I didn’t choose to have a kitten, let alone two. I stepped out of my backyard bungalow in east Oakland at three a.m. because something kept yowling and whining. I opened the door ready to shew the thing away and they both pranced into my room like they belonged and were returning home from a night out.
I fed them some chicken I had left over from my favorite spot: Lucky Three Seven. They got the best wings covered in this sauce called G-Fire that I know must have way too much sugar in it. But anyways, I offered them some chicken pulled off the bone, some half and half splashed in a little plate. I should’ve known they’d be like: hell yeah, we gonna live here. They snuggled up at the foot of my bed and slept like they were the safest little forest creatures in the world.
When I took them to the outdoor free vet clinic two weeks later and the vet tech asked their names, that was when I realized I never considered them mine because who names a cat Ratty and Balls. I named them that to make fun of them. To have something over them. A joke about a quality no one could love. So go on little Ratty and Balls, run wild outside and come back in all content and happy like you just found your way back home.
Ratty and Balls, the vet tech said. Like he was clarifying the names. Like was I sure that’s what he should write down. He was dressed head to foot in PPE attire so I only saw his eyes.
Yes, I enunciated through my mask.
Okay then, but Balls better enjoy his for the next hour because he’s about to have them in name only.
His balls were cute: the soft yellow of unripe apricots. I had a pang of regret. Not that I named him Balls but that I brought him here to lose them.
It’s been a hard year. I felt the need to hold on to such tiny precious things.
I’ve been living alone, teaching science classes to children whose families were wealthy enough to create educational pods. The only good thing is that the other tenants in the main building never really came to the back yard: my little kingdom.
I complained to Jackson, my best friend, about how the kittens never really let me pick them up and spent most of their time racing through my apartment chasing crumpled up Post-it notes.
Jackson and I have hung out weekly at Peralta Park on Coolidge since March, when everything changed, almost nine months ago, both of us quickly realizing how little we did physical things, how few people we talked to, how small everything suddenly became in our world.
Buster, his dog, growled at every single person or animal that walked by us.
Jackson said, You mean the cats play fetch?
They don’t fetch. They’re cats not dogs, I said.
Do you throw this crumpled Post-it note?
And do the cats bring it back to you?
Yes. You have cats that play fetch. Are they feral? Do you let them outside?
At nights, when I go outside. They follow me, but then they always come back.
When I called my mom in New Mexico, my standing Sunday morning zoom check-in, she said, That’s what happens when you get quarantine cats. I read an article about it. It’s a thing apparently that lonely people do.
I’m not lonely.
Do you have a quarantine cat?
No. I have abandoned cats that have adopted me.
They must’ve known.
Known what, mom?
Known that you’re lonely, sweetie.
On winter solstice, I stepped into the backyard to see the convergence that everyone was posting about.
I had a cup of tea. I let Balls and Ratty out, watched them sprint away into the darkness. My neighbors, a young couple, walked out into the yard and waved at me. It was the first time I’d ever seen them in the back. They searched the sky.
You know it’s solstice tonight and the stars are lining up, he said as if I asked him to explain his presence.
Not stars, babe, planets, the woman said.
Yes, that’s right, planets. Saturn and Mars.
Jupiter, not Mars. Babe, come on, are you just teasing me, she said and reached out to push him. They were cute together.
My cats sauntered up to me and sat at my feet like I trained them.
Oh my god. Look, Jas. It’s our cats. It’s Kurt and Cobain. Where have you two been? We looked all over for you.
She hustled over and picked up Ratty, who meowed like she was so sad and sacred.
Balls meowed like he wanted to be picked up. Like I haven’t tried to pick him up every day for weeks.
The guy, apparently Jas, picked up Balls and cradled him like a little newborn baby, four little paws, reaching skyward.
They raced toward their apartment.
Those cats just looked back at me and, like that, they were gone.
I thought about saying something about their medical records, but really what could I say. I figured Jas would soon see his balls were gone and figure it out.
Later that night, I sat outside and threw the rest of my Post-it notes into the darkness of the backyard. Every time I threw, the motion lights went on. When I was finally out of Post-its, I just sat there hearing the sounds of east Oakland: the tire squeals, BART screeching, a car alarm, the ever present pop of fireworks. I looked up into the sky and, sure enough, I saw the planets converged. It was a beautiful sight, that bright steady light that centuries before guided people home.
Tomas Moniz’s debut novel, Big Familia, was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway, the LAMBDA, and the Foreward Indies Awards. He edited the popular Rad Dad and Rad Families anthologies. He’s a 2020 Artist Affiliate for Headlands Center for Arts. He has stuff on the internet but loves penpals: PO Box 3555, Berkeley CA 94703. He promises to write back.