Paulina Vaca

I lived with Chelita in Quito when Murillo was in the middle of the great cat wars. He and the other cats battled on the rooftops along the northern outskirts, when that part of the city was still full of animals – not just cats, but stray dogs, and even pigs and sheep. It all happened above our beds, over my aunt’s house. We heard the thuds of falls, and the bird-like shuffle of paws. The brawls ended with hisses and howls. Then came the caressing of injured spots. Then, suddenly, sleep. A black, bruised sleep.

The next morning, Murillo would sit high above the rooftop. He looked down at us from that great height like some sort of hero.

He’d yawn and stretch his shoulders, and he’d stroll in as if nothing had happened. But his mouth and his beautiful chest were drenched in blood – not his.

He was sandy-colored underneath all the blood. He had been beautiful, once. We were nothing to him. He was just with us for the meat – he saw us, and he saw meat. So we went every few days to the Comisariato to buy him chicken livers. Or else, who knows what he would he have done to us? He gorged on the black-red, glistening livers that we laid out for him, and his lips turned black from the meat. Afterwards, he slept. Nothing would wake him. We would watch him and imagine the mayhem of his night by the state of this sleep, which was like death. Then he rose, and he left us again.

In Quito, the female cats scurried everywhere like ferrets, trying to hide the best they could. They were tiny – undernourished. Murillo was huge – well nourished by us. He stalked them constantly. Once we watched as he took a steel gray girl on the rooftop – she wasn’t much larger than a kitten. Murillo flattened her. She wailed underneath him until he slumped, exhausted. But when she saw her chance, the little girl tried to kill him. All the girls seemed to do this. After the rapes, they recoiled in fury, and then they swiped. Feral, vicious swipes to the face and neck, claws out.

Murillo came back from these affairs covered in blood, this time his own. Once, he staggered towards us with his left ear hanging by a band of skin. Dried blood was packed on his ear, and it stank of iron. That day Chelita handed him a special breakfast of raw meat with a raw egg. But he never let us touch him. We just watched him and fed him, and tried our best to heal him with food.

As Murillo aged he gained weight. A lot of weight. We feed him obediently, and he grew obese with our love. He ate livers and milk. He smelled of putrefied meat and old cheese. Eventually, he stopped going away. His bloated hindquarters wouldn’t budge, and he’d release terrific, poisonous farts. Every once in a while he’d labor back to the rooftop, and he slept there for days. The fleas crisscrossed in visible trails over his face.

Our devotion to Murillo never – ever – swayed. We always found reasons to run to the Comisariato for his livers, even when it looked like he would die from another bite. Later, after Murillo did die, Chelita would find Clio, a trembling, moist kitten that had been dumped in the alley. Clio rested on our laps and purred when we touched her – she let us touch her. She was grateful. But Murillo was never replaced, not in our hearts.

In his final days, Murillo limped into the house and struggled onto Chelita’s soft blue sofa. He laid there like some engorged dictator-in-exile, and we tended to him as such. He wouldn’t stop sleeping. He slept hard, murky sleeps where his entire being quivered. During this time, Murillo was transformed. He seemed to exist of new material. In his shuddering old age, he looked like everything he had ever eaten, killed, everything that he ever fucked. He had become Rey Murillo, a cat-shaped hunk of raw, red meat.

Paulina Vaca writes about Ecuador and food. She has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction for George Mason University, and her essays have been published in Gastronomica and Rose Magazine.