Part 3 – The Cat

The cat was a clear-cut blackmail job.  And Evil Granny had a hand in it big time.

As pretty much every only child I’ve been begging my parents for a brother or a sister ever since I started talking.  I kinda wanted an older brother or a sister, but would have settled for a younger one as well…  At some point the parents sat me down, and appealed to my senses (I’ve always been a very reasonable child).  They took up the strategy that even the hard-core EU negotiators of today would be proud of, and demonstrated the value of having a young sibling to me first-hand.  They put an orange in front of me – at that point in time any piece of fruit, regardless of taste or the nutritional value thereof, was a priceless object of desire for me – and asked if I wanted it.  No shit, Sherlock – like any malnourished Soviet child from the North I was ready to swallow said orange together with peel and seeds right there and then!  I was then patiently explained, that if I were to have it right now, the whole fucking orange would be mine for the taking.  If, however, I happened to have a sibling, and a younger one at that, I would be expected to share said orange with the little brother or sister I so much desired, thus having only half of it.

This was clear and simple enough and I quickly changed my story.  I no longer wanted a little brother or a sister (orange stealers!), and started asking for a dog instead.  I learned to read really early, and read in books about dogs being a man’s best friend. I was also smart enough to realize that as carnivores they shouldn’t be much into fruit and my oranges would be safe with them.  Upon further contemplation, my 6-year old mind decided that I might possibly compromise on a cat, but would not budge any further.

Considering our limited accommodation situation (see the description of our communal digs in Part 1 – Uncle Sasha), my parents weren’t overly enthused about having anything or anyone else invade our living space and my demands for a cuddly pet were falling on deaf ears.

Being a quick-thinking and industrious child, I realize that if things were to move forward, I would have to take matters into my own hands. 

The opportunity presented itself soon enough.

One day, we went with Evil Granny to the dairy shop to buy some milk, and there it was – my golden opportunity!  In a shape of a very white, very fluffy and very big cat.  Bingo!!!  It did not take me too long to convince Evil Granny that the cat had to go with us.  She was well aware of my parents’ opposition to pets, and must have been already gloating at their indignation, when she nonchalantly said “Sure”, and allowed me to grab the huge and suspiciously obliging cat into my arms and drag it home.

I was thrilled – not only did my dream finally come true, but it came true in the shape and form of a beauty that I could not have even imagined.  The cat was magnificent – spotlessly white, blue-eyed, fluffy and very, very pregnant.  Obviously, the latter moment completely escaped my 6-year old attention.

When my Mom came home from work, and I ran to hear screaming happily “Look who I got here!!!!!” this was the first thing she noticed – her daughter dragging along the corridor a gigantic animal, that was at risk of giving birth right there and then.  She nearly had a heart attack, and this was the first time when I heard her swearing at Evil Granny, who pretended to be deaf and quickly hid in the toilet.

When my Dad came home, and was subjected to the demonstration of the pregnant cat by his daughter absolutely beaming with joy, the family council was called in.  My parents locked themselves in the kitchen, and started devising strategic plans on getting rid of the white beauty before it produced 8 or 10 more.  Evil Granny continued to hide in the bathroom, and Uncle Sasha was busy drinking, so they had to come up with the plan all by themselves.

I was oblivious to the conspiracy, and was busy trying to play with the cat, running back and forth along the corridor with a piece of newspaper tied to the end of a rope.  The cat was sitting in the corner, panting, ignoring all my attempts at socializing and probably praying to feline Gods to let this little monster leave her alone.  I was not easily disappointed, and spent the first evening in joyous oblivion, happily running along the corridor all by myself.  I finally had company, and this was enough!  The cat was just shy and needed time to get used to its’ new digs and the new friend.

My parents must have been good at psychology, or just happened to know their daughter really well.  The plan devised behind the closed kitchen doors was as ingenious as it was cunning.  Starting from the next morning, I started getting almost hourly updates from the dairy shop.  They came through Mom and Dad, and even through Uncle Sasha, who was probably bribed to cooperate with potatoes and vodka.  Evil Granny kept full neutrality on the subject, and did not get involved.

“I stopped by the dairy shop today to get milk, and the cat is being very much missed there!”, my Mom would say first thing as she came back home from work.

“Actually, the sales lady from the shop called earlier today,” my Dad would echo, “and asked if the cat was OK.”

“They really miss her so much, they keep crying that you took her away!”  My Mom was trying to appeal to my sense of compassion. “Crying all the time!…”

I was not really listening.  I was busy trying to engage the cat in the games that I invented by a dozen.  The cat was still sitting in the corner, looking docile and un-impressed.

“Uhm….  Yeah, they do miss the cat,” Uncle Sasha would put in his 5 cents through the cigarette smoke billowing from under his door to the approval glances from my parents.

My sense of compassion was still unresponsive, but after a couple of days I was starting to get annoyed with the cat.  It just would not play with me!..

My parents did not attempt to explain the concepts of the late stages of feline pregnancy to a 6-year old, and stuck to their story – the cat was being very much missed in the dairy shop.

“And the cat must miss them too, this is why it does not want to play with you.  It is sad, it misses home and its old friends!…”

They intentionally did not give the cat a name, fearing that this might be a potential first step to its settling with us.  Personally, I could not care less whether the ladies in the dairy shop were crying or not, but the cat not joining me in mad races along the corridor was a huge blow.  My parents noticed my disappointment, and worked it like pros.

“Five more calls today from a dairy shop….” my Dad would say solemnly.  “They said they could not work without the cat.  They are too sad.  And I think the cat feels it.  It looks so sad, almost ready to cry.”

Blatant lie, but after a couple of days it started to sink in.

“Don’t you think we should take the cat back home, to the dairy shop, and make everybody happy?…”

When the key question was popped, I was ready to part with the cat.  Not with my dream, though.

I put up a show of deep thinking (I would have thrown a tantrum, had I known how), cried a little, pretended to be deeply emotionally upset, and finally threw in my negotiation card on the table.

“If we bring the kitty back, what do I get in return?…”

My parents must have rehearsed this scenario as well, for I was very quickly promised a little kitten in replacement – a friend of friends had a cat that just had kittens.

“A little kitten would play with you,” my parents assured.  “It will be your real friend, and the cat will be happy to be back home.”

And so it was.  The cat was escorted back to the dairy shop, where it spent the last days of pregnancy being pampered with cream, milk and cottage cheese, gave birth to a 10-kitten litter of fluffy white balls, which were almost immediately adopted by the shop staff and patrons, and continued living happily ever after without little monsters chasing it along the corridor.

A month later, my parents brought home a little fur-ball, that I unimaginatively called Tishka.  He played with me all right, and developed an amazing ability to jump on the walls to an almost shoulder height, and slide along the wallpapers on his claws.  I swear I did not train him to do this!

He grew to be a magnificent, long-haired and bushy-tailed cat, and lived to the ripe old age of 21.  Throughout all these years we had shredded wallpapers and cat hair on our clothes and in our food and loved the cat dearly.

Part 2 – Evil Granny

Enter the Evil Granny.  This was not her official name, and I called her “Baba Masha” (“baba” being Russian child-speak for “granny”), but the sentiment was legit.  Taking the “selective memory” amendment, I will stick with the sentiment.

Evil Granny was my Mom’s Mom, and hated Dad with a passion, making a point of mentioning this to everybody around, whether they wanted to listen to her or not.

“Your Dad is a proper idiot”, she would hiss, “a total looser!”  (Donald Trump would have been so proud of my Evil Granny!…)

The only one in the family with the vocabulary and guts to swear out loud (I can definitely see some genes having been passed through), she did not need a reason, or even an audience to rant about my Dad.  Why – I have never figured out…  He married her daughter being absolutely and totally in love with her, provided for her and the family, even took the Evil Granny under his roof, fully knowing her hatred and loathing of him, and stoically shared our limited communal space with her for almost 10 years.

I never really listened to her rants – my Dad was my Dad, the best guy in the world, who would goof with me painting silly pictures with water on the walls (to the disgust of my Mom), and carve little animals out of tasteless cardboard cheese, when after one of my numerous childhood pneumonias the doctors said I should get more calcium.  But Dad deserves and will get a separate story – we are on the Evil Granny now.

She must have hated my Mom/her daughter as well, although in a much more discreet and less obvious way, offering snide comments on her appearance, choice of clothing, parental abilities, and pretty much anything any time she would get a chance.

In my childhood memories she is always there, shuffling around the apartment wearing a kitchen apron, half bent, with one hand on the small of her back (radiculitis and other back problems were also part of the genetic inheritance, that does not allow me to forget Evil Granny), and swearing under her breath.

“Fucking senility is getting the best of me…” she would mutter, holding on to the small of her back.

For many years afterwards, I was convinced that “senility” was a medical term for radiculitis and back pain.  Only later, when I grew up and stumbled upon the term in an encyclopedia, I started wondering if, maybe, Evil Granny was just plain crazy…  This sure would explain her hatred of the world and those close to her.  But in my childhood memories she remained just an Evil Granny.

I don’t remember her being particularly nasty to me personally – maybe she did not project her haters of the world at me (at least back then).  But she sure was not the homey, fuzzy Granny, reading fairytales and spoiling her only granddaughter rotten.  She would babysit and look after me (my Mom went back to work pretty early after my birth – I suspect that sharing the same territory with Evil Granny 24/7 was simply more than she could bear), but I don’t remember any particular warmth, or love dispensed my way.

She was the first in the family to get her own place.  Not because she deserved to have it, but because we deserved to be away from her.  I vaguely remember that at some point she became so unbearable about my Dad, screaming obscenities out loud for the whole neighborhood to hear, that my parents threw some basic necessities into a suitcase, packed me up and moved out of the apartment, leaving Evil Granny to sort her shit out with Uncle Sasha.  He stoically listened to her screams in the intoxicated haze of his “pay week”, and hid in his room during the “dry” rest of the month.

We temporarily moved in with the family of my Dad’s brother, who lived in a small 3 room apartment with a wife, son and his father/my Granddad.  The change wasn’t that big – Granddad, long time divorced from my other Granny, Dad’s Mom, could easily beat Uncle Sasha in the drinking competition.  He did not smoke, or shit himself, though, and did not swear at anybody, so in this respect this was an improvement of our living conditions.  Me and my parents camped in the living room for about a week, but this was always supposed to be just a temporary solution – their place was way too small for 7 people to co-exist.

For the next year, we rented a room in a different area of the city from a nice family with a daughter my age.  I finally had somebody to play with, and the cramped environment of a 10 square meter room I shared with my parents was not in any way an inconvenience.  I was sorry to move back into our old apartment, when my Dad, for once in his life using his work connections and probably bribing a couple of people on the way (something he was physically un-capable of doing), got Evil Granny her own digs in a brand-new apartment block not too far from us.  He moved her shit out, and from that moment on, never saw her or spoke a word to her again.  I am sure the relief was mutual.

Evil Granny was born well before the war, survived the 900 days siege of Leningrad, when the city was left bare, cold and hungry, and despite her numerous health problems attributable to her hard life and poor healthcare, managed to drag on till a respectable age of 87.  Like many people who looked real hunger in the face, she stocked up on flower, sugar, salt and matches ever since, and I remember opening the cupboards and shelves in her new apartment, only to find neat jars with sugar, and endless rows of matchboxes stacked inside.  The fact that her cooker was electric, and there was not a single candle in the apartment did not stop Evil Granny – old habits die hard…

By the end of her life she alienated pretty much everybody – I stopped calling or visiting, and did not feel a pang of guilt about it.  Every time I did show up she would just swear and tell me how useless my parents were (by now, her public hatred spread over to her daughter as well) and how it was no wonder that they produced such a useless piece of shit as me.  I did not need to hear this every fucking time, so stopped visiting all together.

A couple of years ago, I finally managed to convince my Mom to let me scan the old photos from my parents’ childhood (those were already falling apart), as well as my own.  I could not find any photos of Evil Granny there.  The one on the cover of this story is the closest resemblance I could find on the Internet, and it looks about right.

Considering all Evil Granny had gone through – poverty, the war, starvation, communism, etc., I guess Evil Grandma had the right to be a bitch.  But then, again, she had full right not to.