I love pussycats and when I was growing up we had a long succession of wonderful ones. Our house had a lovely garden and those lucky cats had the best of both worlds – indoors and out.
In fact one of my favorite cats was a tom named Jinx, a dirty stay-out who prowled our Bronx neighborhood late into the night. When he was ready to come home he’d climb the magnolia tree in front of my parents’ bedroom window, and scratch on the window pane until my father got out of bed to let him in.
One night, tired of Jinx’ middle-of-the-night antics, my father – usually the most mild-mannered of men – lost his temper and scolded the cat. The next night Jinx went out and never came back, and for months I blamed my father for that missing pussycat.
After that childhood of indoor-outdoor cats, I married, became an apartment dweller and realized that any future cats would have to be indoor-only. No lovely garden to romp in or neighborhood to roam, but at least they would never go missing. Or so I thought.
Our first married apartment was on the top floor of a small four story building in New Rochelle, NY. From there Danny took the train to his mid-Manhattan office, and I drove the short distance to the Bronx high school where I worked. Sharing that first apartment with us was our first cat, a beautiful black velvety tom named Smokey.
One afternoon after school I stopped to do the marketing as was my habit, and once home I juggled an armload of grocery bags as I fumbled with my keys. Then I let myself into the apartment and headed straight to the kitchen to unpack the bags and start dinner. Smokey hadn’t met me at the door, nor had the clatter of pots and pans brought him running to the kitchen, and I thought that was strange.
Wondering where he was, I walked through the apartment calling him. No Smokey in any of his favorite spots – not under the bed, not in the closet, not on the windowsill. I even checked the terrace though we were always careful to keep the terrace door locked.
Then I noticed an open bathroom window, the only window in the apartment that didn’t have a screen. It was so high we never imagined the cat could reach it, but what if somehow he had!
I ran to the bedroom window and peered down at the courtyard. Thankfully I saw no splattered Smokey on the ground, and even if he had fallen, I reasoned, four stories was a survivable height for a cat. So I decided to get the car and cruise around the neighborhood until I found him, when suddenly I heard a faint meow which seemed to be coming from inside the wall. Just then Danny called to say he was leaving his office.
”Smokey’s missing,” I cried, “at first I thought he fell out the bathroom window, but now I hear him meowing!”
”Calm down,” my ever rational husband said, “he must be locked in a closet.”
”No, I checked all the closets! HE’S SEALED UP IN THE WALL”, I said now in complete panic mode.
”What are you talking about?”, Danny said.
”Remember that Edgar Allen Poe story, The Cask of Amontillado when the crazy guy bricks up the other guy in the wine cellar? That’s what happened to Smokey! HE’S SEALED UP IN THE WALL”, I insisted. “I’m going down to find the super, he must have a crowbar or something I can use to get him out!”
I hung up before Danny could try to stop me, and I rushed to the apartment door. I flung it open and there, curled up on the doormat, was our missing pussycat! Smokey stood up, stretched his sleek body, and pranced back into the apartment. Obviously when I came home with that armload of grocery bags, I didn’t see the cat run out.
I really must stop reading Poe!
Since those early Smokey years we’ve relocated to the city and also acquired a weekend house in the Connecticut countryside. However our cat at the time, the sweet Lucy Gray, seldom came with us. She didn’t travel well, and a car-sick cat doesn’t bode well for a pleasant journey.
On the other hand our present cat Jackie is perfectly happy to spend two hours in his pet carrier, with no messy accidents in the back seat. And he loves his country weekends with such interesting things to see and hear outside the window, quite different from his 16th floor, birds-eye view back in the city.
Then one Sunday night a few years ago we were packing for the drive home when I couldn’t find the cat. Assuming he was asleep somewhere in the house, we searched room by room, opening closets and looking under beds. No Jackie. We looked again. No pussycat.
Although we were always careful going in and out the front door, I now had a growing fear that somehow Jackie had gotten out and was lost in the woods. So out we went with our flashlights. I crawled under the deck and Danny got in the car and started driving around. But no Jackie.
I called our neighbors Carol and Howard who came over with their dogs. At Carol’s command, “Find kitty!”, the doggies started sniffing all over the house. But no kitty.
I opened the front door and banged a can opener against a can of cat food, usually a surefire way to get Jackie coming on the run. But still no cat.
By this time I had gone slightly berserk and was convinced that Jackie had been eaten by a bear. (When Danny reminded me that bears were largely herbivorous, I changed the murderous offender to a coyote.)
Then remembering that once my son’s cat had gotten out, and Noah sat on his front steps for several hours until the cat came back, I vowed to do the same for Jackie even if it took me all night.
“OK, sit out there if you insist” , my husband said, “but I’m checking the house again.”
”It’s no use”, I wailed, “by now Jackie’s been eaten by a coyote!”
But a few minutes later I heard Danny call from upstairs, “I found him!“
It seems the cat was asleep in a closet all along, but not on the floor where we had already looked. Rather he was curled up on a built-in shelf at the back. A black cat in a dark closet is not hard to miss.
”What a naughty pussycat making us worry so!”, I scolded.
But I couldn’t resist giving him a special treat, so instead of cat food, I opened a can of tuna fish.
Jackie came running!
Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!