Chili Cat

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[The bidding on this Significant Object, with story by Lydia Millet, has ended. Original price: 50 cents. Final price: $22.72.]

I went with my friend G to her great aunt’s house a few weeks after the aunt passed away. G had been called in by the family to pick out one or two keepsakes. Because she lived in a cramped studio in Hell’s Kitchen she didn’t want anything, a, and b, according to G’s mother every item of value had been carted away five minutes after the old lady died, by a daughter-in-law no one liked. By the time G was called in to make a selection they’d already held the estate sale, so all that was left were the sale rejects. “Harsh,” said G, but she decided to go anyway because it was June and New York City was hot and humid and stank. The aunt had lived in one of those nice little towns on the Hudson, green with a pleasant breeze, and the train would let us out about three blocks from her house. Also there was a good diner in the town that G, who was a part-time food critic with a specialty in burgers, wanted to try.

So we got in the train one Saturday afternoon and we went to the house. It was a modest fake Tudor place, pretty much empty now except for a few dusty boxes of trinkets. G’s second cousin R was there, who she hadn’t seen since they were fourteen, went to summer camp together, and ended up making out. (She told me that later.) Now he lived in Jersey and had a lot of tattoos. They sat on the stoop smoking and talking while I rummaged around in the boxes, just for something to do. They were mostly ceramics of chickens, cows, and other livestock, the kind of cheerfully painted ones some ladies like to keep in their kitchens. Beats me why they do that. Maybe they want to feel their kitchens are farmhouses. Anyway, no one wanted these things. Some had been thrown into the boxes carelessly and were already chipped.

I’d never met the great aunt but as the sun sank low outside, G and R’s laughter floated in to me, and shadows crept over the bare living room floor, I started to feel bad for all those abandoned barnyard animals. I picked through the pigs and roosters with a kind of sadness until finally I found Chili Cat. Ugly as sin, there was no getting around that. No reason at all for the cat to be festooned with red chilis. There was a Mexican motif, I guessed. Maybe Tex-Mex. Chili Cat was supposed to be festive.

G never picked out anything, herself. We went with R to the diner and afterward we sat drinking and looking out at the river. Because she was homely, and all those boxes were full of the homeless, I took Chili Cat home.



Lydia Millet is the author of six novels and an upcoming story collection about famous people and animals called Love in Infant Monkeys (Soft Skull, October 2009). She lives in the desert outside Tucson, Arizona.

9 thoughts on “Chili Cat

  1. Not only has this exact emotional calculus happened to me at flea markets, it’s happened to me with *men: “Because she was homely, and all those boxes were full of the homeless, I took Chili Cat home.”

    If you bid on this, make sure of one thing: you want to pay a very, *very high price. Yes. Bid as high as you can afford. Because otherwise you’ll wake up one day and find yourself so entangled with his story that you can’t bear to throw him out, trucker hat, PBR, red-chili ‘stache, and all.

  2. With just exactly 3 days left to go, this item is now selling for $9.50 — starting price $0.50. So Lydia Millet’s story has multiplied the item’s value, let’s see… a whopping 19 times! Nice work, Lydia. Get your bids in before it’s too late.

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