Nov 7, 2005

The old men & the theodicy cat

They got together once a week to talk about the cat. Or really just to talk but it seemed like it was always about the cat. They’d get together for breakfast on Thursdays, some regular place where the food was cheap and the waitress could remember which of them wanted the orange-banded pot of decaf and which the regular stuff. They'd get together like old men and start talking about old men things and somebody’d say something about another ailment or about feeling old and that’d start it.

I hope I die soon, he’d say, I hope I die soon so I can stand before God and ask him about my cat.

The cat had had a name once but, being embarrassed by his own sentimentalism, he had only ever called it my cat, and since it was the only cat they ever talked about they had called it his cat and then, when it'd come to take up every conversation, they'd called it just the cat.

The cat was dead. She was dead and had died a horrible death, hit by a car, losing fur, squealing under the tires, crawling back with her back legs broken 40 yards to die on his steps. Rigamortis had set in when he saw her in the morning. Her tail was frozen out stiff like a frying pan handle.

That was the image he’d always go back to. Every time, he’d repeat it. Her tail was like a frying pan handle, he’d say. He imagined himself standing before God, standing before the judgment throne of the almighty omni-omni God and he’d say, hold on a second, and then he’d whip out the dead stiff cat and hold her there by her tail and wait for an answer. The image was ridiculous, but that was the point. Death was ridiculous and evil was ridiculous and it made God look ridiculous.

The friends would argue with him, trying to make it so the cat wasn't God's fault. They'd said that it was free will's fault, and that he couldn't question God, and that this was the best any God could do, and that the cat deserved it, and that it was for some greater good, and that evil after all didn’t exist and, really, they'd run pretty quickly through every traditional answer to the problem of evil. They'd even made up some new ones.

He'd hear their explanation and start telling over the story of how he’d had this cat since it was a kitten and she’d been a good cat who liked milk and purring and naps in the sun in the afternoons and then she had died a horrible death.

They were starting to get pretty frustrated with him. One of them would get mad at him and say nothing would satisfy you. What sort of answer do you want?

What sort of answer could there be? he’d say. Her tail was like a frying pan handle.


Original scene from Emmanuel Carrere’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick