Jasmine got through the security checkpoint, relieved the cage didn’t cause a hitch. So far, Phaedra, her Siamese cat, was calm. Jasmine wondered if the sedative she’d sprinkled on Phaedra’s food had already taken effect; it wouldn’t be good if she woke up too soon, when they were still airborne. She lifted the corner of the cloth cage cover and peeked in. Phaedra was asleep.
A tingle in her right breast reminded her she needed to pump before boarding her flight. She’d chosen her airline after hearing about its new breastfeeding pod in the terminal. The only time she’d pumped in a women’s restroom, she’d gotten stares. She was looking forward to privacy this time.
She’d never flown with Dana but would gladly use a pod if she did. Her mother had disapproved of her choice to breastfeed. “I don’t care what anyone says,” she’d declared, “but it’s not sanitary. I gave you bottles and you turned out just fine.” When Jasmine visited her parents with Dana, they’d rush out of the room, muttering, any time she prepared to nurse. Although she loved breastfeeding, she continued to feel self-conscious about it.
She followed signs to the pod and went inside; she unzipped her carry-on and fished around for her pump. When she didn’t locate it, she felt ripples of worry. She paused as an image came to her: the blue pouch sitting on her kitchen counter.
Oh my God, I forgot it. Jasmine had left the pouch there when she’d taken Dana to her babysitter’s, intending to pack it upon her return. In her haste to get everything done, she’d skipped Dana’s morning feeding and planned a quick pump before leaving for the airport. But it had slipped her mind.
She glanced at her phone, calculating the time that remained before she’d land in Chicago. I can make it. At O’Hare, I’ll go to a CVS and buy a pump. After all, she’d been weaning Dana for months and had gotten her down to two daily feedings.
She made her way to the gate and seated herself, tucking the cage by her feet. Boarding wouldn’t start for another twenty minutes. This will be the last time I’ll ever see him, she thought, eyes pricking with tears.
Ah, Ronny. He was her first love, and she’d never really gotten over him. How had she let him go? It was his own fault for writing those bad checks, so of course he got sent away for three years. He’d returned home to Chicago and had just pulled his life together with a new job when he learned he had lung cancer. “Ha, ha, joke’s on me,” he’d said over the phone.
One December morning, she and Ronny made a plan to ditch their families and spend Christmas together, just the two of them. They’d lingered over brunch at a nice restaurant where their server, a former colleague, plied them with free champagne. When they finally left, they were tipsy. On their way home, they paused to watch kittens cavorting in a pet store window.
“Oy, I can’t stand it,” Jasmine said. “The cuteness is killing me.”
Ronny gestured toward the door.
“After you, mademoiselle,” he said.
Twenty minutes later, they emerged with Phaedra in a carrier.
The store owner, a manic fellow with a wispy ponytail, had regaled them with the story of how he inherited Phaedra. His best friend, an actor, had been invited to join a Shakespeare ensemble in Oregon.
“They wanted him to move across the country in just three days. Problem was, his beloved cat was giving birth to a new litter at that very moment. So, who do you think he called?”
His words floated, cloud-like, over the heads of Jasmine and Ronny, who gazed into one another’s eyes, entranced by their new love and what it had conjured: this irresistible feline baby. It startled them when the man added, “You can rename her, of course.”
They’d shaken their heads, appalled by the thought.
“Oh, no,” Ronny assured him. “We love her name.”
They’d lost touch for a long time when he called her out of the blue to tell her he had only a few months to live. He asked about Phaedra, and before she knew it, she offered to take the cat to see him. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him about Dana, the surprise baby she’d had with Cameron, a pothead who dreamed of hitting it big on YouTube, but whose goofy videos embarrassed her.
If Cam didn’t start earning some real money in two weeks, she’d kick him out. Jasmine and Dana didn’t need him; her job comfortably supported them. She’d found a wonderful home day care just a block away from their apartment in Queens, so she didn’t rely on him for anything.
Jasmine had disappointed her parents by dropping out of college and drifting for nearly seven years, waitressing and partying hard with her restaurant friends in New York City. But ever since she decided to keep her baby, she got serious and began building a secure life for herself and Dana.
A friend had mentioned an opening at his mother’s law firm, so Jasmine had applied for it and been hired. She’d started out as a receptionist but was soon doing paralegal work. Her friend’s mother, a partner at the firm who’d also been a single parent, took a shine to Jasmine and encouraged her to finish her college degree and take the LSATs. “You’d make a stellar trial lawyer,” she said.
The boarding process went smoothly. When Jasmine reached her seat, the cage slid easily beneath the one in front of her. Even better, the other seat in her row remained empty.
Thirty minutes into the flight, she was happily spread out reading her book with her feet tucked beneath her. There hadn’t been a peep from the cage, even after the drinks cart rattled by and Jasmine ordered a Virgin Bloody Mary, a drink she only ever had on planes.
The throbbing in her right breast had become more insistent and was now being echoed, if less intensely, in her left one. It’s okay. In just two hours, I’ll be able to pump.
She wondered if Phaedra would recognize Ronny or remember his scent. He loved you a lot, Phaedra, so you’d better be nice to him, she thought, frowning down at the cage.
It pained her to remember how badly the cat took Dana’s arrival. Instead of curling up on Jasmine’s bed each night and purring loudly while being petted, Phaedra boycotted the bedroom altogether. If Dana was home, she never allowed anyone to pet her. Much to the toddler’s frustration, the cat darted off anytime she came near. Only on the rare occasions when Jasmine was alone would Phaedra approach, weaving furry shackles around her ankles.
The high-pitched cry was familiar, yet uncanny, plucking a string deep inside her. Dana. Jasmine’s mind scrambled to make sense of this. How had her child gotten on the plane? The cry went on, its pitch rising to a yowl. Her eyes fell to the cage. Phaedra. It was Phaedra, not Dana.
During the six years she’d owned the cat, she’d never once heard her make this harsh, unsettling sound. She reached down, unlatched the door and pulled Phaedra onto her lap, stroking her desperately with both hands.
“What is that racket?” someone asked from several rows ahead. A boy’s head popped over the empty seat next to her. “Is that your kitty cat?” he asked. “Why is she crying?”
“She apparently doesn’t like to fly,” Jasmine replied. She heard his mother chide him, and he disappeared. Phaedra would not settle down; she sank her claws into Jasmine’s thighs, piercing her jeans, and released another earsplitting yowl. Jasmine’s shirt bloomed wet; her milk was letting down.
A vision of Dana’s face, balloon-like, danced above her, her cheeks rosy and hazel eyes aglow with love and hunger. Often when Jasmine fed her, the baby’s hands would flit around like hummingbirds before alighting on her neck and shoulder.
Guilt shot through her, a hail of darts. What am I doing here, on a plane with a screeching cat, instead of staying home nursing my sweet girl? Milk was trickling down her stomach, pooling inside her navel.
“This is outrageous, I’m calling the flight attendant,” the woman behind her said. Was it the boy’s mother? Jasmine watched, panic gripping her throat, as Phaedra arched her back, preparing for another scream. Jasmine’s nipples caught fire.
Milk, she thought, tearing open the right flap of her nursing bra, aiming her nipple at Phaedra and squeezing. The spray hit the cat in the face. Phaedra blinked furiously and glared at Jasmine with more loathing than she’d ever encountered from another living creature. As the cat opened her jaws to protest, Jasmine, who was still gripping her taut breast like a gun, shoved it into Phaedra’s mouth, amazed by her own actions, thinking: Teeth, oh dear God, those teeth.
She was grateful when Phaedra latched on gently, her teeth digging in just tolerably. The same flight attendant who served Jasmine her drink was charging down the aisle, looking around for the source of the disturbance. She stopped by Jasmine’s seat, her mouth dropping open.
“It’s not what you think,” Jasmine told her. The woman gaped for a few more moments before shaking her head as if to dislodge water from her ears, then hurried away. Jasmine, her face burning, almost tugged Phaedra off her, but the blessed relief in that breast, coupled with the mounting pressure in her left one, stopped her. She transferred Phaedra onto that breast, sighing as the cat went to work on it.
Jasmine winced at her absurd excuse: It’s not what you think. It was bizarre, sure, if you were an ordinary mortal. But in that moment, Ronny’s awestruck voice entered her head: “Jasmine, you are a goddess! Seriously, you are unlike any other woman I’ve known. Are you even for real?”
She peeled Phaedra off her chest and eased her into her cage. The cat was gratifyingly compliant. The flight attendant was the only person who’d seen the feeding because the couple across the aisle had, incredibly enough, slept through the ordeal, their ears cupped by headphones and eyes covered with sleep masks.
“What was that?” asked a free-floating voice.
“God only knows, but it’s over now,” someone replied.
“Fingers crossed,” the first one added.
Jasmine smiled, wondering if the flight attendant doubted the surreal scene she’d come across. Maybe she’ll think she was hallucinating. But Jasmine preferred to imagine that someday—while the woman was serving someone else a Virgin Bloody Mary—it would dawn on her that she’d witnessed something miraculous.
She’d realize she’d been in the presence of a goddess. Yes, Jasmine was a goddess endowed with surprising powers. There was nothing she couldn’t do now.
Mary Granfield is a writer whose work has appeared in People, Money, Glamour, The Boston Globe Magazine, and other publications. Her short story “Towel Imp” was a finalist in the 2019 Reynolds Price Fiction Contest. She lives in the Boston area.