Deconstruction in the Form of a Cat God
For December’s free-to-read story, LaShawn Wanak opens with talking cats; then the tale only grows more wondrous — and we can think of nothing better. ~ Julian and Fran, December 3, 2023
Deconstruction in the Form of a Cat God
by LaShawn M. Wanak
The day my faith broke, I stole my neighbor’s cat, Tootsie, and drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It wasn’t something I had planned in advance. I didn’t wake up that morning with a to-do list in my head being:
[ ] go to my neighbor’s house
[ ] yank open the screen door
[ ] grab Tootsie before she dashes out
[ ] throw her in the back seat of my car
[ ] Google the farthest Cat Gathering site
[ ] drive from Chicago to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
But the Cat God was coming back. Such an event only happened every nine years, and I knew for a fact that my neighbor would never allow her cat to go because, as she told me nine years ago, “The Cat God is a demon, and I refuse to let anything demonic have dominion within my own house.”
Tootsie was fifteen years old. Getting up there in cat years. As far as I knew, she’d never been to a Cat Gathering, and I didn’t think she’d last long enough for the next one.
And okay, maybe I was still reeling over the results of the congregational meeting we’d had after church that morning, and all its implications, and what that meant for my friend Maxine, who had stormed out from the meeting, and what my neighbor said afterward that had me questioning why I was a Christian in the first place. . . .
And as I sat there in the driver’s seat of my car, exhausted, having sent text after text to Maxine (I’m sorry . . . this sucks . . . do you want me to come by . . . are you okay) and feeling absolutely helpless, I looked over to see Tootsie behind the screen door of my neighbor’s house, frantic, clawing at the bottom glass pane, and something in me just . . . snapped.
As I crossed the Wisconsin border, I told Tootsie, “You know, this could qualify as a nervous breakdown.”
Tootsie hissed at me from her position in the back window, “A shepherd’s sex appeal is his testicles.”
The first sign that the Cat God is about to descend to Earth is that cats around the world start to talk in human tongues.
No one knows why this happens. The cats seemingly aren’t aware of what they’re saying. Scientists say it’s similar to how ravens or parrots mimic human speech. What is odd is that they’re not exactly mimicking. They’re quoting human works. Some spout off poetry. Others psalms. My sister’s cat quoted lyrics from Beyoncé songs.
I had no idea what Tootsie was quoting. Sounded like Proverbs, but I didn’t remember any Bible verses mentioning testicles.
Around Beloit, Wisconsin, my husband called. “Do I even want to know what you’re thinking right now?”
“Don’t talk me out of this. I’m committed.”
He sighed. “You’re on our Ring camera video. You didn’t even try to hide what you were doing. You’re lucky no one else was around.”
“Does our neighbor know?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t show her.”
“Babe.” He was rubbing his forehead. That’s his go-to exasperation gesture. I didn’t have to see it to know. “At least tell me the cat’s all right.”
I checked the rearview mirror. On the back seat, the black furball that was Tootsie grumbled, “The rats of the reed beds will eat you.”
“She’s fine,” I said. “You know, I’m doing Mrs. Yates a favor. You should hear some of the things Tootsie’s been saying.”
“I won’t say a word.” A bit of silence, then: “I take it you weren’t able to get in touch with Maxine.”
“Are you all right?”
“No.” I sneezed and wiped my streaming eyes. Did I tell you I was allergic to cats? Yeah, I’m allergic to cats.
It took longer for my husband to reply this time. “I’ll distract Mrs. Yates for as long as I can. Just . . . don’t do anything stupid.”
Under my legs, Tootsie croaked, “He who keeps fleeing, flees from his own past.” She then proceeded to vomit on my shoes.
The second sign that the Cat God is about to descend is that cats start to migrate to large, wide-open spaces. Humans treat it like a low-key holiday. In Europe they call it the March of the Cats. In Japan it’s called Neko no Sanpo. In Chicago it’s the Cat-Gathering Parade. People pull out their grills and hold picnics as scores of cats stream by their houses. They put bowls of cat food and water on the sidewalks, throw open their doors to let their indoor cats out, and watch for other critters. The cats are pretty single-minded during the migration, but there are always exceptions.
There are also special buses that, for only five hundred dollars, transport cats to the nearest Cat Gathering in style. Tootsie and I only had my little Honda Civic. The best I could do was pull into a gas station, buy newspaper to lay everywhere inside the car, and sprinkle kitty treats over it. I also bought a packet of nondrowsy allergy pills.
The Cat Gathering near us was in some open field in Kankakee, Illinois. I didn’t want to take the chance of my neighbor driving up and taking Tootsie back, so I picked the farthest one I could make in a six- to seven-hour drive—the upper part of Michigan near the Wisconsin border.
After seven p.m. I hit traffic on Route 41 around the Hiawatha National Forest and knew I was close. Tootsie did, too. Somewhere around Escanaba, she had finally stopped freaking out and stood on the front seat, paws on the dashboard, staring intensely ahead, her tail no longer puffed out but twitching back and forth in impatience. On the side of the highway, cats scurried ahead—old cats, young cats, cats carrying kittens—a river of multicolored fur. I crawled the car forward until at some point we couldn’t go any farther. I maneuvered the car to the side of the road. “End of the line, eh?”
Tootsie didn’t look at me. “The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: ‘The whole of the sea is my urine!’”
“Yeahhhh,” I sighed, and rolled down the passenger window. “Well, go on, you little weirdo, and meet—”
I hadn’t even finished my sentence before she springboarded off the dashboard into the river of cats. I was hoping she would at least look back at me, but she was gone.
Well, at least one of us would have a chance to meet their God face-to-face.
The Cat Gatherings drew all sorts of people. You got your usual hippies and stoners, your self-proclaimed prophets wearing billboards proclaiming death and doom. The Cat God worshippers, from those wearing cat-ear headbands and clip-on tails to full-on furry costumes complete with whiskers and animatronic tails.
It reminded me a lot of the Renaissance Faire we’d taken our kids to several years ago. Parking on the grass in some farmer’s field, then making my way past tents and trailers and booths selling food, glow sticks, and shirts with crude drawings of the Cat God’s open mouth, displaying rows of teeth, with the words I SURVIVED THE CAT GATHERING OF 2015—except 2015 was crossed out and this year was scrawled above it in black permanent marker. I literally watched the shirt seller do this in front of me. And yes, people bought the shirts.
The cats ignored it all.
They surged ahead, silent, intent on their destination. I followed them past hacky sack players and chanters palming crystals and a trench-coat-wearing Baptist preacher ranting about Hell into a microphone hooked up to a crackling amp (didn’t I just see him on State Street in front of the old Carson Pirie Scott? How did he get up here?).
The grassy field in front of me was huge, as large as ten football fields, and it was all covered with cats as far as the eye could see. All of them sat on their haunches, silent, their heads tilted up to gaze at the sky.
Tootsie was in there, somewhere.
An invisible barrier separated us from the cats. I don’t know how it’s generated—maybe it’s from the cats themselves. People have tried everything to break through it: explosions, solvents, digging, bullets. Nothing worked. It must gall some people to not be able to press forward and meet the Cat God. The majority of people, though, like me, were content to watch from the sidelines.
I had a little bit of cell signal, so I called Maxine. It went directly to voicemail.
You may ask, if there is only one Cat God, why would the cats move to multiple meeting spaces? Simple. There is only one Cat God and the Cat God visits them all. Simultaneously.
Don’t think too hard about it.
You may also ask, why on earth would a church feel the need to create a new amendment to the church policy stating that in order to be a member, you had to agree that gay marriage is sinful and then have the amendment voted in by a huge majority of the congregation?
And as the results are announced, your best friend from church, the sweetest woman and the strongest Christian you know, who is planning to marry her longtime partner in the fall, gets up and leaves in tears, because how could she not take this personally, and as you’re debating if you should go after her, your next-door neighbor, who you’ve known for years, says, “Good. Glad to see we’re finally taking a stance on truth. We have to. Like the Bible says, ‘Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.’”
And at that moment, your faith breaks.
Because if your God is going to condemn your friend from church, who again is the sweetest woman and the strongest Christian you know, just because she’s in love with another woman, then either the God you served all your life is a monster or your church isn’t worshipping the same God you think you know.
In fact, what, exactly, is this God supposed to represent? Life? Love? Order? Authority? Power? Or does this have absolutely nothing to do with God at all but simply a bunch of people using the Bible to justify horrible acts?
Is there even a God?
Don’t think too hard about that, either.
At exactly 8:07 p.m., amid the soft pink and ruddy golds of the setting sun, the Cat God finally descended to Earth.
I had expected the Cat God to make a graceful entrance. But no. Instead of descending from the heavens in a cloud of holy light, or among the wings of angels, it fell.
It wasn’t even an elegant fall. It was as if some angel had just picked up the Cat God by its feet in Heaven and tossed it out. Legs flailing in the air, tail whipping back and forth, massive back curved. It was as ungainly and awkward as you can imagine.
Until physics kicked in. Its back arched. The back hind legs swung around, followed by its front. The tail straightened out. The Cat God braced for impact and landed lightly on the pads of its feet with only a minor quake and a puff of dust. Proving, unnecessarily, that even a Cat God could fall clumsily and still land on its feet.
The waiting cats went bonkers. Leaping up, turning somersaults, mouths opened. The entire field became a churning ocean of fur. We couldn’t hear a thing behind the barrier, but I was certain that the odd chirping voices filled with human words were immense and loud.
The Cat God slowly and carefully padded among them, lowering its massive head every once in a while. I can’t really describe the Cat God well, because, yes, it looked like a giant cat, and yet it didn’t. There were hints of tentacles. Or wings. It was as large—no, larger—as the arena that used to be Soldier Field. But it was able to press its forehead against another cat’s perfectly. It’s fur coat rippled to reflect the entirety of all the cats at its feet—black and white and tortoiseshell and calico and tabby and shorthair and even leathery to reflect those without fur. It was mesmerizing and simultaneously nauseating.
But not for the cats. Unafraid, they leapt and dashed beneath the Cat God’s legs. They rolled and tumbled off its large back. They nipped and chased its quivering tail. They pressed against its flank and licked its fur. The Cat God indulged them all.
Something started to expand in my chest. Something hard and distressing. Too full for my body to contain.
I whipped around and pushed through the throng of people laughing and holding up their phones to record the whole thing. I pushed until I reached open space, then started to run. I had to run. There was too much pressure in my head and not enough air in my lungs. I wanted to scream or bend down to scoop up dirt and hurl it toward the barrier and oh . . .
I was jealous.
I was jealous. No—angry. No—furious at the fact that the cats got to meet their Cat God face-to-face. As if it was a normal, everyday thing.
And there I was having a crisis of faith because I couldn’t tell if the God I believed in was all just a lie, a sacred excuse used by people to separate, to exclude, to gatekeep, to manipulate.
I sank behind a booth and drew my knees up. It wasn’t fair. Not fair. Why did the cats get to see their God up close and personal every nine years, whereas all we got was some guy who came down, died on a cross, and then pretty much peaced out back to Heaven and hasn’t come back since? So many wars, so many denominations and cults founded, so many horrible things have been done in His name. Yet God did nothing to stop it or defend Himself or anything.
I don’t know how long I sat there, but at some point I scrubbed at my sore eyes, and when I lowered my hands, there was a cat sitting in front of me.
It wasn’t the Cat God. This wasn’t Narnia, where Aslan would suddenly appear and give me words of wisdom. No, it was an ordinary white cat with two black dots on its head, its black tail primly wrapped around its feet. Just sitting there, staring at me.
I glanced over to see if the Cat God had left. It hadn’t. It was still prowling about, letting the cats cavort around its legs. Why wasn’t this cat with the others? Weird.
The cat rolled its back up into an arching stretch, then quipped in a soft voice as it approached me, “Take a minute to think of just.” It rubbed its head on my knee, then delicately stepped into my lap and settled down.
And started to purr.
At that moment my phone buzzed.
“Hey,” said Maxine when I answered.
“Hey,” I said back.
We both said nothing for a little bit, then I heard Maxine shift in her chair over the phone. “Sorry I didn’t get back to you. Was talking to some folks.”
“Where you at? Sounds like you’re at the store.”
“Naw. I’m in the UP.”
“You’re . . . what?”
“I took my neighbor’s cat to the Cat Gathering up here. Actually, took is too vague. Stole is more likely.”
“You . . . stole . . . Tootsie.” Maxine made a choking sound. Then another one. Then another. Then she took a deep breath and howled in laughter, “You stole Mrs. Yates’s cat! You kidnapped her cat! Oh my god . . . oh my god . . .”
I smiled. The cat purred. A lapful of warm, purring cat wasn’t all that bad. Nice, actually. I never had a cat growing up. But I could see the appeal. “Glad to see I can still make you laugh.”
Maxine finally finished her laughing fit and gasped, “Is this like that time in college when you kidnapped John just to have someone with you when you drove to Minnesota for a Prince concert?”
“First of all, rude. And second, we’ve been married for twenty years, so technically it’s no longer kidnapping.” I scratched behind the cat’s ear. The cat grunted and murmured, “Flexibility, love, and trust.”
That was when I recognized what it was saying. “Wait, that’s from Steven Universe.”
“This cat. It’s quoting lyrics from Steven Universe. My kids watched that show over and over.”
“Good show. You’re at a Cat Gathering? Shouldn’t the cat be with the other cats?”
“I thought the same thing.” I looked around, but no one seemed to notice or claim ownership of the cat. “It’s kind of weird.”
“Maybe it doesn’t feel the need to be around the Cat God right now.”
Maybe it was the cat. Maybe it was the absurdity of having this conversation hundreds of miles from home while a giant Cat God prowled about several yards away, but I then blurted out, “I’m sorry about what happened at church. If you’re not a Christian anymore, I understand.”
Maxine’s breath caught. Then: “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well . . . I thought . . .”
“You thought that since the church made it very clear I wasn’t welcome there, they spoke for all of Christianity.”
“Mm . . . well.”
“Suge”—Maxine only calls me Suge when she’s Super Serious—“you know there’s more to Christianity than that church, right?”
“But all those things they said—”
“Ain’t nothing I ain’t heard before. That’s always been the case, though. So they use the Bible to kick me out. So what? It won’t change the fact that I know God loves me.”
“But how do you know that for sure?”
Maxine laughed. It was light and breathy and it told me she really was all right. “Suge. The God I worship has always been based on love. God is love itself. Says it right there in First John. The Bible ain’t God. It’s just a bunch of letters and poetry and people trying to figure out who God is. Lots of people quote verses out of context. They’re no different from your neighbor’s cat spitting out Sumerian proverbs and thinking it means something to them.”
“Sumerian? So that’s what she’s been saying all this time.” The cat on my lap blinked up at me, murmured “Just a thought,” then hopped off my lap and started cleaning its face. I rose to my feet. “I don’t know. I think some cats might be trying to say something that makes sense. At least, this one here.”
“Maybe. But that’s the whole divine mystery I still believe in. God spoke through other things before. How else did God speak to people before there was a Bible put together?”
Before I could answer, a gentle whumpf pressed against my eardrums and suddenly cats were everywhere, running off in all directions. I looked up to see that the Cat God was gone. Poof. Just like that.
“Looks like the Cat Gathering’s done,” I told Maxine. “I should get home.”
“Good. Call me when you’re back in Chicago. June wants to start planning our wedding. We were going to keep it small, but after today we’re going to look for a church that will marry us.” June was Maxine’s partner and Maxine always got giddy when she spoke about her. “You can come over. Help us research new churches. Might do you some good.”
“I should.” I looked around at all the milling cats. “It’ll be a while, though.”
After talking with Maxine, I called my husband to let him know what was going on. I then did some walking, thinking a lot on Maxine’s words, thinking about mysteries and love and a God that can speak through so many other ways, vaster than the universe.
The cat who had quoted Steven Universe songs had, of course, vanished.
Maybe it was time for a new church.
When I finally got back to my car, I was surprised (and yet part of me wasn’t) to see Tootsie sitting on the hood, tucked into a mini-loaf, as if she had been waiting for me to come back for a while. She blinked half-lidded eyes toward me and went, “Mrr?”
“No more Sumerian proverbs, huh?”
She didn’t answer. I held out my hand and let her sniff it. “If Mrs. Yates kicks you out after this, you can stay at our place. I’ll talk it over with my hubby. Our kids would love you. I gotta warn you, though. I’m allergic to cats. You all right with that?”
Tootsie rumbled again, stretched, and stepped off the car. She landed on the ground, naturally, feetfirst.
Thank you for joining our journey this week.
LaShawn M. Wanak writes short fiction, essays, poetry, and speculative stories. Her work is published in venues such as Uncanny Magazine and FIYAH, and she served as the lead writer for the art collective Meow Wolf on their permanent immersive exhibit, The Real Unreal, in Grapevine, Texas. She is also the editor of the online speculative magazine GigaNotoSaurus and is an alum of Viable Paradise. LaShawn can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Bluesky, her website “The Cafe in the Woods,” and her Substack newsletter. She enjoys knitting, anime, and wrestling with theological truths from a Womanist’s perspective. Writing stories keeps her sane. Also, pie.
“Deconstruction in the Form of A Cat God,” © LaShawn M. Wanak, 2023.
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