Story: Step of the Cat

By: Jamie Kahn

StepintheCat

When I was a young teenager, my sister and I began noticing that around our neighborhood, there was a black cat that often appeared in peoples’ yards and bushes, hiding away and darting whenever he saw a person. He seemed to be a stray, yet still looked big and fluffy with stunning orange eyes.

Although we had the sweetest little white cat and a chubby, playful beagle, we still relished in the idea of bringing yet another pet into our home. We’d rescued our first cat off the streets, so we imagined it couldn’t be too difficult to do it a second time. We were mistaken.

This new black cat had a personality far from our lovable, cuddle-addicted cat who seemed to be destined for domesticity. Every time we neared the black cat outside, he would dart in the other direction like a marathon runner. We tried luring him with food and treats to no avail. My sister and I were so sad, as we just wanted to give the poor thing a home.

Eventually, the neighbors began to leave out little bowls of food and water for him. One neighbor even built a tiny house for him so he could hide away in bad weather. As the months went by, we realized that living inside just wasn’t his way. Still though, we wished we could just scoop him up from time to time and give him the love we thought would make him feel safe and happy.

When I was eighteen, both our beloved white kitty and our playful beagle pup passed away within a span of two months. Our house felt empty, as anyone who has lost a dear friend could probably understand all too well. Through all of that, and in the months of grieving that followed, the black cat, still nameless, still wandering the streets of the development aimlessly kept on. We didn’t pay all that much attention to him during that time. We were too focused on our own pets, or lack thereof. We were too sad to want to bring another thing into our too-quiet house.

But as time passed even further, we were able to recognize the inevitable cuteness of the world again. Seeing other people outside walking their dogs became less of a painful experience, and watching kittens play in the window of the pet stores was sweet rather than sorrowful. And the black cat outside, the one we all knew so well yet hardly knew at all, was one we all admired again. We began to say things of our former selves like, “I wish we could take him in, but I know it’s not right. He’s an outdoor cat.” Curbing our own desires with the pestering yet imperative need to prioritize more than just our want of another pet.

One day, when I was home alone that year, I was cleaning the basement. It was rainy and cold outside. As I looked out the glass door onto our patio and lawn, all soaked with mucky water, I wondered how the black cat was doing. With my back to the door, I continued with my tasks until I eventually turned around to see the black cat on my patio. He was walking leisurely, slower than I’d ever seen him move before. I assumed this meant he didn’t notice any people watching him. As he reached the end of the patio and started on the lawn, towards the fence in our back yard, I tiptoed as if I feared my feet making an audible noise on the carpet, and opened the door. He stopped, hearing the creak of the door, but didn’t dart away. We both stood frozen at this juncture never before encountered. I made the small shhh sound that cats seem to like, trying to possibly get him to come over. When I did this, he shifted his direction and took two steps towards me, and then stopped. He stood for a few seconds before turning around and darting away like always.

I didn’t ever intend to pick him up or take him inside. I’m still not sure exactly what I intended to do. I was like a dog chasing a car or a small child with no money running outside after hearing the ice cream truck that has long since passed. If the black cat did come over, I wouldn’t know what to do with him if given the chance. But I knew that chance would never come, so it didn’t matter.

Though my sister and I never did stop longing to bring that cat inside and give him a home, we continued to watch him from afar because we knew that it was the right thing to do. He was an outdoor cat, and no encounter, no matter how gentile, could convince him to grow a fondness for people. Some things can’t be changed, but watching them from afar isn’t so bad. So we watch our favorite nameless black cat go about his life exactly the way it was meant to be. On his own.

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