Cats and Drag Queens
When my father was alive I never really heard him talk about his childhood very often. The stories I did get to hear were usually on par with a Hollywood highlights reel. He was the flashy disco king, the sweaty wrestling champ, and of course he was made out of all the right stuff that teenage girls just dream of and then later on regret. However, my aunt, possibly suffering from cliché jealous younger sibling syndrome, would always brandish a few stories about my father’s juicer and more psychotic childhood exploits to fill the starlit silence on long car rides. There is one particular set of stories that occasionally just creep into my mind on tiny padded feet.
“Your father used to torment our cat,” she chimed out from the darkness in the front seat.
“You had a cat?” a mini version of me, squealed with delight. I stared out the window imagining an animal with crescent moon eyes and sterling silver fur. I was allergic to cats and secretly wished to have one ever since I saw the movie The Worst Witch. Even a total screw up like Mildred got a cute, little kitty to ride bitch seat on her broom stick. I was planning to be the best witch at my school’s Halloween parade that year.
“Yep, your father would put it in a pillow case and swing it above his head,” she laughed.
“Look, Jackie, a siren,” my father would suddenly boom from the driver seat. He was wearing a neon, green racing jacket. He then would proceed to imitate the creature’s frantic wails.
“Do you remember the time you put it in the dryer, after Mommy made you bathe it,” she laughed.
“Thump, thump, thump,” he bellowed. I would be lying if I said that I was horrified or shocked. I was ten, and I laughed like everyone else did. It was very Tom and Jerry-esque, and every child of my generation was a fan of ACME brand violence. After all, it was part of a balanced breakfast. I would continue to laugh at his offbeat animal humor through sun-set flipping our Shih Tzu and to acting out “The Where’s the Galaxy, Frank” scene from Men in Black with our poodle. However, when both of these dogs died my father may have cried more than me. I had never seen a man cry as much my father. I never saw my mother cry as much as my father. Towards the end of his life he would cry while watching a touching tiger based cereal commercial or after reading a Father’s Day card featuring lukewarm sentiments from Garfield wearing a very festive party hat and fake acrylics.
When I became a teenager I no longer found his animal antics to be humorous. I just saw him scratching away at my mother’s time and good graces. Everything smelled like rebellious urine and worn out, but well-meaning, condoms. It would only be the year before the IRS came knocking at his door with their pimp hands locked and loaded that he would sneak in one more hilarious cat moment.
It was during my last visit to New Jersey when my father suggested that I see his new home in Sleepy Hollow. I was shocked because this was the house he had bought to play “house” with his mistress.
“Are you sure?” I asked, hesitantly.
“Don’t worry, she’s not there,” he said, with a smug smile. We had reached the point where it was all out in the open and everyone went from pretending that “she” didn’t exist to pretending that my mother didn’t exist. When we arrived I was taken aback out how large the place was and the inside was decorated to his drag queen-like pallet. The walls were painted in loud neon circus colors, the wood was crimson stained, and the kitchen was solid black with sparkled studded granite. I saw a note on the counter written in big bold letters starting with the phrase “From the Help.” He snatched it off the counter and quickly threw it away, before I could read anymore. I knew it was from her. The handwriting had all the symptoms of an angry woman: large loopy capitalization, frantic underlining, and the classic disillusioned frowney face. Apparently, my visit was unsanctioned and was causing quite the scratch fest between them.
I laughed all the way up to the guest room. I found it oh, so deliciously ironic. I thought about how may fights my parents had over her. These thoughts quickly fizzled out when I encountered, what I had first thought, was a mutant raccoon napping on the guest bed. It had a shaved body, a weird overbite, and its tongue flapped about.
“Um, dad? Do you have a pet?” It jumped off the bed and started to rub its back against my legs. The purring made me lean more towards the feline family. Even though it sounded like an old drill and there was a little more drool than one would usually expect.
“Yeah, that’s Mishka,” he laughed. The name hinted to “the help’s” Iron Curtain origins.
“What type of cat is this?” I said, looking at it.
“Oh, it’s a Persian, but we got her shaved.”
“Why?” I had never heard of this breed being buck naked before.
“She sheds too much and if she scratches the new leather furniture she can kiss those pretty claws good bye too,” he said, petting the cat all buddy buddy.
“So she’s not allowed to shed or scratch? Then, why have a cat in the first place?”
“I like to think of it as having a cat on my own terms,” he laughed, petting it. The cat hissed/gurgled and snuggled closer to me.
“You poor, poor creature,” I said petting it.
“Poor? What are you kidding? She’s got a three story cat house, eats better than I do, and sleeps all day. In fact, I’m coming back as a cat, a woman, or a gay man in my next life,” he said, heading out the door.
“Right,” I said, picking her up. My father always saw all of us “pussies” as another mouth to feed and one more wrinkle on his forehead. He would always express his desire to be a well stacked woman or a handsome gay man and land a sugar daddy on his next ride on the reincarnation roller-coaster. However, due to his already incredibly flamboyant wardrobe choices, I often imagined him coming back as a lively drag queen instead. There is a picture of him in the dark recesses of my closet wearing painfully orange short-shorts and a lemon-lime colored T-shirt. The man was a walking and talking pack of highlighters. Even his burial suit was a loud tomato juice color.
“From one cat to another, I apologize for the dog in the other room,” I said, cradling Mishka. My dad heard me and let out a loud playful howl. That was the last time I saw that house or thought about my father’s strange affinity with felines.
Four years later, on my honeymoon in Key West, my husband and I attended The Great Drag Race. It was always how this tiny island kicked off their month long Conch Republic Festival. I saw dazzling queens running in unholy heal elevations with beautiful peacock headdresses. We walked past The Hemmingway House on our way back to our hotel. As many times as I had visited Key West, I had never been inside this touristy hot zone. I had visited all of Hemmingway’s famous drinking holes though, but never his home.
“We should go in. I know The Sun Also Rises is one of your favorite books,” my husband said.
“Sure,” I said, watching as a flock of drag queens passed us on our left. I overheard one shout before rounding the corner,
“Everything is and forever will be absolutely fabulous between us.” We waited for a tour to start in the seemingly vacant garden and sat on metal bench next to a bronze bust of the man himself.
“Let me see if I can get someone to take our picture,” my husband said, getting up. Once he was out of a sight a black kitten jumped into my lap. It looked at me and I looked it, and for a moment I knew exactly what was happening and it was an absolutely fabulous way to finally say goodbye.
About the author:
Christina Fulton graduated from Florida Atlantic University with her MFA in fiction. She is currently teaching at Miami Dade College North. She has a supportive mother, a caring husband, and two crazy dogs. Her book Dead Ends is available on Amazon. Her story “The Old Freak is Dead” will be featured in the upcoming Rozlyn Press Anthology. In addition, her experimental piece “Do Yourself a FlavoR” will be in The Shrug this month.