Second in a series of stories about visitations for the Halloween season.
One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat politely but confidently asked me if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course I said yes, and I witnessed the entrance to this life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie, my Fawn.
Ten years later, a friend sent balloons to my workplace for my birthday. The whole bunch was too big to take home, so I took one home and tied it to a lamp in my studio.
My birthday was also, sadly, the day an exam definitively diagnosed that Fawn’s cancer had come out of remission, and the chances of it responding to treatment a second time were slim.
On the morning I had Fawn put to sleep at home, my veterinarian brought her one-year-old daughter, not having day care accommodations that early in the day, and a friend agreed to babysit the little girl down in the studio while my veterinarian and I were upstairs. They untied the balloon from the lamp and played with it all during that time, then let it float freely around the studio. My other cats didn’t respond to the balloon aside from a few swats at the string, and it came to rest in a corner of the room.
Eight days later, I awoke once again with the daily dread of remembering that my little girl was gone and had not let go very easily, but I didn’t feel the deep sadness which had been with me all that time, especially upon waking. By habit looking over at the jewelry box on top of the chest of drawers where Fawn had spent many sleeping hours during our time in this house, and most of her last few weeks, I noticed the balloon hovering over that spot. Either it had been carried upstairs by one of the other cats or it had made quite a circuitous journey on its own because it was roughly exactly above where it had been hovering on the first floor.
This meant it traveled about ten feet along a wall to the foot of the steps, dipped down a foot to get through the archway, made a u-turn into the stairway and floated up the steps, made a right turn and moved about a foot in that direction while not floating up to the full ten-foot ceiling height so that it could make a jog through my bedroom doorway, turned left and floated about three feet to a spot where there was nothing to hold it in place. Yes, very complicated.
My heart was in my throat, and a little tingle of joy in my heart. I had a sense of what it meant but was not fully awakened to its meaning.
When I came home from work that day the balloon was still in its spot. I replaced the photograph of Fawn, which I had been carrying back and forth to work, on the sewing machine across the room where I kept photos of family and all the cats I’d lost. Instead of the sadness I had felt in that room I felt a capricious and happy spirit; that had been Fawn’s room since the day we had moved here, and my “yittle girl” always waited for me under the bed as in the portrait I’d painted of her, above, when she was just a kitten, pouncing out when she thought I least expected it and prancing around the room, playing hard to get.
I returned to the room later that evening to find that the balloon had moved across the room and was hovering over Fawn’s picture with the ribbon touching it, where it stayed, on its own, for two weeks until it was completely out of air, lasting much longer than all the others in the original bunch. None of the other cats ever touched the ribbon or the balloon, though they’d normally at least take a swat.
When Fawn discovered “up” as a kitten, she got “up” on everything as often as possible—narrow shelves on the wall, inside open transoms, on the top edge of an open door, she even had her eye on the ceiling fans. Balancing in place she would call for me to come and see her and gaze down smugly as I praised her, even if she needed my help in getting down.
Fawn was not ready to leave, and I wasn’t ready for her to go. For those eight days I felt her unsettled unhappiness and my own grief would not ease. Fawn chose to return to me in a form I would clearly understand, and as a symbol of cheerful celebration, an object which freely floats as high up in its space as it can, and I can only be reassured that the bond we had when she was here carried on to the next existence, that she loved me enough to let me know she had finally accepted and was enjoying the same antics she always had while here. How else would I be sure it was her, silly human that I am?
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