It was time for a new cat.
Something ate my indoor cat six months ago when I let her out for one of her brief hunting excursions. After that, my favorite barn cat got run over on the canal road.
I know what you’re thinking, “This woman is a walking cat holocaust.”
But country life is hard no matter how many legs you have, and my dad always gives me the same warning he gave my cats: “If you’re out running and you meet a mountain lion, you just gotta do one thing – “ Dad’s eyes shine like Christmas lights in a thaw “ – put your head between your knees and kiss your butt goodbye.”
The Husband’s advice is more optimistic: “Run with a pistol in your back pocket.”
But I haven’t done that since the sweet older fella who taught me how to handle a loaded gun accidentally shot part of his own bottom off.
This time, The Husband and I promised each other, our new indoor cat would stay indoors. No hunting. No scaliwagging.
The animal shelter was stuffed with caged sycophants and psychopaths. But there was this silver, striped, long-haired beauty who trained his golden eyes on me so intently I couldn’t tell if he was hunting me or vowing eternal servitude.
What a work of art, I thought, imagining how I could study his white underbelly as he stretched his lengthy body across my lap.
We adopted him and named him Merlin – the keenest of wizards.
“What a dumb name,” frowned my middleborn son. “Why don’t we ever name them cool stuff, like Wiggly or Hot Dog?”
I cleared my throat to explain. “See, in The Death of Arthur – “
“Or CANDY CANE,” interrupted Middleborn. “Or Ninja.”
Merlin hid under the couch.
I pulled him out and plunked him into the litter box a few times, to show him where that was. He skittered off to a new hiding place each time.
“Why is he always hiding?” asked the big, sweet twin.
“Yeah! He should come out and play with us,” roared Firstborn while teaching the little, feisty twin how to block a throat punch. Their guttural war cries rang against the fireplace, bounced off the wood floor and rattled the ceiling fan.
“Oh,” it finally dawned on me. “We’re scaring Merlin.”
“Who’s Merlin?” asked Middleborn, who figured he could brainwash me out of using the dumb name.
The other boys, caught in each other’s headlocks, looked up in puzzlement.
“We’re too loud,” I said. “We’re traumatizing the poor thing.”
“DID YOU HEAR THAT?” bellowed Firstborn. “SHE SAID YOU’RE TOO LOUD.”
“I’M not loud,” Middleborn snapped. “YOU’RE basically a fire engine.”
I stammered, groping for a pearl of wisdom. “Let – let your gentleness be known to all!” I yelled.
With that, Merlin fled to the basement, to the blackest recesses of the storage-bin labyrinth, and stayed there all night.
“Don’t worry,” said The Husband. “Tomorrow you and Merlin will be home alone together. He’ll come out.”
But he didn’t. No matter how I coaxed and cooed, the wizard stayed in his cave.
It wasn’t fair, I thought. Wasn’t he mine? Hadn’t I paid his adoption fee, bought him canned turkey and had him castrated? Surely that was enough to earn a guy’s eternal love.
When I went downstairs, Merlin’s eyes alchemized the darkness between us. Feeling a tinge of voyeuristic shame, I sighed and trudged upstairs.
I went back to writing. I checked social media sites for news tips. I ordered Christmas presents through some omniscient intercessor who knows my credit card and cell phone numbers.
I thought how, with the internet’s tentacles in everyone’s pockets, everything we do is tracked, viewed, posted, monitored, catalogued and judged. Our phones know our fingerprints and how much iceberg lettuce we waste.
There’s no doubt, no mystery anymore about the monolithic march of power, the loss of decency, the thin veneer of achievement and the chasm of political differences.
Downstairs there’s a cat I don’t own or understand, muttering incantations into his silver beard; conjuring his exploits, planning his coup. He’s an incarnate mystery, a complete wildcard in my documented world.
And if Merlin is a rogue sovereign, then there must be other spheres of being that remain untouched by the world’s ruthless ledgers. There must be glimmers of humanity no search engine can surveil…
Perhaps not too far away, people are falling in love. Others are realizing their last survival tactic is to change completely. Some are surrendering, almost sweetly, when it’s their turn to die. And even if these tender moments are not posted and scrutinized for all the world to dissect, they are no less real than the magnificent beast lurking in my basement.
And I’m better just for knowing they’re there.
So I tiptoed to the basement and set down another can of turkey.