Purgatory by Paulina Ferrante: Cat Boner

My phone buzzes. I answer as I step out into the hallway: “Hi there, how is Jack Bird doing?”

Luckily, I had a five minute break during my final workshop of the semester to pee and sip tea. Peter tapped my shoulder. I turn around and read his lips as he inaudibly asked, “Who is that?” I mouth back, “The vet.” He nods, and walks away.

I stick a finger into my vacant ear, and smile as I say, “He’s good! Ha. Well, he’s fine. I mean, I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning, but he has a boner. He’s had a boner since last night.”

My tuxedo cat Jack would not stop scratching. He sat on the floor next to my bed, scratching away at his neck. Tufts of black fur fluttered to the ground as he tore away at his skin. Tumble weeds of fluff littered my floor, and stuck to my bare feet. I’d fall asleep with my cat nestled in my arms, soon to be startled awake by flying paws hitting my face as he tried to scrape away at his itch.

It had to end.

The night before, I took Jack to the vet. He was a champ— thermometer up the bum, no problem. No dissent whatsoever. Poor guy was diagnosed with a double ear infection, and a possible allergy to brand name food. He was administered a shot of antibiotics, prescribed ear drops and hypoallergenic cat food. In no time, our problem was solved and we were on our way.

As soon as I entered my Park Slope studio apartment, I put down his carrier and unzipped— Jack popped out and ran to the other side of the room. He laid down for a second. He soon propped himself up to a seated position. He started to groom his belly. Soon, moans that sounded like a bird caught in a lawn mower erupted from his mouth.

Most male cats are known for being territorial. They spray walls, furniture, and humans to show them who’s boss. Jack does not spray. He gets boners. He sits upright and grooms his belly, which always leads to arousal. A red tic-tac sized bean pops out from his white belly fur, showing the world how much he is enjoying himself. Usually he doesn’t make a sound. It’s only noticeable if he decides to groom himself in my presence, like when he decides to groom himself while he’s lounging on my chest.

But this moan, this moan was different. I had never heard such a noise come out of any living creature.

I stood over him, laughing, unsure of what to do about my cat’s boner. What kind of parent would I be if I shamed him for a very natural act? I shrugged it off and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up to my cat still seated in a corner with his boner. I patted his head and left for class, unsure of whether I could do anything for him.

 And then the vet called.

“Oh.” The startled receptionist replied. “Well, let me ask the vet.”

Classical music played as I waited. The rest of my classmates had re-entered the classroom with their paper cups filled with coffee and tea. I stood in the hallway, waiting—

“Hi. Paulina. Can you come in immediately?”

I look around. This was my last day of workshop. I had another class that afternoon.

“Uh… I can come around six?”

“I don’t want to alarm you, but this is an emergency. Can you come now.”

Panic. Panic. Panic

“Yes. Oh, fuck. Ya. Yes, Yes I am coming now.”

I hang up the phone. The door to workshop is closed. The professor isn’t in the room yet. I open the door. I don’t make eye contact as I say, “I have to go.” I start collecting my notebook and pen from the table. I grab my water bottle and shove it in my backpack.

Someone asks why.

“I just have to go.”

Why. Why do you have to go.

I respond without entertaining their questions: “Can you tell her I had to leave? It’s an emergency.”

An emergency? Is everything okay?

I zip up my backpack and take a breath. Do I really have to tell them the truth?

I tell them the truth: “My cat has a boner.”

The room goes silent. I start to sweat— I am wasting precious time. I have to commute back to Brooklyn where I will probably find my cat, dead on the floor of my apartment. His penis is probably going to explode. I can barely keep myself alive, so why did I think I could keep an animal alive? Hubris. Pure hubris. Visions of my dead cat, blood dripping down the walls of my apartment. Dead. Dead. Dead.

Peter starts to laugh.

Someone scolds him for laughing.

I can see that this is funny, but I am not laughing. “No, please laugh. Please. Someone laugh.”

Peter laughs even harder. He doubles over, almost falling out of his chair. He slams his fist on the table to steady himself.

I grab my backpack and walk out of the room.


Purgatory explores the very uncomfortable and inescapable events that life throws at the unfortunate author.

Paulina Ferrante is a 23-year-old writer, columnist, and MFA candidate in the Northeastern United States. Originally from some Southern California, she believes that both Elvis Presley and Andy Kaufman are still alive. She once saw an Italian baby spit out pasta because there wasn’t enough olive oil on it.

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