When the Cat Died by Melissa Benton Barker

Put the cat on the roof for the vultures, said the four-year-old.

It was hard to believe his lips could move like that. Only a few short years ago, there’d been no language. Now he was scaling the walls with a corpse flung over his shoulder, making an offering to the black-winged, bald-faced gods.

The walls of his preschool were made of glass, so birds died there all the time, dove full-force against the invisible barrier. That was the bad thing about school: the regular funerals, the teacher leading them out to the yard by hand, the semi-circle of tiny bodies, the backs of their knees, the heave of their miniature scapulae, as they lay to rest the bones and beaks and feathers of sparrows and starlings.

Songs were sung at the children’s request, but no prayers, because what are prayers to four-year-olds?

So when the fat calico died, the four-year-old knew just what to do, unlike the rest of us. Let nothing go to ash, to waste. Let bone become bone, sinew become sinew, let feline spirit rise and transmogrify, wing beating wind, trident shadow crossing field; let the declawed be released into  vulture-form, soaring circles, barely visible, still alive.

The equation is simple. The air stirs as she lands and folds her wings. She blinks, reptilian, then hunches toward her work, dips her head.


 Melissa Benton Barker grew up in San Francisco and in Sasebo, Japan. She currently lives in Ohio with her family. Her fiction appears in Lady/Liberty/LitWigleafNecessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She is close to completing her first collection of flash fiction.