. I could see all of the places he’d been, all the stories he never told us. I’d imagine the woman in the wedding dress on the mantle piece was my wife, this creaking farmhouse was mine, Maggie was mine. I spent longer and longer with it, giving it back felt harder, I’d savor the last few minutes of the smoothness in my hands. I’d hold it against my cheek, I’d drop it into my lap feeling the cool thud into my skirt. We resented the days we didn’t get the eye, especially when they started becoming more frequent, I’d try not to but I knew he could sense my internal pleading. I still never asked but I wanted to. Just five minutes would do. I wanted to be Pirate Murphy and so did Maggie.

One afternoon, an eye afternoon, we were batting the glassy orb back and forth across the living room carpet. I was deep in conversation with Maggie about our house, our wife. My Pirate Murphy voice was as close an imitation as a 5 year old girl could get to a pensioner. I had started closing one eye when I spoke to her. She gently sniffed the eye and lay down, the orb balanced between her paws, like a sphynx.

She tilted her head, her whiskers twitched and then she opened her teeth and dragged her rough tongue over the surface. She waited a few moments and then licked it again. The sunlight streamed through the window and settled on her, ginger fur, tiny pink tongue flashing over the glass again and again, pulling it into her mouth. She looked so calm. I was mesmerized.

Before my hands really knew what they were doing I swiped the eye and in one swift motion, put it into my own mouth. It was cold and as compact and perfect as I had imagined it to be. I swirled it around. My eye. My eye. My eye. The cat looked up lazily at me. I sucked the eye like a boiled sweet. I imagined the stories I was pulling from the iris, all the secrets the pupil held were mine now. I saw the wedding, the very moment it had been slotted into its new home. I saw the farmhouse door closing. I saw me, 5 years old, sitting at the kitchen table, ginger cat in tow, looking mournful and eyeless.

I didn’t realize he was standing there until he grabbed me by the shoulder. He had never touched me in all the years I’d been going over to the farmhouse. He spun me around and I looked up, mouth full of eye, into his eyeless socket and in utter fear, I felt the eye be swallowed. By me. I swallowed the eye.

He must have seen the lump go down my throat where it suddenly lodged and the breath lost its ability to leave or enter my body. Panic gripped me. The cat dashed from her spot out of the door and Pirate Murphy stared down at me in disbelief. I grabbed at my throat, I squeaked, I spluttered, he slapped a big, meaty hand against my back and I felt tears fill my eyes. He slapped me again between the shoulder blades and the eye dislodged, it flew out of my mouth and clattered across the floor. I gasped for air, sat down and then the tears came in full force.

He picked it up and left the room, returning a few minutes later to look at me incredulously with both eyes. I didn’t move. He didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. Half an hour later my mother bundled me into my coat and out of the house and I never went to Pirate Murphy’s again, I never played in the living room or sat at the kitchen table. I’d walk past the lane before and after school and remember the smooth glass on my tongue and the cat and the sunlight through the window. I never saw him again. I would strain to see up the lane but never caught sight of him.

And so the years passed until one afternoon, when I was 13, I returned home to find my mother at the kitchen table holding Maggie. I had long forgotten the eye and Pirate Murphy and now he was dead. He’d died slowly and peacefully. Up in his bed in his farmhouse with Maggie lying on his feet. “He wanted you to have her” my mother said. “He left her in the will”.

She was old now. Much skinner than I remembered. I rubbed her head as my mother passed me an envelope. I opened it and out slid the eye, landing on the table with a small tap. Exactly as it has always been, we had all aged and here it was, entirely the same. Just as glassy. There he was again, staring up at me incredulously.

I pulled out the accompanying note and read the spidery writing

Dear Beth,

Here you go, I won’t be needing this where I’m going.

Don’t go copying the cat now.

Pirate Murphy