I look out the kitchen window several times a day and lock glances with its urine-gold eyes, which are pressed into a blank of black fur. I go out the porch door and down the steps, and there it stands, stock-still, defying me to shoo it. Not thinking of it, I head to the car in the driveway, and there the creature lurks, as though to say, “Wherever you go in this yard, there I will be.”
Cats have never been fond of me. Growing up, we had one as a pet for a while. Named Saljami, short for Sally Jane Michael, she preferred my sister Sally over all of us. Saljami was sleek, gray, and striped, and she lived mostly in the yard and woods. One litter she gave birth to in my sister’s bed; I remember waking one night to see Sally sitting up in the other twin bed, with my parents around her and cat afterbirth on Sally’s nightgown. That’s how much the cat loved her. Not me.
In third grade, as a duet with Laura Farron, I sang “The Siamese Cat Song” on stage at Memorial School. Laura got scared in the first verse, and I ended up soloing. I wore a yellow dress that my mother had made, and one of the two pairs of cat glasses that our music teacher, Mrs. Holt, had supplied us with. My little disguise seemed to protect me from the audience, and I recall a feeling of elation as I belted out the verses.
In college, I babysat for a family that kept the food dishes of its two Siamese cats on the kitchen counter. This disgusted me, and when I cleaned up after dinner, I moved the cat dishes to the floor. The cats would jump up on the counter and stare me down. I always put the food dishes back in their places, and left the room.
When I first met Jimmy, whom I would later marry, and we visited his mother’s house, she still owned the family cat, Syd. I was indifferent to this old cat. In fact, as I sat in the den with my future relatives and had a conversation, totally ignoring Syd, of whom I was not afraid, Syd sometimes pounced on and scratched my leg. In retelling the story of how much the cat seemed to dislike me, I would remark that I couldn’t understand how I would provoke that much aggression in an animal toward which I felt neutral. I neither liked nor disliked Syd, or any cat. Jimmy would say, “Cats hate neutrality.”
I tell Betsy, who has a long affectionate history with cats, about the one in my backyard. She laughs. She says, “I think it likes you.”
For the past few days, I’ve been looking out the window for the cat. I’ve gone out into the yard. I’ve gotten on my knees and looked under the porch, under the parked car. I can’t find it! The photograph of it through the porch screen, above, is from the summer.
I keep expecting it to return, because that’s what cats do. They keep coming back. I learned this, too, as a child, from ZOOM.
Not only do I expect my backyard friend to come back, I want it to.