written by Jerome Charyn | illustrated by Jago
I hate cats. At least I thought I did. I was in the midst of a whirlwind a couple of years ago, writing a book about Emily Dickinson, who also hated cats. Seems her kid sister, Lavinia, had a whole kingdom of cats, and the poet found Lavinia and her cats as vindictive as King Saul. I had other reasons to look at cats a little aslant. I disliked the idea of litter boxes, of living around a little island of filthy sand. And then my companion, Lenore, who had her own small kingdom of cats in her downtown office-apartment, had to bring a litter box uptown together with Ting, a pure-bred charcoal gray Abyssinian, to board with us awhile, since she had boarders of her own — and one cat too many.
Lenore tried to reassure me. I would never catch a glimpse of Ting, who was a loner and would hide from me as best she could. And she did. Ting shot through my front door in a great blur and found a secret hideaway behind an unopened box of my own books. She hid there for three days, coming out for food and water after midnight, I suppose.
Ting and I existed in some neutral no-man’s land. It was Lenore who emptied the litter box. And then, one afternoon, this Abyssinian queen appeared in her silky gray coat, with her luminous yellow eyes. She caught me working at my desk, stared at me as if I was the intruder in her domain. And she disappeared with the same majesty. This went on for a week.
Then I woke one morning and discovered Ting lying in a pinch of space between my body and the border of the bed. I was troubled at first, until I realized that the Abyssinian loner had decided to adopt me. She would sit dutifully near my desk while I worked on Emily Dickinson. Without rhyme or reason, I now had a pet — a queen who was devoted to me. She’d found a male consort. She must have been thirteen at the time, a very old age for an Abyssinian. But we found our contours together, and I fell in love with Ting, I who had been indifferent to cats and their mysterious ways all my life.
Love didn’t last. One afternoon, I heard a crashing sound from the kitchen. Then Ting appeared. She couldn’t catch her breath. She must have had an “attack” — a cerebral hemorrhage of some sort — and had tumbled off the window ledge. She kept gasping for air. There was fright and confusion in her royal yellow eyes. I called Lenore. It was near midnight. Ting sat near us, with that terrible wheeze. I cradled her in my arms, and the wheezing stopped. I knew she wouldn’t survive. But somehow I had calmed her. And at least for a few moments, the queen’s fright was gone.
© 2016 by Jerome Charyn