One night not so long ago a young and slender black cat quickly and silently trotted down the sidewalk of the neighborhood where he lived, a long and graceful shadow against the moonlit snow, disappearing completely into the shadows of shrubs and cars and doorsteps when he needed to stop and get respite from the wind.
The night was cold, cold, just plain cold as that straight and icy wind whipped down the street straight off the frozen river enveloping him in a blanket that penetrated his fur as his paws crunched on the snow. Reaching a familiar front door he leapt past it onto a windowsill and looked inside to see only darkness. As usual his new person wasn’t home and there was no way for him to get inside to where there was at least warmth, if not also some food, unless the young man had forgotten that again too. He didn’t mind living on mice if he at least had a warm and safe place to sleep for a while each day, but he hadn’t found the young man home at all for days.
He leaped down from the windowsill to the snowy sidewalk, the wind at his back and lifting his fur to fill between each hair with cold so deep he thought he’d freeze in place. He reached the end of an alley at the corner of the house and quickly turned into the shadow, breaking into a little canter without the wind in his face, hurrying to reach the steps that led up to the deck on the second floor of the house.
Little lights were twined all the way up the steps and on the railing, and even a few around the windows; this was new, something other humans had around their houses as well, something they only did at certain times in the winter. Yellow light streamed out from the windows as well and he ran over to the one that looked into the room where the humans ate but a curtain was drawn across, and though he could see shapes moving behind it and hear voices inside, he could not see any more and they could not see him at all. The rail around the deck was covered in snow and ice and he had often stepped onto it easily balancing along it with is tail high in the air to look into other windows and the door, hoping to be noticed by the people who lived there.
But these humans had never answered to his meows though he had announced himself loudly in his high-pitched sing-song greeting, never even seemed to notice him. It wasn’t these people with the little dogs that he wanted anyway. He hoped to catch sight of the large black cat who had lived there and the kind woman who lived with her, the woman who had kept a bowl just for him inside the door in that eating room with the bright yellow light, who would let him in no matter when he appeared at the window or tapped at the door and fill that bowl to the brim with tasty crunchies. Both she and the black cat would watch him eat but make no move to tell him to leave, and he would stay for a while after his meal, bathing and giving into his drowsiness in the quiet warmth of the room before awakening, washing his face and asking at the door to leave.
He might have stayed but he knew the room and all the other rooms around it belonged to that black lady cat who watched him quietly with her green eyes, who seemed to understand his hunger and his need for these few moments of companionship, though she made it clear without a word or a move that all this was indeed hers, and the human was hers too. He didn’t mind her rules about how long he could stay or what was hers. That she let him in at all was a great honor and he would never overstep his bounds and risk going without these few brief moments of security.
But she no longer lived in this place at the top of the long steps, nor her person, and the people who did live there didn’t even seem to notice him. The young man on the first floor to whom the woman had entrusted him just before she disappeared had been fun at first, kind of like one of his unneutered feline buddies, but the guy was home less and less, and sometimes he was home but didn’t answer the meows and tapping at the door and window.
In desperation, the young cat left the heights of the deck and came back down to the sidewalk. After a pause at the end of the alley he plunged into the wind whipping down the street, squinting his eyes and folding back his ears and he tried one more place, the place where he’d lived before he started wandering, wandering because those humans had not let him in but had wanted him to stay outdoors around the house to catch the vermin they attracted with their garbage. There wasn’t much hope he’d find any warm or food or pets there, but he had to keep moving or he himself would freeze in this frozen city. The night had been growing quite dark as the moon was covered by clouds moving quickly across the sky, and as he hurried down the sidewalk he began to hear the click of hard icy pellets hitting the snow and shrubs and cars all around him, and hitting the delicate skin of his ears and landing on his fur.
The windows of that house were dark anyway, as were most along this street, though most had those extra little lights outside that were still shining brightly and were actually a little warm if you got close to them. He tucked himself into a protected spot under the front porch, tucking all his paws underneath his belly and wrapping his long tail around to seal the warmth and try to thaw his toes, arching himself and fluffing out his fur and tucking his chin so that he looked like a slightly misshapen fuzzy black ball with eyes in the shadows. He had no idea what he would do without food or water, or a warm place to sleep on this frigid night. He was exhausted and unwilling to step out into the now thickly falling snow to look…where? What else was there out there that he could possibly eat? Everything was frozen, even in the garbage cans, which he had tried earlier, before the darkness fell. He closed his eyes, gathered all his warmth together and lightly dozed to give himself a break from the cold and hunger.
He felt a familiar feline presence approaching. He had no idea how much time had passed, though not much looking at how much snow had piled around the covering of the porch. Another larger and older black cat entered underneath and quietly crouched a short distance away. It was his friend, Wiccan, a wise and ageless neutered male who had always been a mentor to all the cats on the street, and especially to the slender and wandering young black cat. His presence itself was a comfort.
After a brief and companionable silence while they both closed their eyes and tucked their chins to sense the emotional space the other was inhabiting, Wiccan turned his face in the other cat’s direction, slightly opening his eyes and blinking a consoling message.
Young Pumpkin, you could come to our house. You cannot come in, but my human would give you food and a box to sleep in. It is better than freezing to death in this deep and frozen night.
Pumpkin waited a moment before answering, turning his head lightly in the direction of Wiccan.
I want to find the ladycat Mlle. Daisy and her human, he said, not opening his eyes. I know we found them once after they disappeared from the top of the steps inside those windows. I would take your kindness and be glad for the food and the box, but I don’t want just food and a box. I want a home. He turned and tucked his nose into the fur of his narrow chest, breathing his own warmth back into himself.
Pumpkin, you know they would have taken you in at any time if you had stayed there.
Pumpkin flicked and swiveled his ears, not lifting his nose from his chest. I wasn’t ready. I was still responsible to another human, and they had not released me to join a new family.
Wiccan knew this was true. He also knew a cat had to make his own move sometimes and break the ties with the life that no longer suited him or was literally killing him, especially if he had found the home that was right for him. Pumpkin was a good, honest and gentle cat, deserving of a home and humans who would respect and return his love and loyalty. It was why Wiccan had once led Pumpkin around the corner to the noisy and dangerous street and to the front door of the limestone building where he’d seen the woman entering and leaving, and Mlle. Daisy in her dignified repose in the bay window, watching the street through narrowed green eyes. But Pumpkin was right, he had not been ready, he was still tied to the family that had taken him in as a kitten, and a cat like Pumpkin did not break his ties easily or without the clarity of a mutual decision.
Wiccan tucked his chin and in the stillness under the porch and only the sound of the swirling and falling snow he swiveled his ears and searched the night for an answer. He knew what it would be before he even found it; the nudge of this vision on his consciousness was the reason he’d left the warmth of his home to come to find Pumpkin before the emaciated young cat really did freeze to death in some spot where he’d taken shelter. Though he was weakening from the months of deprivation, Pumpkin’s will and life force were strong. But Wiccan had seen a frozen Canadian night full of howling wind and falling snow take down many a strong-willed being, feline and otherwise. Wiccan took seriously his responsibility to all the felines on this street, and he knew he needed to help Pumpkin through this transition or he would die.
He visualized the new place where the woman now lived with Mlle. Daisy, and with a man who had also been around occasionally at the top of the stairs where Pumpkin had just visited, and more and more often in the new place, and Mlle. Daisy was curled in her red brocade bed. Wiccan could see they were inside the windows at the very top of the building, in the back, and each window had a gentle beckoning light like a beacon, a point to focus on to find one’s way. He hoped Pumpkin was visualizing some of these details along with him, and after a bit stood up and arched his back and shook his head. He walked over to Pumpkin and gently burrowed his nose in the fur behind Pumpkin’s ear, then walked out from under the porch into the falling snow, leaving fresh tracks in the new snow on the sidewalk. Pumpkin got up and without the warming stretch and head shake simply followed Wiccan. They faded into the falling snow, two shadows, then disappeared, their pawprints filling up with new snow almost as soon as they had passed.
They reached the end of the street but did not turn onto the new street. Instead they crossed their street and entered the back yard of the house at the end, crossed that and another, ducking under the hedges as they passed from one yard to the next. When they reached the third yard Wiccan turned toward the shadows and headed for the set of steps at the back of the building. It was much as Pumpkin had seen in Wiccan’s thoughts, the long, long steps taking turns and angles on their way up, the snow swirling lazily down as the wind swept over the building, falling into the darkness behind, broken only by two tiny bright lights toward which they were now headed, Wiccan leading the way through the deepening snow, up and up and up the steps.
Pumpkin followed, unsure what would happen. When they reached the top he vaguely sensed the scent of the woman and Mlle. Daisy. Wiccan walked directly over to the window on the right, and leaped up onto the windowsill, knocking snow down as he settled himself to look inside.
Leaping up on the sill Pumpkin also settled himself onto the snow. They could see inside, and though the light in the window was the only light in this room there were clearly lights on inside the rest of the rooms. Wiccan looked at him and he felt Wiccan was waiting for him to do something though he had no idea what. When he only sat looking at Wiccan, Wiccan turned and looked inside, raised a paw and tapped on the window.
Suddenly Pumpkin shed the torpor he’d slipped into from the cold and hunger and lifted a paw and tapped firmly on the window, as he had at the other place. He saw shadows moving inside, and tapped again, then sat up and tapped with both front paws, excited, now understanding why Wiccan had brought him here, not just that the woman and Mlle. Daisy were inside, but that this was the night…
Mlle. Daisy appeared first, the glow of the light shining warmly on her fur as she entered the darkened room. Then two dark human shapes filled the doorway one after the other and both came to the window. He recognized them both and sat up once again, looking into both of their eyes in turn, drumming his paws on the window, trying not to hope, but hoping all the same.
Together, the two humans reached down and slowly lifted the sash, and warm air flowed out through the opening, carrying with it the familiar scents of Mlle. Daisy and the woman and the man and all their things inside this wonderful warm and quiet space. They continued lifting the window until the sash was nearly at its top, and leaned down to look at both cats sitting on the sill.
“Well, it’s Wiccan and wee Pumpkin,” said the woman’s familiar voice. “Whatever are you doing here, knocking on the window on such a terrible night as this?”
Pumpkin looked at her for a long moment, then turned to look at Wiccan.
What should I do? Should I ask?
No. They are expecting you. Step inside, and meet your destiny.
Pumpkin stood up and lifted a paw over the drift of snow on the sill, delicately stepping on the wooden sill inside, one front paw and then the other. He was halfway in and halfway out. He turned and looked at Wiccan, then brought both hind paws onto the sill inside. Pumpkin turned to look at Wiccan once more and blinked. Wiccan blinked in return. It was done.
“Well, come in wee Pumpkin,” both humans said encouragingly as Mlle. Daisy circled around behind them, out of reach of the chilling wind and falling snow blowing in the open window.
“Little Pumpkin you are freezing!” the woman said as she picked him up in a warm and loving embrace; for all the times he had visited her he had not encouraged her to pick him up; he was completely unused to it as no one had ever really held him in that way. He began to shiver as he shared the warmth of her body, giving in to the sharing.
“Does Wiccan want to come in as well?” they asked. Wiccan looked at them and blinked, took one more look at Pumpkin cuddling in his human’s arms, turned around and jumped down from the sill, walking across to the steps, already visualizing the fireplace in his own home just a short distance away. Behind him the window closed and the humans disappeared, carrying the young cat with them. Briefly Mlle. Daisy appeared at the window next to the light, met his eyes and blinked once as he turned for a last look, then she too was gone from the window. He made his way carefully down the long flight of steps, his night’s mission complete.
. . . . . . .
Though dramatized, the basis of this story is true, and it involves cats and people I’ve written about here on The Creative Cat. Wee Pumpkin, who had been adopted to kill mice really did visit Mlle. Daisy and her human where they lived in Kingston, Ontario, though he was often referred to by another name he’d been given, Yogurt, and dairy derivatives of that such as Brie and Cream Cheese by Giuseppe who was concerned when the young cat would visit the apartment and his love Mlle. Daisy with Giuseppe himself so far away. Now and then Wiccan showed up at the window too. The young man downstairs had offered to care for Pumpkin when they moved around the corner, but really did not follow through.
On Christmas Eve 2012, a woman and man did hear tapping on the window at the back of their apartment and found Wiccan and Pumpkin looking in. They opened the window and Pumpkin walked inside, but Wiccan turned and left.
Pumpkin has been with them and since, though his name is now Theophile for the artist Theophile Steinlen because the slender and angular Theo looked like one of Steinlen’s angular black cats in his illustrations.
I had wanted to celebrate the wonderful rescue and homecoming of a loyal and loving cat on the anniversary of the event, and wrote this story with one sketchy illustration. One of my goals in 2014 is to expand the story to its natural length and include a set of illustrations done as linoleum block prints. I’ll be sure to keep you updated as that progresses!
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