Man in the Middle – Chapter 40: Would you ever eat your cat?

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No 40 Would you ever eat your cat?

My son and I are debating if we’d ever eat the cat.

‘Only as a last resort,’ I say.

‘Like a zombie apocalypse?’ he asks.

‘Or a global famine brought about by rampant climate change.’

‘Yeah,’ says my son.

‘I think his thighs would be OK if they were marinated for long enough.’

My son mulls this over for a few seconds.

‘In an apocalypse, if we needed a large supply of meat wouldn’t it better to marinate you than the cat?’

From a calorific point of view, he has a point. From a survivalist perspective, too, I’d be a longer lasting resource than the cat. But what about the moral issue? This is the central dilemma in every apocalyptic fantasy: which social conventions fail first and how far will human behaviour sink in a dog eat dog world. Or, in this case, a man eats cat sort of world.

‘Would you eat me, your own father?’

‘You can never say never, can you? Besides, you’ve been looking for a quick way to lose weight for some time. It might be a blessing in disguise.’

We are outside on the patio watching the cat groom itself on top of our gas-fired powered barbecue. The sun is very hot. We’ve been outside for an hour discussing dystopian futures and his job prospects this year, which are pretty much the same thing.

Are we suffering sun stoke? Or is cooking the cat and cannibalism a natural place for any father and son conversation to gravitate, after months of lock down in which we’ve squeezed the last drop of interest out of every other topic?

‘Would you eat his cat food if you had to?’ my son asks.

We’re off again. I’ve thought about eating the cat’s food several times, in fact almost every time I feed him. The cat’s dry food doesn’t smell and is bite sized, like Grape Nuts, so I could easily imagine eating a bowl of it with milk.

‘No to the wet food. But I would eat his dry food if I could have it with some milk,’ I reply.

‘But there’s be no milk left. You Boomer carnivores would have eaten all the cows within days of Sainsbury’s shutting its meat counter.’

‘How about with water and sugar? There might be some sugar left at the back of one of the supermarket cupboards.’

‘Or sweets under Granny’s bed,’ he suggests, helpfully.

‘Yeah,’ I say.

Mother has a collection of chocolate squirrelled away around her room which could be used to enhance our dystopian diet.

‘If we had chocolate we could cook ‘Chat au Chocolat’,’ I say.

The look on my son’s face says the fantasy is over, the conversation dead. His phone pings and he heads inside as the cat jumps down from the barbecue and settles in the bushes out of the sun.

Mother steps onto the patio. She blinks. She doesn’t like the sunlight or the summer heat. She’s wearing her winter raincoat and a scarf.

‘Aren’t you hot in all that?’

‘I’ve been out shopping,’ she says triumphantly, ignoring the question.

While I have been creating a cookbook for the apocalypse, she’s been outside on the streets and in the shops against the advice of the government, her GP and our daily pleas.

‘How did you get out?’

‘Through the door. Have you got sun stroke?’

My question was rhetorical. I meant how did she get out without us spotting and stopping her.

‘Did you wear a mask?’

‘No. Too fiddly.’

‘Did you maintain a social distance?’

‘I always keep a social distance. What sort of person do you think I am?’

Two days ago, we had an Ocado delivery. Every food item from that delivery is now playing a game of sardines with all the other items in the fridge and freezer.

‘You’re only meant to go out for essential items. What did you buy?’

‘Cat food. You’ve run out.’

Read the next in the series – Chapter 41: The Death of Patriarchy