I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, crying.
One hand on my pregnant belly, I’m counting kicks, but that’s not why I’m crying. The counts are strong and frequent. At 35 weeks, she’s in position, head down, butt up, such a good girl. I’ve worked hard at this, my first pregnancy: lots of water and walks, veggies, vitamins, singing and reading and playing piano so she will be musical and curious and smart.
I’m crying because I have to get rid of my cats.
My husband has hated them since we met. I put up with the inappropriate peeing because they’re mine, through thick and thin. Frankie, fat, soft, nervous and dim, I adopted ten years ago when I was in graduate school and lonely. She’s always been confused.
Squeaks, the mean black scrap I adopted fifteen years ago when I was in college and lonely, pees in revenge. She ruined my first couch, a thick deep navy loveseat. I wrapped my bed in plastic for overnight trips. Once I woke to her peeing on my leg to demonstrate her dislike of the pine litter. Her pee was cold, her eyes golden shards of vengeance.
My husband was finished when Frankie started using the downstairs carpet as her litter box. Now she’s moved to the music room upstairs, its beige carpet soft as a field of wheat. But where can she go? The shelters are overfull. Our families live far away, and they’ve never liked my cats, either. It’s cruel to abandon. And illegal.
The director of the animal charity tells me, gently, she’ll never be able to adopt out two old cats with elimination problems.
The vet will euthanize for $37.
I won’t do that. I couldn’t. Kill the animals that have been my companions for so many years? What kind of mother would that make me?
Then I came home with a new lampshade and curtains to find a pile of cat poop in the baby’s room. A dainty pile, a declaration of war. Squeaks saying her or me.
The shit in the nursery is an axe in my mind, severing affection. There’s one path, one choice, cold and terrible.
I will not expose my child to this.
She will not crawl in cat-soiled carpet, finding strings of puke among her toys. My best friend had toxoplasmosis as a baby and it marked her. I will not put my child at risk.
I don’t believe the myths of cats sucking breath from babies. But I comprehend sacrifice. Agamemnon killing Iphigenia for a favorable wind. Abraham offering Isaac as a blessing for his people. I write about these myths, Medea and Melusine, women who murder their children. The mother who brings life has the power to destroy.
My husband will take them. So I don’t have to.
I say my goodbyes, still weeping. I stroke Frankie as she bolts the last of the soft cat food. Squeaks sits apart, furious and queenly, too proud to beg for her life. As my husband leaves, cat carrier in each hand, I’m crushed by guilt. And relief. It’s over.
All night, I hear cats crying.
They come home in a cardboard box, curled atop each other. They’re empty, their spark gone. Their fur is soft and cold.
I have traded two lives I loved for the health and safety of my unborn child. I’ll have another child; I’ll lose more cats. But these are my first.
“It’s heavy,” my husband says, cradling the box.
Yes, I think, it must be heavy. Death is a heavy thing.
Misty Urban is the author of the short story collections THE NECESSARIES and A LESSON IN MANNERS and several works of medieval scholarship. Recent essays have appeared in River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, Cleaver Magazine, 3Elements, Literary Mama, and MY CAESAREAN (The Experiment, 2019). She wishes to highlight the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, a 501-©3 nonprofit that provides shelter, adoption, intervention, training, and other services: www.arl-iowa.org.