Day 887, November 16, 2022

Secrets 

This morning a character did something utterly normal, but because it was secretive, was utterly shocking. I wonder about our secret lives, the nasty habits we engage in when nobody is looking, the photograph tucked between the pages of a favorite book, a purposefully circuitous route home, the imaginary letter writing. Of course there is the distant mistress, the male lover, the lingering barista. But those are all too lascivious. What my character did was akin to keeping an animal that no one knew about, not even her partner. 

When I was I child we had a cat named Kitty. Kitty just appeared one day in one of the basement window well meowing through the glass. This scared my mother to wits end for some reason, and we all laughed at her when we found the source of her panic. Kitty only came in the house a few times, much to my mother’s chagrin. She chased Big Foot around the basement. Big Foot was the mongrel puppy that my father trained to ring a bell when he wanted to go out. For the most part, Kitty lived outside. She had a little bowl and my father built her a little house that she lived in. And then, for some reason, it was decided that Kitty needed to move further away. I wonder if she had gotten pregnant. Kitty’s house was moved deep into the tangle of forsythia behind the garage and we saw less and less of Kitty until she disappeared. This also coincided with Big Foot getting bigger and less frightened of Kitty, so the two things may not have been unrelated. 

Some years later, one of our neighbors became cat hoarders. Their house became one of those incredible destinations where one cat begets four cats, then four cats beget twelve cats, and so on until their garage door was never completely shut so cats could dart in and out at will. They seemed mostly feral, like suburban barn cats. I always wondered if somewhere mixed among them were Kitty’s progeny. 

The truth is, I am allergic to cats. I love the animals, but as a child I would break into terrible hives if I let them touch my face, or if I pet a cat and then rubbed my eye. Some cats affect me less, but I am cautious anyway and wary of the things. I think my mother’s reticence about Kitty was also about preservation of her son. I do not think she was quite so reactive in an allergic kind of way, but she does have a terrible dislike of mice and rats, and cats, despite their utility, I think are categorized in her mind as very large rodents, and are similarly to be avoided.

So imagine, if everyday, leaving the house for work, I slipped a little bowl of milk and little bowl of kibble under the stairs. If every time I left home on a business trip, my mind would fret about the cat under the stairs. If, in the dead of winter, I would leave my old sweaters in a coiled pile for the taking. Some days, it would seem that the animal was just a figment of my imagination, the milk unlapped, the kibble uneaten. But then, every third or fourth day, the milk bowl would be dry, the kibble gone, and the gray animal would slip from behind the wood pile and weave between my legs while I took out the compost. It would rub and purr against my boots, strain up a pant leg for a little scritch. And then, satiated, it would slip back off into the shadows for a hunt, and I would turn over the compost with the shovel and go back inside and wash my hands before I touched my face and say nothing.



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