Care and Keeping by Courtney Pasko

For the past three nights my cat and I have dreamed the same dream. I know that we share the dream because of the thoughtful way she holds her face near mine in the morning and looks, carefully, into my eyes for confirmation. In the dream she and I are in a sort of greenhouse, glass-walled and expansive, filled with plants and flowers in various stages of bloom and decay. When the dream begins I am already wrist-deep in the roots of a dying gardenia bush. I understand that I need to clean out the rotten things from this greenhouse, though I do not know or even wonder who charged me with the task, if this greenhouse is my own. In the space of the dream I work for some time but slowly, becoming entangled in dense growth and creeping vines while making little progress. After this has gone on for a while—thorns in my palms, dirt under my fingernails— my cat appears on the flagstone path, bearing a rat nearly her own size in her jaws, though in the dream she has no trouble lifting and carrying it. With satisfaction, she lays the rat (dead) at my feet and blinks at me with the languorous expression of love. I understand that this is a gift, a tool I should use in the reclamation of this place, but I am repelled by the rat and cannot bring myself to touch it.

This is where the dream ends.

After we awake and after she holds her little head next to mine, looking at me intently from the other pillow, we will rise and prepare her breakfast together, me mixing the pâté how she likes with a fork while she offers direction from the rug at my feet. Her little dish is the same pink as her nose and has a painted border of red roses, and I will watch her eat with pleasure and contentment while I break my own fast with a glass of tap water, which smells slightly of chlorine and fish. When she finishes her breakfast and has licked the little dish clean my cat says, Do you see how it’s done? I am too ashamed to respond and she leaves, to find the sunbeam that lives on the eastern windowsill.

In the night, when we are again dreaming the same dream for the fourth time and I have sheared a rotten branch from an orange tree, my cat again brings me the rat. For the first time, I kneel on the dirty flagstone path of the garden and look at her, considering this gift closely. The rat is freshly dead; its eye unglazed, its body soft and broken, its neck ringed in a collar of blood. When I lift the rat to my mouth, my cat purrs, proud as a mother.

When morning comes, my cat touches her nose to mine. Our breath smells the same.


Courtney Pasko (she/hers) is a writer working on her first novel. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, she now resides in Baltimore with her husband and their cat, Poe. She writes a newsletter on writing called The Country of the Story, and you can find her on Twitter @cmarielandis or Instagram @cml.pasko.