Photo of kitten beside watercan
"Suddenly, everything was interesting..."

Alice Moves In

Alice moved in and took over the house. She was small and everywhere. Any hand left unattended was attacked. Pant legs were ascended; knees, beseiged; shoes were wrestled and subdued. Our hallway turned into a racetrack and the back of the couch was now a launching pad.

Suddenly, everything was interesting. Unassuming corners of coats, tables, and books became regions of mystery and indefatigable attention. A fly was astounding. A flower was a universe. Alice was figuring out the world.

I remember at this time we had a Purim party at our house with a few friends over. A table low to the floor had been set for the dinner with cushions arranged about to sit on, a real Persian banquet. We had decided to make a videotape of the celebration and the camera was put at the head of the table. After I made sure that everyone sitting around would be in the picture, we all left the room to prepare the rest of the food. When we viewed the videotape later, I realized that I had inadvertently left the camera running the whole time we were gone. For about fifteen minutes, there was a still-life picture of the table settings: coloured napkins, candles, wine bottles, plates and glasses; fish, salads, breads and cakes -- and then a little face came into view.

It was Alice. She had never been to a party before. Her face was alight with excitement and expectation. She went all around the table, looking and looking, her eyes wide, her head turning back and forth among all the strange new things. But she never touched the food; the little cat already had a perfect instinct for the proper decorum at a party.

It was a situation of great privilege to see a young creature in its first encounters with life. To her, nothing was taken for granted. All was remarkable. Simply witnessing the explosion of energy was inspiring. In a way, I was myself given a chance to start over, to look at everything with new eyes, ears, and nose. What Alice was experiencing in this strange new place, the world, could have been a catalyst for my own fresh appreciation of life.

As luck would have it, soon after Alice's operation, I became embroiled in a law suit with a large Canadian corporation in order to recover unpaid music royalties. The time-consuming legal wrangling lasted two years. Consequently, I missed a lot of Alice's growing up.

Not that Alice could go unnoticed. But I saw her development not as a smooth continuous film -- more like a series of snapshots. First, she got very square. Her parts were stocky and she moved around like a small jeep. Then she was all legs, stretching them out in a tangle when she fell asleep on a chair. Her ears got smaller, her eyes swept out to the sides like an Egyptian princess, and suddenly I realized she was very beautiful.

It was at this age, all legs and stripes and eyes, that she ran wild in the neighbourhood. On summer evenings, in the early darkness, when the smells of the grass and earth were overwhelming, her lips would become red and spots like rouge appeared on her cheeks. She disappeared into the garden and leaped across the fences. In the moonlight, we could see her outline on the pitch of the row of garages in the alley, high-stepping from peak to peak, dancing on the rooftops.

A new sound came over the neighbourhood: Alice's name echoing through the nights of warm, redolent air (Cat Nights, we called them) when Mary stood in the backyard and cried: "A---li---ce!", like a call to prayer, to the comfort of remembering that she existed, that her presence and atmosphere were in the world.

We lost her a few times in those days. Posters were printed and pasted on hydro poles in the nearby streets, with promise of great reward for the safe return of our striped wanderer. But she always came back on her own. She had to. I needed her even if I did not yet know it.

Copyright 1997 by Phillip Schreibman

Photo 1987 by Mary Jane Card

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

Home / The Book / How To Get The Book / Contact / Reviews