Belly was the worlds saddest kitten. When she was a month and a half old, her mother turned her out on the street. "You're too old to nurse, so either pull your own weight or get out," she said. Belly opted to leave. She wasn't really sure how she would make her way in the world, but it was better than living with an emotionally abusive mother that belittled her every achievement. Besides, now that the milk had dried up, she knew she would be in competition with four other kids for whatever resources they could find. It was five other kids, but Bosley hopped a bus and left. Well, it was actually the back of a truck, and he hadn't meant to leave, but he didn't jump off in time and the truck took off with him in back. They hadn't seen him since. And now, with Paul, Walla, Gert and Samantha all trying to compete for the same bits of scrap, it didn't take Belly long to make her decision.
"Smell you later, losers" she meowed as she walked away from her family for the last time. Her family pretty much ignored her since they were well and truly preoccupied with the dead grackle that Mother had brought for them. Gert did manage something that sounded like "hrmph habr hree shmo", but Belly knew an insult when she heard one, even if she couldn't understand it.
Her only regret was that she would miss Mr. Jump. Mr. Jump was an old stray Collie that occasionally came around for social visits. He was amiable enough to the rest of the family, but he really seemed to dote on Belly. He was the closest thing to a father that she had ever known. Sometimes he brought along a bit of a Hamburger that he had dug out of the trash and set it down for Belly when no one else was watching. If any of the other kids got wise to the extra grub, Mr. Jump would stand in front of her while she finished her share. Otherwise, she was likely to get shoved aside, especially by Walla. Walla was second smallest to Belly and she seemed to resent her all the more for it. Belly was the only one that she had any power over and so Walla always went out of her way to be particularly mean to her. Mr. Jump could see that, so instinctively looked out for her. But now, even Mr. Jump wouldn't be able to help her.
Belly stared at the open parking lot before her and was struck by a shot of apprehension. She started to order things around in her head. Little Pro and Con columns formed, enumerating the variables that would shape whatever life she could look forward to.
Firstly, there the was the matter of independence. Along with that, there was the increased mobility. She could do whatever she wanted and she could go anywhere she wanted. If she wanted to she could nest in one place for a while or she could just wander. Both options were tantalizing if only because the decision would be hers and hers alone. There was also the matter of people. Belly was genuinely curious about the big ones that she saw everywhere, but Mama T tried to instill her kids with a natural fear of the two legged walkers. She told them stories about how the big ones would snatch kittens in the night and take them away from their families. Mama T once told them about a friend of hers whose kids were stolen and tied up in a sack and thrown in a big water puddle. She said she could hear them crying for a little while and then she didn't hear anything again. Belly didn't think anyone would ever be that mean, but if someone could, she thought it was more likely to be her mom than any of the people.
But, as much as she tried to gird her confidence about her decision, there was still one nagging little problem that superseded every other consideration. She could barely hunt. She was still in the early stages of her training and it hadn't been going very well. As it was, she was a barely competent forager, but hunting was something that she still had a lot to learn about. Her natural feline grace had yet to develop and she still had a slight wobble in her walk. Her tiny paws sank like little lead weights whenever she walked. Even her head was still slightly over sized and it threw her balance off at the most inconvenient times. She was a very long way from the pounce and still even further from the kill. Foraging would have to do, but she had no confidence that it would be enough.
She took a few tentative steps into the parking lot and stopped. It still wasn't too late to turn around. It hadn't all been turmoil and tragedy. Her mother had been quite capable of great affection. Once, just after they had all been born, Mama T had stayed awake for almost three days cleaning her children and keeping them warm. A few days after that, a stray Tom had wandered near their nest and Mama T had lost part of the tip of her ear in the fight for territory. The Tom left in slightly worse shape, with a limp that would bother him for more than a month. Afterwards, she gathered her kids next to her and nursed them without complaint. Only later did Belly realize that her mother had a deep gash that cut across two of her nipples and was probably in some pain, but Mama T never let on.
In the end, it was simple stress that drove the wedge between them. Unbeknownst to Belly, she was a part of her mother's third litter. Mama T had spent the better part of two years nursing and raising children from three different fathers, each one full of the same promises and lies as the last. In time, each previous litter had grown up and left Mama T behind and she had taken the departure of each child badly. One by one, each child took a small fragment of their mother's affection, and now Mama T simply seemed to be running out. To minimize her emotional vulnerability, Mama T had become armored. The more her new children needed from her, the more distant and bitter she became to them. Knowing that they would just leave in time, she began to dole out affection based on codependency. Belly, being the most likely to show her independence, got the coldest shoulder.
Not that Belly was privy to any of this. She just knew that she was treated differently.
Belly began putting one paw in front of the other, heading out toward the rest of her life. Her face flushed with nervous excitement. Her heart beat faster in anticipation. Her breath quickened. With each step, she went further and further away from the known and one step closer to the Great Whatever. But the more she walked, the less steady her legs became. Her nervousness had begun to congeal into cold fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of starvation. Fear of injury. But above all, fear of isolation. As much as she felt pushed out at home, it was the only home she had. And very suddenly, she wanted nothing else in the world, but to be in the arms of the only mother she would ever had. Regret had proved stronger than longing. And so, very slowly, she turned back to face what she thought she had been ready to leave behind.
With tentative hesitation, she walked back to the end of the parking lot and took her place at the end of the line.