birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Kiyoshi

A small head poked out of the towel Joshua held tightly to his chest. My mom and brother stood over my bed on my 16th birthday holding a small, wet, white kitten, both smiling with a mixture of expectancy and trepidation.

I sat up and looked at the scrawny little life form, the one my mom hoped would save my life. His eyes were still that grey-blue of a newborn, but he had to have been weeks old already. He had a black splotch of fur on his head and backside, and his tail was missing. A small stub stood in the place that a normal cat's tail would be. He fit perfectly in the cup I made with my hands.

I didn't want him. I didn't ask to be responsible for another living creature. I barely could ensure my own well being. I hadn't desired getting out of bed for weeks that summer—the worst I'd been since my first bouts a couple of years prior. I suppose I was destined to have these depressive episodes, with bipolar schizophrenia and depression having been staples in my bloodline. As a teenager I had been responsible for my brothers when my mom worked third shift, so I didn't always have the luxury to wallow in the deep hole I felt engulfing me. When they went to sleep sometimes I'd spend hours staring at a kitchen knife, or crying on the floor. But ultimately I valued their well being over my own, had to put aside my own ceaseless anguish to make sure they ate dinner and bathed and went to bed on time. But now they were older, and I didn't need to be the second mom.

And of course that's why mom went out of her way to rescue this stray from underneath some abandoned house. He had a little sister, who was black with a white spot on her face—his opposite—but something about this cat's energy told my mom he was the one. Another lady took his sister away. They had been the only two survivors, somehow making it on their own. They wanted to live.

On the way home, apparently he'd been spooked and jumped out of my 12-year-old brother's hands and had made his way into the engine of the Taurus wagon, causing both of my kin to panic. Would they be bringing home a dead kitten? Great. Just the message I needed.

But, no, they pulled him out, black with grease, like those very many oil-rig explosion victims, and washed him with dish washing liquid just the same.

"Thank you," I managed to scratch out. They both hugged me and left, leaving the little wet bobtail beside me.

I named him a few days later, after having done research into the type of cat he might be—a Japanese bobtail—and then observing his personality that emerged bit by bit as he recovered from the initial trauma of a car ride.

Kiyoshi means "pure," though I also saw some translations that equated the term with "quiet." He seemed to me to be both, so that's what I named him.

Years later he'd prove himself to be quite the samurai, fighting off dogs, protecting his territory of the backyard when we went out together. The vet said it was amazing he'd lived to be 3, considering he was a tom cat and their life expectancy isn't that long. I got him neutered then, and he developed a urinary issue--the tiniest of particles could block his urethra, making it painful or even impossible to pee. He had to switch to a prescription diet.

He is now 15 years old and still healthy, if not sometimes a bit senile, managing to poop everywhere but the litter box. But even know I see that small thing--the creature who saved my life.

Meaty Hospitality

Memory Lapse