It’s amazing what Jenn Reese was able to do with 791 words in her short story, The Right Number of Cats. This piece of flash fiction operates on multiple levels. We see a woman with three cats trying to fight against this ethereal Fourth Cat that lurks around her home, causing trouble and invading her thoughts.
After the first reading, I saw the aloof Fourth Cat as a metaphor for loneliness and a fear that our protagonist will never live a life beyond serving a team of cats. In reality, it represents the overwhelming grief she feels trying to overcome the loss of her loved one. It embodies time creeping up on her, taking away the memory of Alma and replacing it with a sharp pain that she’s learning to live with. She fights it with everything she has, breaking things and kicking it away, acting like it’s not a part of her life. In the end, she embraces the bundle of emotions wrapped up in the loss of her lover and accepts it as a part of her life.
No matter what, the cat lurking in the shadows is a fantasy none of us wants to experience. Reese has packed this little story with so much emotion, creating a startling embodiment of grief, loneliness, and loss.
THE RIGHT NUMBER OF CATS
By Jenn Reese
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Published January/February 2019