04 February 2013
Watching Me Watch You Watching Me
Lately, I see them in my driveway. In my front yard. In parking lots. In the middle of the street. In my dreams.
I wish I were talking about birthday cakes or twenty dollar bills, but I'm talking about stray cats. Lately, they find me like omens I have yet to decode. And I like to think they know more than I do. Because, if not, if they don't, then the bell rings hollow. Then each one is just another lost animal on its way home that'll probably, let's be honest, never get there.
Reason tells me they're not everywhere, that my subconscious mind has drawn a prominent pattern out of an otherwise thin array of incidents. But muscle memory & my keen sense of hearing tell me otherwise: ears two eager semaphores. Sometimes, I even hear them mewl at wide but rhythmic intervals through my apartment's single-paned windows when the sun goes down. Sometimes, I mistake them for infants or young wolves whose voices have yet to rasp & howl.
Just last week, I managed to save a pair of stray cats huddled in tandem beneath the bushes lining my home. It was a particularly cold day, so much of the ground not covered in snow was covered in a solid, not always visible, layer of ice. It was evening, the sky drained of all color, & I'd heard some strange, distant crying, as if muffled, but insistent, almost pleading. To be sure, I'm no bend-over-backward-vegan-red paint-PETA-activist, & yes, these are cats, hardly people, but I figured they must be aching from the cold, &, though I haven't quite been able to make sense of it yet, something instinctual in me responded to their cries.
So I walked downstairs & that's when I saw the two of them curled into one another for warmth, a black & white round-faced younger cat & a gray long-haired older cat, not unlike my own cat, Fen, above. Noticing me, one or the other of them hissed, & both ran off, the one with the broken leg managing an awkward & labored, obviously pained, gallop reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. While its companion had hidden away, the injured cat scrambled on ice to make her escape.
That's the last I saw of the cat with the broken leg, save the next night, when I gave it some cat food & water after finding it tucked between the shed & the basement window, no doubt making good of the dryer vent for any warmth that might provide. I trust a police officer found it the next day as they said they would, because I've caught no sight of it since. At least that's what I choose to believe.
I'd spotted the other cat later that night when I first saw it, &, after a spell of trying to coax it my direction from behind a fence & beneath a neighbor's car, success. We'd stand outside & sit in my stairwell for a good four hours before a policemen picked her up & took her to a shelter. Luckily, I managed to avoid any scarring on my lip from where the cat, startled, had scratched & drawn blood. But I do have a small ghost of a scar on my left hand. She did manage to leave that.
And tonight, walking down the library's stone steps with a load of books in my arms, I watched as a full-bodied black & white cat pranced across the street & into an alley. I followed him for a bit, but no amount of calls or soothing words brought him to me.
I suppose that's the lesson, then. I certainly don't like it, but, try as we might, there's a limit to our ability to control another being's reality. We can only do so much. So we better make sure that what we do really counts.