Fairy tales are simply more images we’ve made of ourselves to help us see the stories we live. Beasts that speak, trees that reach their limbs to us, water that climbs and shrinks – these are fantastic, we say, the eyes of children bright as the moon, expectant, surprised, and full of wonder. This is mine for the day. My friend Max had a cat he loved. He knew I didn’t love cats, in fact I sneeze around them, so he never asked me to pet or take care of his cat when he was away, or needed time without his cat. Max is 10 years old, and very busy. Sometimes I call him just to ask how he is. When this is during a weekday, sometimes he will say, Aren’t you at work? I’ll say, yes, and he’ll say, Well, me too, can we talk about this later? He sounds preoccupied yet attentive. When I hang up, I am smiling, and I always hear his care, his concern that I hear him. It is wonderful to know such a child. One day Max called me and said his cat Perkins was going away. Where? I asked. Why? He spoke very calmly, yet with the same attentive air, the same concern. Well, he said, I decided he wanted to live with someone else. How did you know? I asked. A friend of my mother’s came over, he said, and she loved Perkins, I could tell. I could tell that Perkins wanted to live with her, and that I was ready to spend time on other things. Wow, I said. Yeah, he said. He was very matter-of-fact. There was no love lost. She brings Perkins over to see me sometimes, he said. I could feel his smile when he said this.
I will never have a cat living with me, but I surely remember every image of them – stalking, sleek, lazy, fast, large, small, meowing, growling. (Did you ever see the film, Cat People?) Cougars, cheetahs, Siamese, tortoise shells. One morning before fully awake I lean across the bed to reach for my water glass and a big paw complete with claws rises toward my hand, its soft pads suddenly there. Believe me, my eyes opened then. I rolled over and up before I got the whiskers and coat.
Closing the door behind me as I throw my animal print scarf around my neck, I think of Max and I smile. Max knows how to listen and learn. He knows how to feel a breeze. What a night, what a day, what a life.