The Cat

The little girl badly wanted a pet. Her mother thought it would mean a lot of work. It would dirty up their house, one that was all made out of concrete, without even a garden. The mother thought that concrete was good for people, not for pets. Her daughter thought that concrete wasn’t good for either people or pets. That’s why she wanted the warm body of a cat, to feel less alien in that house of concrete.


Things had always been like this between her and her mother ever since she could remember. Her mother was all concrete; the girl was the wind that would blow through the rooms, a wind that would bleed.


Life in that house obeyed a logic of practicality and minimal dirt: with its many clocks marking the time that never changed, its plastic dishes and paper flowers, its artificially flavored juice and canned meat, its words that no one uttered. Trapped in such a house, the girl put up a struggle.


She wondered if her mother’s womb likewise had been made of concrete. She wondered if she, being made of flesh, had been expelled from her mother like a tumor, oozing all over the house ever since.


The mother never forgave her daughter for leaving behind undesirable cells that mixed with her own fluids. They were the girl’s defective cells, making the mother lose her temper on dark days.


On one of those sunless days, the mother furiously gave in to her daughter’s pleas. “All right, I’ll get you a cat! But I don’t want to hear one more thing about pets. You’re going to take care of the cat. You’re going to feed the cat. Clean up after the cat. Get rid of the cat’s poop. Get rid of the cat altogether.”


The girl got her cat. It was just another progeny in another litter of another stray cat that her neighbor’s friend found in the corner of their garage. On the first day, the girl spent the whole time clutching the kitten, feeling his heat, his pulsating heart, his flesh throbbing between her hands.


The cat wanted to jump down, to scratch the sofa, to get tangled up in a ball of yarn. To flee. But the girl held onto him with both hands. And squeezed.


In the afternoon, the girl realized that she had become concrete to the cat.


This understanding did not make her willing to let the cat go free. To the contrary, she held him even tighter.


When the girl did not show up for supper, her mother went looking for her. She found her in the back room. The cat was no longer there. The girl was smeared with his flesh. Her lively hands were buried in the open belly of the cat. Her eyes were wide open.


Her mother approached her slowly. With newfound sensitivity, she opened the mouth of her daughter, who did not resist. Between the girl’s teeth, her mother saw the cat’s heart.


The mother looked into the girl’s eyes; the girl looked into her mother’s eyes. They understood each other at last.

ELIANE BRUM is a journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker. She has published five nonfiction books and a novel, as well as participating in collections of short stories, essays, and creative nonfiction. 

She received the Jabuti Award for her first book, A vida que ninguém vê [The Life No One Sees], and the Açorianos Award two times for her books, Coluna Prestes: o avesso da lenda [Coluna Prestes: The Legend Inside Out] and A menina quebrada [Broken Girl]. 

In 2011, she published her first novel, Uma duas, which was translated into English by Lucy Greaves in 2014 as “One Two”. 

A reporter since 1988, Eliane has worked for publications such as Zero Hora and Revista Época. Since 2013, she has been writing a bimonthly column for the Brazilian website of the global newspaper, El País

She has won more than forty national and international journalism awards, including the United Nations’ Special Press Trophy. She has released two documentary films, Uma história Severina (2005) and Gretchen Filme Estrada (2010), for which she was the codirector and cowriter. 

You can find Eliane’s blog posts at Desacontecimentos [Unhappenings].

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