Henry loved his cat, Dusty, more than anything. He’d always give that cat half of his food, even if it meant that he barely got anything.
The depression had hit his home hard. The Hooverville they lived in spanned for miles, a tangled mess of cardboard and plywood.
Henry’ family was lucky, having several boards to hold their home up against the blowing dust around them. They had a little garden where they had planted food that grew, slowly but surely.
But that didn’t matter to Henry. He just cared about Dusty.
Before the dust bowl, Dusty had eaten like a prince. Chicken, fish, whatever Henry could give him. Dusty was a happy cat. A clean cat, a well-fed cat.
Now his eyes were the only bright thing about him. His fur was dirty and matted and his skin was taut against his bones. You could count the ribs through his skin. Henry looked similar. His clothes used to fit, but now they drooped on his frame.
And Henry’s mother was getting worried.
“Henry... please... you need to eat...” she pleaded. Henry still bent down, giving half of his meager rations to the cat. Dusty’s teeth glistened as he snapped up the food in two seconds flat. He looked up towards Henry, his eyes pleading for more. Henry paused, tearing off another section and offering it to his cat.
“You’re going to starve yourself!” His mother cried, shooing the cat out of the house and giving her son some of her food. “We’re having enough trouble staying alive right now. Please... you have to eat.”
Henry just stared at his hands. Dusty couldn’t die.
The next day, it was the same.
“Henry... we’re running out of food. We can’t feed the cat.”
“When is dad going to come home? He’ll bring us more food. Money too...”
His mother fell silent. “Your father... He’ll be home soon...” She got up and disappeared, tears streaming down her cheeks. Henry could tell it was a lie. He hoped his father would come home soon anyways.
He gave half of his food to Dusty. The cat stared up at him with shining eyes and purred. Henry smiled and stroked his cat while the sun set, half-hidden by the fine dust hanging in the air.
The next day, Henry’s mother sat at the box they used as a table, crying.
“What happened? Henry asked, holding Dusty in his hands. The cat was light as a feather by now.
“Our potatoes failed...” his mother said, holding up a decrepit, tiny root. “We can’t sell these... much less eat them...”
“I’m sorry mom... did the carrots grow?”
She shook her head. “We have rabbit tonight... Marshall brought in several last night after the rabbit drive. Gave one to all the neighbors.”
“You like rabbit, don’t ya Dusty?” Henry said, petting his cat. Dusty purred in response.
The next day, Henry’s mother stressed all day. There was no food anywhere. She couldn’t feed her family.
She’d spent every penny, every effort, every possibility, that she’d had.
The next week, she could see that her son was suffering. He had barely enough strength to pick up Dusty anymore.
They just had to hold on a little longer.
The next day, Dusty brought in a rabbit. It was small and headless, but edible. It was food.
“He didn’t just eat it himself...” Henry’s mother said, smiling at the little grey cat. Henry smiled and picked up the cat, stroking him.“We’ve been sharing with him all this time. Of course he’d share now. Let’s have some dinner mom. We’ll make it through this.”