about the author

Susan Tacent’s work has been published in journals including Dostoevsky Studies, the Keats-Shelley Journal, Ontario Review, Blackbird, Michigan Quarterly Review, and DIAGRAM. Her interview of Charles Baxter appears on Tin House Open Bar. Several of her book reviews appear on The Common Online.

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The Life of Cats 

Susan Tacent

Read by Scott Levine

There are Rules

A hammer isn’t useful in the rain. Not like, say, an umbrella is, or a raincoat. Not like, say, a hat is, or an awning. Not like, say, a car is, or a tarp. There are things you can do with a hammer. You could stop a burglar. You could smash a fish. But remember, there are rules. For instance, about which way your tires are supposed to face on a steep street like this one, and they’ll ticket you if your wheels face out. They’re supposed to face in so the car doesn’t roll and no cat gets hurt.

Shapes and Placements for Cats

With slots for coins, with wind-up keys for music, wall-hangings, wallpaper, mouse pads, eyeglasses, marbles, tee shirts, blankets, stuffed toys, pull toys, jewelry, Halloween decorations, funhouse items, witchcraft.

The Substance of Cats

Clay, cotton, polyester, embroidery thread, flesh blood bone and sinew, metal, plastic, rubber, acrylic, oil, musical notes, pixels, crayons, markers, colored pencils, charcoal, pastels, ABS plastic, PLA, polyamide (nylon), glass filled polyamide, stereolithography materials (epoxy resins), silver, titanium, steel, wax, photopolymers and polycarbonate for 3-D printers, substances yet to be invented, substances we haven’t even imagined.

Things You Might Forget to Ask a Cat

Why are you crying?
Can I hold you?
I thought you loved chicken?

Inside the Cans

Some people are allergic to cats but not the other way around. If you believe in systems then you might have a strong feeling that God created both people and cats. Some cats need people to open cans. This is a good system because no one gets hurt unless you count what’s inside the cans. I’m not allergic to cats. I’m also a vegetarian and I recognize that is a matter of choice.

Goodbye Iron. Hello Cat.

The Monopoly Iron had been around since the 1930s but by 2013 no one really cared about wrinkled shirts or sharply pleated pants. As replacement choices, Hasbro came up with Cat, Diamond Ring, Guitar, Helicopter, Robot. People in one hundred and eighty-five countries voted.

Cats Do Not Escape, Nor Are They Rescued

Attitude counts. If someone tells you to smile, doesn’t the way they say it affect how you hear the words? If someone offers you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, their tone as much as your hunger determines whether you’ll accept. Cats are extremely good at sensing the attitude of others, which explains why they’re also better at conveying it.

Animal Shelter, I

Ten steps. Then the door. Close it behind you and be free. Your feet only feel heavy. Your heart only feels breakable. Guilt, not love. You’re not a saint. Probably cold here at night and cats like warmth. Probably dark too but that’s not a problem for cats. It’s that food dish, knocked on its side, that gets you. It gets me, too. And the way the ants line up, hungry as soldiers.

Animal Shelter, II

If you grew up on a farm—milking cows, plucking warm eggs from beneath the fuzzy bottoms of pissed-off hens while the barn cats groomed, their backs to you. If you baled hay. If you drove a tractor before you could efficiently potty train. I didn’t grow up on a farm. But if I did. A pitchfork is a friend to those in the know. So is a rifle. There is no tree you can’t climb, no weather you can’t foresee, and no calf you can’t birth. You’re a big believer in pesticides, though it kills you some days admitting it.

My Urban Mythology

I remember a boy who lived upstairs and the time in the basement he used a large orange tabby who lived outside as a bowling ball while I watched and if I screamed or tried to stop him I don’t remember. I remember a man upstairs who said don’t feed that cat and her kittens outside and he was the father of the boy and our landlord and my sister and I fed them anyway but we had to be sneaky and walk along narrow ledges and it was very exciting, balancing like a cat. I remember opening the partway-open-eyes of those kittens to all-the-way but not how I felt when they turned out okay which I hope was more relief than disappointment because why did I do it and who did I think I was? I remember bad stories concerning people I didn’t know and cats I didn’t know. I remember a cheap painting in a plastic frame of a rain-soaked kitten with huge eyes huddled in a dark doorway that we propped on the dresser in the room my sister and I shared and how that painting destroyed me every single time I looked at it.

Life Safety Systems

If you believe in luck, then you probably don’t have a specific approach to safety and spend your time relatively carefree. If you believe in preparation, you probably have policies and practices in place that increase your chance of surviving the unexpected. For the superstitious, there are charms, amulets, rituals, and prayers. All cats have nine lives. No one keeps track and not all cats spend all nine. The unspent lives gather inside a bank-like building, where I like to think they have all-night parties with great music and flattering lighting.

Animal Shelter, III

Several cats climb onto a bare branch. They sit sit and sit. Shadows elongate. Sun and moon sweep the long sky, balanced on the tips of their invisible clock hands. The air is still. A cat padding by below looks up.

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