My new notebook has “Fables” written on the cover, and it reminded me that I’ve never opened my beautiful clothbound copy of Aesop’s Fables since I bought it years ago. These fables were one of the first memories I have of reading, except it was in an elementary school in Quito and they were Spanish translations. Still, I enjoyed reading the quick vignettes.
I’ve had the fleeting thought before of trying to adapt a fable into a bigger story, so I tried that this week. Inevitably, I wrote about cats again… but I also tried my hand at realism (I think?) for the first time in a while. What started as another attempt at flash fiction came out as a short story and 668 words over a decent first draft of flash, but I had fun imagining it.
I enjoyed writing this one, so I hope you enjoy reading it. I also hope you read some of Aesop’s fables too. You may find that some sayings you use often started with him.
Every day, Venus sat on the wall in front of her house, tapping her tail and waiting for him to walk up the street. Every day, she’d rush outside in the morning to catch him on his walk to the bus stop, and on the afternoons she’d sit to wait for his attention. Except on days when it rained – she hated the rain, and when it rained he speed-walked head-down past her house. If she played her cards right, he’d pat her head and scratch behind her ears. That was her queue to follow behind him inside his apartment – he let her spend time there until she got hungry and had to back to her house for dinner.
Today, he’d mussed her head in the morning and even pet her all the way to her tail a few times. She’d bumped her head against his leg before he walked away.
“Have a good day, kitty. Catch a bird or something.”
Venus watched after him, thinking of his scent. After she couldn’t smell him anymore, she went inside for her first nap. She dreamed of him in fragments, his face coming up close to hers as he pet her and scratched her chin. She loved his touch because he didn’t tug at her whiskers or pull on her face fur. Cindy, her owner, always wore a thick thumb ring with a thin slit in the middle that was big enough to get at least two or three painful hairs stuck. He never had what she liked to eat, and that was the only reason she came back for mealtimes.
When Venus woke up, Cindy had gone out for work as well and the house was quiet. After a visit to her litter box, she claimed her daily perch on the window and watched the world go by. When the sun was shining through the tree and she was snoozing away with the sunlight on her face, Venus felt something in the house. Her tail puffed up and her back arched, and she turned in the direction of the presence. It felt like a human but there wasn’t a human around.
“Venus,” a voice came from where she felt the human presence. “I can give you what you most desire.”
The voice didn’t sound like that of a human, and it sounded like it should be coming from another cat – Venus’ instincts were prickling up and tingling, ready for attack.
“I will let you be with the person you most want forever.”
Venus wondered why she should receive that and what the gift would actually be.
“You deserve this gift for all the patient waiting you’ve done. I will turn you into a human woman and you will be able to be with the human man you love.”
Venus’ tail came down as she sat on top of the couch. She hadn’t wanted this offering this much until the voice said it. As soon as she thought that, she felt a change in her body, a pulling sensation that started at her core and stretched upward. It went as soon as it came, and when it did, the window looked smaller than it had this morning, and she couldn’t hear the mice under the house or hear the bugs in the walls.
“You will walk outside when you see him come as the sun sets, and your new life will start. Beware of your old instincts, for I could not rid you of those.”
Venus went to the kitchen were her water bowl was and found it so much lower to the ground than she was used to, and when she bent down she lost balance and put her hands out to catch herself. She didn’t have her black fur anymore and was naked instead, with hands like she’d seen on Cindy. Ashamed, she ran to Cindy’s room and grabbed some clothes to wear and some for a bag she’d take with her. She’d seen Cindy do that and often laid inside her suitcase when she packed for a trip.
Back in the living room, she tried perching on the window again but kept falling, so she sat on the couch instead and waited for the sun to come down. When the sun set, as the voice predicted, he turned the corner. Venus walked outside, not having a plan but desperately wanting the man to see her and touch her. She almost knocked into him in her rush, but he steadied her and looked her in the eyes. His scent was still there, and the familiarity comforted her.
The man said his name was Gregg, and when he asked for hers, she didn’t hesitate to reply.
Her voice was high but from the throat, like a cat’s meow.
“You have the most gorgeous green eyes, Venus.”
He invited her to come into his home, but he invited her to sit down on the couch this time and fed her pizza – it was more appetizing now than in her former life.
From that day on, Gregg and Venus built a life together. When they walked out together once and ran into Cindy, Gregg asked after the cat. Cindy teared up and said she had found the front door open one day and that she must have ran out. She was racked with guilt and hoped that her end had been quick at least and not at the hands of a fox.
Gregg and Venus turned the apartment into a home, with a lot of natural light – Venus liked to lounge on the couch in the sunlight while Gregg stroked her legs. It was perfect and peaceful, but Venus’ instincts never left her. They had become human-cat hybrid habits that Gregg loved but were hard to explain. When she heard a bird outside the window, she went into the other room to avoid the temptation of chattering at it. The first time it happened, Gregg had asked her what she was whispering about while looking out the window.
Venus hated loud, sudden noises, and showering was something she had to get used to after she gave into the pleasant feeling of warm water on her skin. Eating with Gregg was her favorite time, but she didn’t always like what he gave her. They worked out together that she was a big fan of fish, especially canned tuna, so every meal was pizza or steak for him, and plain fish and white rice for her. Here, too, she had to resist the urge to stick her whole face in the plate in favor of utensils, and even when she had mastered the fork, knife and spoon, she had to fight the temptation to lick the plate clean.
Venus was happy with Gregg, but it was the kind of extreme happiness possible only because it’s brief, whether we know it or not. For Venus, happiness went as fast as it had come, one sunny day, after Gregg had gone to work.
She was laying naked on the couch, letting the sun warm her skin and the breeze from the open window dry her hair, when she heard a rustling from the kitchen. It was a familiar sound, so she sprung up and listened. The sound came again, along with squeaking. She went to the kitchen, keeping her footfall light and silent. Instinct.
In the tiny gap between the fridge and the stove was a mouse. It hadn’t heard or seen her, so it kept sniffing around and gobbling up crumbs from the floor. She sprang. The mouse tried to run, but her size was in her favor more than before, and the mouse was dead in her mouth before he knew where the predator was coming from.
She dropped the dead critter on the ground and realized what she’d done, but not before she felt a tugging sensation from a familiar place inside her, a place she was shrinking into. She became compact and was closer to the dead mouse than she had been minutes before. When she went to grab it, instead of hands she had paws again.
She screamed, but it came out as a wailing meow, a sound familiar to her now-keen ears. She swatted at the dead mouse and it flung across the room just under the couch. She ran around the apartment, knocking into chair legs and barely fitting under tables, wailing and screeching as she went.
“I told you to beware your instincts.” The voice was back, and Venus felt its presence by the open window. “I had no choice but to turn you back.”
Venus lunged at the presence and aimed for the voice, but as she would have made contact, the presence disappeared and Venus was outside the window. Not having stood on sills in a while, she fell to the wet grass. She tried jumping up and crawling through the window, but after her fifth or tenth attempt gave up. She tried summoning the voice again, but she had never called for it in the first place and she knew she had lost her chance.
Gregg loved the human Venus, and she wouldn’t be able to tell him that she was right here, that he didn’t need to be sad or miss her or call someone to find her. She knew she couldn’t stand the sadness and his longing for her human self, so she went back to her old home and meowed at the door until it opened.
“Venus!” It was Cindy. She picked Venus up and cuddled her. “Thank you for coming home.”
I am not home.
In the evening, she looked at the clock in the microwave, a skill she would force to stick from her human days. Gregg would be walking up the street any minute. She started to cry, but it came out as a wailing meow again.
So Venus went out to sit on the wall to wait for him, in the same place that she started.