THE outdoor kitchen is where our mother cat Kitkat nursed her third litter last year and gave birth to her fourth litter recently.
When we adopted four puppies a few weeks ago, they also crowded inside the kitchen for midday naps and overnight sleepovers.
Three adult cats, four puppies and two humans make this small space the intersection of our domestic affairs. In our admittedly crammed-to-the-rafters household, the kitchen doubles as the nursery.
Remembering how Kitkat nursed three kittens there last year, we again placed a newspaper-lined box on the kitchen floor for the anticipated birthing. Last Sunday, Kitkat, after shredding the sheets, settled down in her nest.
By Monday dawn, the kitchen-nursery had a third use: as the newborn kittens’ charnel.
Four kittens were born, in between Sunday lunch and dinner. In associating the births with mealtimes, I mean no irony. For that is what happened: the kittens were born and all except one ended up as meals.
Hearing the first mewling after lunch, I entered the kitchen and saw Tigr, a full-grown tom from Kitkat’s first litter, inside the box with Kitkat. Pulling him out, I saw the blood pooling under the small head, still wet from the amniotic sac. We buried the first kitten.
The second, third, and fourth of its siblings were born while I ate dinner nearby, guarding Kitkat in her box. We improvised obstacles to prevent entry from the garden but Tigr, an expert hunter who invades birds’ nests by sinuously creeping up the “Kamuning” bushes from inside that dense, intricate network, returned before midnight, when we discovered a second bloodied kitten and a missing third.
At dawn, I saw Kitkat feeding inside the box. Missing the usual crackling sound of cat biscuits, a bowl of which was placed nearby, I did not look inside the box. When I did this later, there were only some stains and the ripped sheets. No kittens.
I do not know why Kitkat, a good mother with previous litters, did not fight off Tigr as she did the other toms in the past. I cannot fathom why she possibly ate her own young. Animal behavior experts say that stress — from threats presented by animals or humans — may push a cat to eat her own.
Both feral when we adopted them, Kitkat and Tigr may have reacted instinctually to the sight and smells of newborn kittens, defenseless creatures in a sense but also, sources of protein.
Guilt, regret, and pain meshed into a lattice in the days following the coming and going of the four I will never know. Up and down this matrix the cats and puppies go. Only the human dangles in the intermeshing of what mothers know too well: of appetites and rupture, love and odium.