Photo of kitten on bed
"Each night she got on the bed..."

Cat Habits

Alice and I began to live beside each other. Imperceptibly, as we shared the same time and space, she infiltrated my life. No matter that I was distracted or brooding; Alice insisted on my attention. I could not avoid her. Before I knew it, we had habits together and my days became her days as well.

Every morning, really early, she woke me up. She sprang onto the night table and knocked a pencil off or, in extremity, the alarm clock, the sound of which hitting the floor never failed to get me out of bed. In the semidarkness, I shuffled downstairs behind her into the kitchen. There, she assumed a position in the centre of the floor, erect, with her back to me. This was the signal for "Where's the grub?" My hands, still thick with sleep, grappled with the can opener. I would set down her dish, make myself a coffee, and so we would have breakfast together.

While I showered, she always waited outside the bathroom door, calling to me or shoving a paw under to remind me she was there. Her body would be so tight up against it, her mouth pressed to the opening, that I began pushing the door open cautiously, slowly, not to bump her -- a habit I still have.

She visited me in the basement music studio, leaping onto my lap and lying under my hands while I played, sometimes even taking a stroll across the keyboard in an atonal mode. Or if I was stuck indoors at my desk, making endless phonecalls and sorting through bills and files, she brought the news from outside.

First, she announced herself from the doorway and I, inevitably engrossed in some picayune detail, would mutter, "Just a minute, Alice." Then she sat down in the office, waiting just at the corner of my vision, while I continued to struggle with my banal tasks, all the while trying to ignore her.

Tense minutes would trickle by until finally, losing all patience, Alice would spring onto the desk, smack in the middle of my papers, and stick the world under my nose: fresh snow, bits of leaves, the smell of the cedar trees in her fur.

Work was now out of the question. I followed her to the back door to see what was so urgent. Usually it was a bird in a branch or a sudden summer downpour; maybe the first slow fall of heavy snowflakes had come or a burst of mid-winter sunshine was floodlighting the yard. I had ceased paying attention to these things.

Alice would be crying at the back door. Why didn't she use the cat door, for chrissakes? Irritably, I would fling it open. Then the two of us, man and cat, would stand there for awhile together in the open doorway as the rain-filled air, some flakes of snow, or the sound of the bird would meet my face directly, despite me.

At some point in the day, Alice would come and get me just to have a game. When I left my desk to follow her, she would suddenly pick up speed and, with a whoop, race down the hall and hide behind a door. When I came abreast of the door, she would leap out, attack my shoe, and tear off to the next hiding place, under a couch or in a box.

I couldn't remember the last time I had played hide-and-seek or tag or any game for that matter. The idea of play was no longer part of my life. But Alice had to get a game going every day and she wouldn't leave me alone until we had one.

And once she got me going, huffing and puffing around the house and chasing her up and down the stairs, she had gotten not only my blood moving, but she had moved my spirit as well. I felt light-headed. We were engaged in a mindless pursuit, trying to catch each other, and for awhile each day that was all I was thinking about.

Each night she got on the bed and lay beside me, leaning her weight against my leg. She was just out of reach, like in the alley that first day. But this time I could stretch out my hand and graze her fur.

We lay there together in the darkness while the city traffic continued to roar outside. Car alarms went off; sirens screamed by; streetcars shook the house.

My mind was roaring too: with all the angers and sorrows and fears that had plagued me during the day. But something in her presence made a stillness settle on the room. My mind would calm down a little and the memories would shut off for awhile. And as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could just make out her shape at the bottom of the bed.

There was a kind of clarity to this image that broke through to me. Here, amongst the shadows of the heavy furniture, we were simply two beings in a room. Only that. Then, for the briefest of moments, I was there with her. For a tiny instant, I was no longer living in my mind but in the room.

I know it was Alice being in the room that brought me there. I felt safe. After all, she was a cat; she sought out only the best places. So if Alice were here, it was all right. Her shape in the darkness was like an amulet.

Night after night I tried to practise coming out of hiding, venturing into the place where Alice was. Sometimes, for split seconds, I had a glimpse of somewhere that existed outside myself: the spot that was just here in the room with Alice.

I realized that Alice was always in the room. I was living in a spot about two inches above my head, watching.

Copyright 1997 by Phillip Schreibman

Photo 1987 by Phillip Schreibman

Chapter 1/ Chapter 2/ Chapter 3/ Chapter 4/ Chapter 5/ Chapter 6/ Chapter 7/ Chapter 8/ Chapter 12/ Chapter 15/ Chapter 22

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