I was awakened by a noise in the backyard about 5.00 a.m. I got up and went outside into the yard in my nightgown and started calling out to the cat. No sign of her. When I woke up at 7 a.m., I looked out the window into the yard and could clearly see the smoked salmon I had put out in a bowl was gone. That meant either Fish was in the vicinity and had eaten it, or it was scoffed down by any one of 100 stray cats living in our neighborhood. The one thing I knew for sure: I had fallen asleep with my contacts lenses in. There’s no way I should have been able to see the bowl from my bedroom window.
The disappearance of the cat has completely obscured my good news, which is that I’m more pregnant now than I was on Monday. I went to Quest yesterday for a blood test and my hCG went from 100-and-something to 300-and-something. HCG, or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, is an indicator of pregnancy because a placenta begins producing it, and it starts entering the blood stream, just after the embryo implants. And one’s hCG levels are supposed to double and triple and quadruple in the days that follow, so doctors keep an eye on it. But like a fickle lover, it can rise one moment and fall the next, breaking the hearts of women across the globe. For now, my boyfriend is still interested.
After I returned from Quest, I started putting flyers into people’s mailboxes on the three blocks surrounding our home. I made 100 flyers on Tuesday and Bruce began the process of distributing them before he went to work. I was on the second shift and finished the job. Every time I saw someone outside, I asked if they had seen the cat, and they said no but had a story to tell about how a cat they knew once got stuck in someone’s celler or their house. Sarah, around the corner, found her cat in a sewerage drain two days after she lost it. She heard the cat crying from beneath the grate. Mauro once found a cat in a storage space in his house. He’d left the door open to get items out for a garage sale and then closed it, inadvertently locking the cat inside. He didn’t find her until the next day, when they were putting the unsold items back into the storage space. Regina’s cat got into the basement of the house behind her when they were installing a washer dryer. When she went knocking on neighbors’ doors, looking for her cat, the woman in the house behind her said she hadn’t heard anything and that her dog probably would have detected it if a cat were inside the house. But she kindly invited Regina to come in and look. As soon as Regina entered the basement, her cat began to cry, Regina grabbed her and left.
After talking to Regina, I went over to the woman’s house to see if maybe my cat was inside. A woman who was very pregnant answered the door with a bowl of cereal in her hand. I asked if perhaps my cat was stuck in her basement. She said she hadn’t heard anything and that their basement door hadn’t been open to the outside since the washer dryer was installed two years earlier. She paused.
“You’re welcome to come in and check,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said.
I went down into the basement hoping for the same ending Regina had, but I found no crying cat. Just a pregnant woman whose cereal was getting very soggy.
Someone suggested I run the can opener. Cats come from far and wide when they hear that sound. My cat ate only dry food –and oddly enough, organic greens. So I walked around the neighborhood for an hour and a half shaking an orange bag of Iams like a maracas until my arms were tired. At one point, a black cat started following me, wanting to be fed. I asked if he knew where my cat was. He meowed in that self-centered way men do, pretending to give thought to my question but really having just one goal in mind: getting a piece of what was in my bag. After half a block, I stopped, scooped out a handful and set it on the sidewalk for him.
“Now beat it,” I said. As I walked away, I could hear him feasting on my cat’s food.
It’s strange the way Fish has just vanished. Were it not for her food bowl still sitting there in the living room, and her little toys — the ratty yellow bear with the hood I got from Citibank, and the little beige horse/donkey, or whatever the heck it is — I’d start to wonder whether she ever existed. I mean of course I know she existed, but when you lose someone, you enter this surreal world, and each day without them makes the memory of them fade just a tiny bit more. Bruce said he dreamt of Fish last night, but in the dream, he wasn’t sure it was her because he couldn’t remember what she looked like.
It must be similar to what a parent would feel if their child just vanished, — but on a smaller level, of course (it isn’t politically correct to equate pets with children). I keep replaying the last time I saw Fish. Bruce and I were walking into the house after having a Father’s Day dinner at his sister’s. Bruce walked in the door ahead of me and said, “Ooh, she surprised me. She’s up so high.” Fish was standing on top of one of our living room chairs, which we’d moved near the front door because I’d found a great couch at a garage sale, and it displaced the chairs that were already in the living room. When Bruce walked in, Fish was at about eye level. By the time I got in the door, Fish was running down from the top of the chair, and that’s the last I remember of her. I thought she came up on the couch as I lay there icing myself in preparation for my progesterone shot that night, but I think that may have been the night before. I was laying on my stomach and she sat her big, furry Maine Coon cat of a body on the couch right by my face, prompting me to turn my head the other way if I wanted to continue breathing.
I keep thinking about a haunting book I read years ago called “The Child in Time” by Ian McEwan, in which a father brings his daughter to the supermarket, and that’s the last he sees of her. She was kidnapped while he was momentarily distracted at the check out. As he grieves, he drinks scotch all day long and watches the Olympics. The loss is so overwhelming, it begins to alter his sense of time.
When my father got sick, it altered my sense of everything — time, space, goals, commitments, routine. It had all felt so definite and rigid before that. But when he got sick, it all felt more fluid, surreal, like when you shake a snow globe and the sediment along the bottom becomes dislodged and floats aimlessly.
It was so hot yesterday even into the evening that we went to the beach at about 6 p.m. Bruce went for a swim, and I fell asleep, thinking about Fish and being pregnant and wondering if lying on my stomach in the sand could squish the tiny embryo. Even if it could, I was too tired to move. Walking around all day in the heat had exhausted me. As we were leaving, we saw people pointing out into the water. There were black dolphins swimming by, five of them. First you’d see the head, then the fin, then the tail before they’d disappear under the surface. Then several yards down, you’d again see the head, the fin, the tail. It was as if there were a disc revolving just under the surface, and every time the black silhouette reached the top of the rotation, the dolphin would appear for a moment before plunging back into the water and disappearing. Something about the dolphin reminded me of Fish. But then everything does.