Thistle Onions, 2023
Clutching the paper sack tight to his chest with one hand, Milo fumbles his key into the lock with the other. Once he hears the click, he pauses, listening intently.
There’s only silence on the other side of the door, which is a good sign. Maybe he can make this quick, then. Carefully, he pushes open the door, willing the hinges to not give him away and keeping an eye out for movement as he slips into the apartment. Still nothing.
Milo can’t let himself relax yet, though. The most dangerous part of his mission has yet to even begin.
He closes the door behind him with another soft click, tightens his grip on the paper bag--careful not to squeeze too hard and squish his precious cargo--and hurries into the kitchen. He reaches for the cabinet above the fridge, balancing the bag between his chest and the smooth beige exterior of the refrigerator so he can use both hands to undo the child safety lock on the cupboard door.
It’s while he’s sliding the lock off that he hears a sound that makes him freeze, a sound that makes the blood in his veins run cold.
A soft meow from down the hall.
The pause lasts only an instant before Milo throws himself into high gear, slamming the cupboard door open and tossing in his plastic-wrapped bundles of contraband groceries, not caring where they end up so long as they land safely in the cupboard’s depths.
A loaf of sandwich bread and a package of hot dog buns are all that’s left in his grocery bag when he hears the meow again, closer, louder, more indignant. Milo tries to shove the buns in, but something’s caught, and he doesn’t want to squash anything in his haste.
“No, Tomato, this isn’t for you.” Damn it, it’s the pita bread. He knocks it aside and manages to fit the hot dog buns in.
His cat meows again, higher and more desperate now. THUNK. Tomato’s jumped onto the counter, eyeing the open cabinet with a crazed look in his feline eyes.
“Tomato!” Milo scolds, frantically trying to fit the loaf into the cupboard. “You can’t have bread. It’s bad for you.”
But Tomato doesn’t care what’s good or bad for him; he cares only for what he wants. He wails again, and suddenly there’s a mass of orange fluff crammed against Milo’s face.
Milo drops the loaf to the top of the refrigerator and grabs at his cat, fighting against the gluttonous beast. Tiny knives sink into the flesh of his hands as Tomato yowls and writhes in his grasp, one paw reaching out and snagging the edge of the loaf’s bag.
“You have your own food,” Milo tries to reason with him, pulling Tomato backwards and struggling to get a grip on him. “No bread! No.”
Tomato wails again, pulling his paw towards himself and tearing a hole in the plastic bag. His thrashing grows even more voracious, and he claws at Milo’s arms, stretching his neck toward the newly exposed forbidden carbs.
Milo yanks him back, stepping out of the kitchen with him, and Tomato screams like a banshee, struggling against his grip. Milo hastily carries the wriggling creature down the hall and tosses him onto his bed, barely managing to gt the door shut before he hears the cat slam into the wood and let out another crazed yowl.
“It’s for your own good,” Milo calls as he rushes back to the kitchen and finishes bundling the bread into the cupboard. The hole in the bread bag is a sad consequence of his forgetting to shut Tomato in his room before going out for groceries, but that’s just something Milo will have to live with.
He re-latches the child safety lock to the tune of Tomato’s muffled bawling, then tends to the wounds the cat’s left on his arms. One day he’ll remember to take precautions....
When he finishes, he double-checks that there’s no bread left out for his cat to devour, and then he returns to his bedroom, opening the door to free Tomato.
The frenzied feline darts out and down the hallway faster than Milo can blink, and Milo can clearly hear him clambering up onto the fridge and clawing at the cupboard lock, his meows taking on a mournful sound.
“Sorry, buddy,” Milo says. “No bread for kitties.”
Tomato turns to look at him with big, wet eyes and squeaks out a pleading meow. Milo’s heart aches, but he has to stand firm.
“No bread,” he says again. He reaches into the drawer beside the fridge and pulls out a little plastic jar, giving it a shake. “How about a chicken treat?”
Tomato blinks at him and meows sadly. Milo sighs, hand dropping to his side.
“I don’t like it, either,” he says, “but I can’t give you any. The vet says it’s bad for you. Tomato. Do you understand? No bread.” He shakes the treat jar again. “Only kitty treats.”
Tomato drops to his belly atop the fridge, looking for all the world like a creature who’s just lost everything that mattered to him in the world. Milo’s heart twinges again.
“Okay,” he says. “You stay up there, then. I’m gonna go lay down and watch TV.”
And he does so, stretching out on the couch and putting on whatever random sitcom is playing now. He rolls up his pant legs and removes his prostheses, rubbing his leg stumps to relieve a bit of the soreness. He pulls out his phone and swipes through notifications, all while trying to ignore his poor, starving cat in the kitchen.
He’s replying to a text from his sibling when a a weight plants itself on his chest, and he lowers his phone to find Tomato curling up on him and purring, like nothing’s even happened.
Milo smiles to himself and pets Tomato’s soft orange fur.