A Family Story

A Family Story
Anca Sandu

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A Family Story

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Jesus, if you could smell the fifty cats my great-great-great grandmother kept in that cluttered red room, stuffy with years, stinging with piss, you would have died, you would have choked, it would have crawled through your mouth down your throat into the pink of your lungs and filled them up with the reek of wet hair. Imagine what those felines did to the rugs and the curtains and the Victorian chairs. But she loved to hold them and bury herself in their scent. She loved the taste of fur.

It’s me or the cats, her husband shouted to her window from the street.

The cats, she laughed, and shut the blinds.

Their children and the guests sang, teetering in the parlor.

He cured his dull life with a trip to South America. Don’t let the door hit you, she said and took seven lovers in his absence, all strapping, all young, all millionaires, except the last: a stable kid, terrible teeth—but how he stroked her.

No news on her husband’s travels. A year later he came home in a barrel. Pirates had slashed his throat for six hundred undelivered dollars.

The letters he’d written arrived home years later. She read them on her deathbed. How you’ve crushed me, he’d written. You might as well eat my heart for dinner every night for a thousand years. (Her stable boy, now a man, his teeth still crooked, massaged her hands.)

Or another version:

They were a sad family. The father played the violin, the mother wept in the kitchen, nobody fed those cats, they annoyed the neighbors with their hungry cries, all five of those kids were screwed up swindlers, rapscallions, murderers. They called themselves artistes, but how lonely they were swilling gin up in the hotels with society friends and later alone at the docks, hands in their pockets watching the brokenhearted boats tilt in the water and the sun rise.

And still another:

When I come home deep one night I’ll come dead with my throat slashed and singing, into your bedrooms, quietly, he said, not a sound, he whispered in the ears of his offspring, you too will fall, they’ll cut you too like you’ve never been cut, where it hurts, he said to his son, yes, it comes to all, my sugars, my curious eggs, it comes so slow and fast and good, it hurts, he said to his daughter, and you will out yourselves, my kittens, one by one, throughout the years, you and you and you, your sex will shed its load of tears, they’ll leave you at the dark edge of this wood, they’ll thrust you at the teeth of this country, and then like leaves, like dreams, like bedtime prayers, they’ll float away so gently.