Flash Fiction: Shadow’s Approval by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is: Center your story around an absurd detail (for example, people walk on their hands, hedgehogs fly…) This week’s writing comes to us from Val Muller, author of the kidlit Corgi Capers mystery series. There is a cat in the Corgi Capers series called “Shadow,” but the details of this story are not found in the series.

Shadow’s Approval

By Val Muller

I think it was my grandmother that planted the idea in my head, the idea that cats are old souls come back to watch us. She didn’t mean anything by it, at least I don’t think she did. But the idea stuck, and here I am.

I found Shadow huddled under my porch overhang during a downpour. No collar, no microchip. Every attempt I made to find an owner for her was foiled. “Lost cat” signs mysteriously flew away. Calls to veterinarians were unanswered. It was clear Shadow was destined to be my cat.

I was wondering what kind of an old soul Shadow might be when she jumped on my dresser and tipped over my jewelry box, a treasure-chest shaped wooden box I’d inherited that was made by my great-grandfather, my grandmother’s dad. After tipping the box, Shadow swatted at the contents until a necklace was stuck in her paw.

My grandmother’s necklace. Shadow seemed quite content with herself, staring at the jewel in her paw.

“Grandma?” I asked.

My own question startled me, but Shadow’s demeanor looked quite pleased. I shook my head. My cat was not a reincarnation of my grandmother. What was wrong with me? I was probably just tired. I reached in the drawer for some PJs, choosing a silky black pair. Shadow’s face shifted. This was more than me being tired. This was legitimate disapproval. I kept my eyes on the cat as I reached in the drawer for another pair. This time, I chose a goofy pair of boxers—flying pigs—with a matching pink shirt. The cat nodded. I kid you not, she nodded.

I put on the PJs and went to bed. Maybe things would make sense in the morning.

But I found myself checking the cat before I left for work, making sure I had her approval for my outfit.

(She approved.)

At breakfast time, the cat would approve muffins but not coffee. A skirt but not a pants suit. The cat would disapprove if I brought too much take-out. She approved reading but not TV before bed.

It went on like this, and I couldn’t help but think of how my grandmother had loved to voice her opinion on things whenever she got the chance.

It got to the point where I would make decisions in the bathroom, or in my closet, away from the eyes of the cat. It was ridiculous. Shadow knocked over a vase in a recessed display shelf built into my apartment wall. From that day forward, she sat there, a cat in a shrine. I had to pass by the Shrine to leave my house, and I found myself pausing before her, almost bowing. No, supplicating myself to her, seeking her approval.

Which is why I made every excuse in the book not to take Jake home with me. For weeks and then months, I somehow managed to avoid taking him back to my place. We always ended up at his apartment, or at a restaurant. I blamed the cat, of course, but not in the true sense. I told him the cat was clingy, that the cat shed everywhere, that kind of thing. But when we discussed moving in together, it only made sense that we’d choose my place. It was bigger. Nicer.

But it came with Shadow.

I knew if Jake moved in, he’d be the one. I knew he’d propose, I knew we’d get married. But I felt I was on the cusp of life, like my path wasn’t clear yet. My life could go any number of ways. Was this really where I was destined to be?

The night I let him come to my apartment, we went out for Italian first, this cute little café right down the street. We walked back to my place arm-in-arm. It was so cute, you’d puke. It was almost like I exited my body: I could see myself walking along the sidewalk with him, watched us like we were in a movie. He carried his leftovers in a brown paper bag, and he kissed me on my porch before I opened the door. I closed my eyes, enjoying the kiss, wondering if he was my future.

When I opened my eyes, I saw Shadow peering through the window. She did not look happy.

We went inside, and Shadow was there, sitting right in front of the door, meowing. She hardly ever meowed. Jake reached down and ruffled her head, more like she was a puppy than a cat. She barred her teeth and looked at me.

“I can tell she doesn’t like me—yet,” Jake said. “This’ll do the trick.” He bent down and placed his dish of leftover meatballs on the floor. “There you go, Shadow.”

I saw a flash of Jake’s future. He would live somewhere away from the city, somewhere with a puppy. He would have an amazing wife. They would enjoy the outdoors. They would not have to seek the approval of anyone before making a decision.

They would not have a cat.

Shadow jumped on her shrine, scorning the meatballs. She hissed at Jake, almost imperceptibly. Jake and I spent the night in sadness, both of us knowing it wasn’t to be. The night I returned home after our official breakup, Shadow jumped down from her shrine and rubbed against me.

I opened a pint of Death by Chocolate and wore my black silk pajamas, watching sad romance movies.

Shadow approved.

*

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.ca/

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