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Take ’em Both

John Janelle Backman


The only other customer in the pet shop sidled up to my right, like someone about to whisper a secret. I couldn’t turn my head toward him to get a good look. Short, that I could tell—at least a head shorter than me. Square frame, stubble-jawed. A driving cap like a cabbie’s. The look said dog lover to me, so he was there to buy…a leash? cow hoof? jerky treats? Maybe he had the merchandise in hand, maybe not. Whatever the case, he hovered now, just out of eyeshot.

I couldn’t turn my head because it might disturb the black cat cradled upside-down in my arms. This was the other cat, temporary cagemate to the gray tabby my daughter was fondling six feet away, the cat she and her mom had already picked out to live with us. The black cat kept staring at me. No, gazing—a gaze that held mine, so I couldn’t turn my head.

I don’t think the cabbie and I chatted. He could have sussed out the situation just by looking: my daughter and the shop owner were making the noises you make when the deal’s done and you shift to payment. In a minute, I’d hand over the black cat and she’d go back in the cage. The cabbie knew that too, I’ll bet.

So he said, “Take ‘em both.”

No discussion. Three words and gone. Three words that led, ten minutes later, to my daughter and I driving down the main road toward home, with the tabby on her lap and the black cat entwining herself in the steering wheel.

Some people would call him an angel, disappearing like that. Maybe, but maybe this instead: He went home to the dog and gave him an ear rub and a jerky treat. That night his first fare climbed into the cab, tearful about making the mortgage payment this month, and he gave her some advice. He’d go on break to his favorite diner, and the guy on the next stool mentioned a kid in the hospital, and maybe the cabbie lent him a few words, or maybe none, just an ear.

One thing the cabbie never found out: what happened next. Whether the kid pulled through; whether his first fare was still in her house or out on the street. No clue that the black cat spent fifteen years in our home with her cagemate, lay next to me upside-down at night for scratches, cuddled on my lap when I needed it (which was a lot in those days), carried her tail straight in the air like every other happy cat on earth.

It’s possible the cabbie told his dog all about the pet shop and his advice. But I doubt it. To tell the story, you have to believe it’s worth telling, and how could he have known? How could anyone?



Our current cats, Missy (left) and Sir Charles, are eerily similar in appearance to the cats mentioned in “Take ’em Both”: Madeleine and Max. Apparently we can’t resist what draws us, feline-wise. 


John Janelle Backman (she/her) writes about gender identity, ancient spirituality, the everyday strangeness of karma, and occasionally cats. Janelle’s work has appeared in Catapult, the tiny journal, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Tiferet Journal, and Amethyst Review, among other places. Her essays have also made several contest shortlists and earned a few Pushcart nominations. She can be found on the web at


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