I open my eyes, looking for answers, at first seeing only the brick walls and concrete ground. And then my eyes catch movement. A small shape, all symmetry and softness, appears in my view. A cat emerges from behind one of the crates and sits, watching me, her tail lashing against the cobblestones.
“Go away,” I say.
She doesn’t. Instead she gives me one long, slow blink, settles her body into a compact bread-loaf shape with tucked-in paws, and stares at me until I have to look away.
But a moment later, I look back again.
I don't like animals. When I was very young, an uncle’s huge dog lunged at me and scratched my face badly. I think it would have bitten my throat next if my father hadn't pulled it off of me. The scars have faded, but the memory hasn’t.
Still, this cat is a pretty little thing. Most of her body is creamy white, but there is a calico patch over exactly half of her face. Another patch of swirling color decorates her back-mostly black, with touches of orangered. It looks like glowing embers in black coals, on a bank of the purest snow.
Her soft and quiet beauty gives me something to focus on. As I look at her, my pulse begins to calm. It becomes easier to breathe.
I close my eyes again, willing the memory of tanks to go away, forcing my breath to return to normal. I still feel on the verge of passing out. Then I feel a brush of plush against my calf. For a second I am startled out of my panic. The kitty is rubbing my leg with her soft cheek, and her touch is so reassuring, so affectionate—so normal in this world gone awry—that I forget I don’t like cats and reach down to stroke her head.
In that moment our eyes meet. Hers are the warm orange-gold of autumn bonfires. In the back of my mind I still hear those soldiers mocking voices, but in that briefest instant a sense of peace washes over me.
The next time I look up, my father is walking toward me.
I feel strong enough to stand and meet him. “Thank you,” I tell the kitty, though for what I’m not quite sure. I leave without looking back.
- from The Cat I Never Named