There was no question—his mews were less robust than his brothers’ and sisters’ from the moment he was born. And now they had gotten even fainter. None of the litter had opened their eyes yet but Mayra knew that one would not get the chance, even if she didn't intervene. She looked down at the pitifully undersized creature.
A patched tabby strutted into the alley where Mayra and her brood lay. Lyla gave her a contemptuous look as she got closer.
“You haven’t done away with it yet?” Lyla scoffed.
Mayra didn’t look up. She continued to look at the small kitten, wishing things had been different, wishing he was as strong as the others.
Small white paws…dark fur…white patch on the throat…dark nose
…Mayra tried to fix in her mind every detail about him she could.
“Oh move out of the way. I’ll do it if you won’t. It’s a shame to waste food, even if he won’t make much of a meal.”
Mayra hissed at Lyla. “I’ll do it.”
I don’t know if I can care for the others, or myself for that matter,
Mayra thought. She had a hard time finding much to eat lately, even with Helia’s help, and worried if she could make enough milk for all the kittens. She had hoped for a miracle. Sometimes she’d daydream about one of the two-leggeds taking her and her children into a warm home. But she had found nothing more comforting from them than glass bottles thrown her way.
There was going to be no miracle. Nothing would help the small one now. She knew that this would give her food she desperately needed and buy the rest of her children just a bit more time. But her heart still ached. It would be crueler to let him linger like this.
Mayra opened her mouth and in a few seconds it was done.
“There now. It wasn’t that hard. You first time brood carriers, always so dramatic. You actually have tears right now! I’ve eaten at least 4 of my own kittens and it never bothered me once. They were actually quite tasty. If it wasn’t such a strain to bear the little beasts, I might have another litter, just for the chance to taste one again.”
Mayra hissed and spat again. Lyla raised her paw to strike.
“All right over there, Mayra?”
A scarred pit bull loped over to the two cats. She barred her teeth at Lyla. “You wouldn’t be thinking of hurting a new mother, would you, Lyla?”
Lyla turned tail and fled. Helia gave a snort in her direction. “I never did like Lyla all that much. She bothers you again, I won’t feel bad about taking a nice big bite out of her backside. Oh, I almost forgot. I got something for you.” Helia ran to the front of the alley and came back again, bearing a large mouse. She wagged her tail excitedly, dropping it at Mayra’s paws. “This is nothing. There’s a whole warehouse full of ‘em. When you and your babies can move, I’ll take you to it. The two-leggeds would probably love having some good mousers. Maybe they’ll need a guard dog too. I already had plenty. This one is for you.”
Mayra ate, grateful for the extra food. She tried not to think that this was the first time her belly felt full in a while. “Thank you Helia. I don’t know why you’re so kind to me.”
“Already told you. You look like the cat from the place I was before. She was the only good thing about that place and the only reason I made it out.” Helia noticed there was one less kitten curling up to Mayra to nurse. She licked the cat tenderly, deciding not to bring it up unless Mayra did. “It’s been a busy day. I don’t know about you, but I could use a bit of rest.” Helia placed herself in front of Mayra, and lay down.
Mayra picked her head up drowsily. There was something in the sound of the wind that woke her. She sniffed the air. Beside her, several kittens shifted restlessly in their sleep, squirming more closely against each other. A faint whine came from Helia, but she still slept. Blinking, she looked more closely at the shadows near a stack of slowly rotting cardboard boxes.
Mayra never had trouble distinguishing objects in shadow before, but instead of the broken glass, mildewed rags and other assorted city trash she was used to seeing, all she could make out was an inky haze pooling around the boxes. As she watched, all of the shadows seemed to take on the same velvety darkness. Mayra shook her head as if that might clear her vision, but the shadows started to congeal into shapes with no relation to their surroundings.
A legion of small, fragile figures could be made out, some of which occasionally shifted back to the formlessness of the larger shadow before coalescing into a tiny feline form again.
“Mama” came a tiny mew and dozens of equally high pitched mews of “Mama” followed after.
Mayra hung her head, “I am sorry, little one. You should have been born to a mother on a comfortable farm somewhere, with kind, big two-leggeds to bottle-feed you and kind, small two-leggeds to adore you. I am sorry I wasn't enough to save you.”
“We know,” answered dozens of tiny mews. “You cried Mama. Only Mamas cry. Not everyone cries for us.” The words repeated again and again like ripples across a pond.
Mayra blinked, “We? Us? There was only one kitten I…” She turned to look at the rest of her babies. They were all still there, still asleep and moving fitfully. “Who are you?”
“Ones who could not survive. Lost and found ones. We have each other. But we still need a Mama.”
“Feed us Mama. We are so hungry. Please feed us.” The small echoing mews filled the alley.
“I don’t know how. I wish I did. You’d still be alive if I knew how.”
“Feed us Mama! Feed us!” came the insistent mews, rising ever higher in pitch and volume. “We’re so hungry!”
“I don’t know how!” Mayra screamed.
“Whoa, Mayra. Hun, you alright?” Mayra felt a large wet tongue on her side. She opened her eyes and saw Helia’s worried face. One of her kittens started to mew and she flinched. It was a perfectly normal and healthy mew of a hungry kitten. She trembled and gave it a tentative lick. The kitten was warm and solid. Mayra moved to start to nurse her and the others started to move closer.
She looked at Helia. “Just a nightmare. I guess I knew the little ones needed to eat now.”
When Mayra was finished nursing her children Helia got up to leave. “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to go to warehouse and get us some food. It’s going to be all right Mayra. Just a couple of days and we’ll all go together.”
Not too long after Helia left, Lyla came into the alley, followed by two cats Mayra didn’t know. “I know Helia’s gone. She won’t be back for a while.”
The fur bristled on Mayra’ back. “What do you want Lyla?”
The three cats started towards Mayra. She hissed at them. All I need to do is hold out until Helia comes back
, she thought. I can do that
But even if she had been well-fed and not weak from giving birth three days ago, Mayra was small and young. The two cats with Lyla were strong and well used to scuffling with bigger opponents. After the first few blows, Mayra was dizzy. The world started blur in front of her. As she fell, she could hear the kittens crying behind her.
I can’t feed you,
she thought. And as soon as I’m gone they will eat you.
“We’re hungry Mama,” came dozens of little mews.
“Little ones, I wish you could eat them,” she whispered.
Immediately the shadows from the alley gathered and a sea of small, indistinct shadows crashed over Lyla and her friends. Myra heard their pained yowls but couldn’t see anything besides the forms in shadows pouncing over and over again. Eventually the yowls stopped and even the mass of shadows stopped moving. One small figure came away from the larger body of shadows, and dropped a bit of meat in front of Mayra.
“Thank you sweetheart,” Mayra answered.
Song Choice: Baby Mine from the movie Dumbo
Liner Notes for this Groove:
This is a slightly updated version of a story I wrote awhile ago. It just felt right bringing it out again this time of year. It also feels cool revisiting some of my older work after the amazing time I had at the Nerdtino Expo. (More about that later, I promise!)