Ever since the friend who agreed to watch my cat Trair when I was away never went to feed her in my Oakland flat in 1987, I have set out a bowl or two of extra water for my cats when I’m out of town, my “talisman” water. I’ve kept this ritual up over the years since my last two cats died. I have a big round mug now, red crayon colors, wild yellow flowers, black rim. It lives beside the fridge. This morning I replenish the water. I rinse the mug, fill it close to the brim. I wipe the water from the bottom, the sides, and lower it with care to the floor in its exact spot, silent prayers for protection. Crouching beside the fresh talisman water, I catch myself in the mirror on the wall above it. I am struck by something in my face I haven’t seen of late. “Oh, there you are,” I say to my mirror self. “You’re coming back.” And with this pleased glimpse, this relief and welcome, comes grief, too, almost as if I had abandoned myself, and loneliness, as if I’d been alone all this time since I’d become sick, as if I’d left myself for lost.
Sofia’s been gone since yesterday morning. I cried when I woke up in the middle of the night. She’d done this already three days in a row, but the latest she showed up was midnight. I remembered Richard talking about the poems he’s writing for their cat Sunny who died only weeks ago. He’s wishing he’d been as loving, as open to her, as appreciative of her in her coming as he was in her going. I tortured myself in the dark with memories of pushing her off the bed with a pillow when she returned at midnight two days before and wouldn’t settle on the bed with us but kept making determined strikes for the bolster above my head. I wondered if she had found a home where she’s happier, where she is better loved. Even as the thought broke my heart, another followed on its heels. How could I deny her that?
Logic tells me she is only up to independent cat things. But I can’t remember when she had a stretch like this. Sebastopol? Over a decade ago? It’s an upswing in her cyclical illness, I think. She must be feeling better to take off like this. She’s hardly left the courtyard in months, almost always returned in an hour or so on the rare occasion when she did. She would disappear like this when she was young, first a response to her adoption, feral cat that she was. Later because the Hopland countryside was irresistible. I’ve gone through this with her for years.
I am sitting in the courtyard in the late morning, telling my mother about it on the phone. She’s been gone for over 24 hours now. “I tell myself she’ll be okay,” I say. “But every time I wonder if this will be the time she doesn’t come back.”
And then there is movement beside me. Sofia appears in the courtyard on her quiet cat feet. She acts as though she never left, or had been gone only for a moment. I tell my mother she was the magic talisman. I cry again, a muddled combination of relief and gratitude and fear. And then I laugh, kneeling, hugging her, shaking teardrops around us on the cement.