During the Spanish Civil War, they ate my grandmother’s cat. If you were to meet her, she would tell you the story and get sad. Now her present is receding and her cat is getting closer, so sometimes she is seven again, alone in the street for hours and she can almost hear him purr. It was the year of hunger, and her cat would steal the neighbours’ food and leave it at her feet. Then they would share the plunder, she feeding him small pieces, careful so he wouldn’t choke. That was the war she knew, growing up on the high plains where no bombs or soldiers ever arrived, just the bitter cold and the wind on the fields, shaking the cereal that they could not eat. One day her cat didn’t come and later she found his head. Her mother told her to close her eyes. ‘It was the neighbours’, my grandma whispers. I look at her and I don’t know what to say.
There was also a boy. A long time ago, a warm summer night. They were at the end of the village, hiding in the darkness of his hallway. Upstairs, someone was cooking stew. In the distance, a dog was barking and their friends were calling for them and laughing. The air smelled of hay and sweat and they, in the centre of all things, couldn’t look each other in the eye. He touched her, and for an instant, the future was endless. For three months my grandma became afraid of her own happiness. Then the boy’s parents decided that he should become a priest and sent him to the seminary in Segovia, and there was that. When he left, she briefly wondered how she would survive without his hands, but then she moved to Madrid and became a typist and life pushed on. Of course, that’s not how my grandma tells the story, but she mentions him a lot and I’ve filled in the gaps.
She doesn’t talk much about my grandfather. This is what I remember: a dark garden and his smile as he pointed at a snail, a silvery trail in the dewy grass. In my mind, his mouth is moving, but I can’t hear what he says. I’ve been told that he was kind. What my grandma remembers is that he never explained to her how babies were conceived, and she had to wait for a neighbour to tell her, laughing at her naivety, when my father was already nine. I don’t think she ever forgave him for that. But sometimes she looks at his picture and smiles and proclaims that although she had hundreds of suitors there was never another man, and if she were young again, she wouldn’t have been so prudish. His name was Felix, and he never got to be old.
Sometimes there are other people too. Her father, who left them as my own father would leave us one day. Her sister, who she hasn’t spoken to in thirty years. Her mother, her poor mother, God rest her soul. And her children, who tease her about her bad memory and still drive her mad.
But if you were to meet her, she would tell you about the cat.
Irene is a bilingual writer, freelance journalist and immigrant from Spain living in the UK. Her non-fiction has been published in leading Spanish and UK titles such as Huffington Post, El País, Telva and Positive News. Her fiction has been featured in Tales to Terrify and she recently won Castilla y Leon International Fantasy Film Festival’s short story competition. She was also one of the winners of the Serious Flash Fiction Competition 2019. Her poetry has recently been featured in Unique Poetry Journal. You can find her on Twitter as @IreneCantizano.