The Single-Note Warning

Last night I heard a meow in the middle of a dream with no cats in it. I was making a transaction; just Me and a Man. In the background sound, Meow. Man and I looked around us. No cat. I hesitated, then broke out of the dream thinking I must have left my own cat outside before bed. Maybe she was calling to be let back in.

I woke in the dark, listening. No cat calls. I pushed my left foot a few inches north and felt the soft cushion of her body nearby. Kashmir Kitty. She was not outside, not crying, not calling. She was sleeping. I felt her curl tighter as I nudged her. I returned to sleep and to dreaming but not to the Man or our transaction.

In the morning I lingered in bed until coffee was brought to me. I spill coffee every time I try to drink in bed, as regular as a curse, so I rose with my cup and entered my sanctum in sock feet. Yesterday’s mascara bruised the skin around my eyes rendering me witchy in the mirror. Hair that will not be ruled in the night was left standing. Spectacles completed the spectre of One Who Witches. One Who Chuckles.

Around my feet One Who Purrs moved with me to window. Rain will douse all today. Let us check progress. See if there is time for tennis. Kashmir Kitty mounted the Chest of Costumes beside the window, bringing her to head height. Together, through the lace, we beheld the grounds below. Nestled in the weeds around the Dentist’s House, a few feet from my bedside windows, a white cat with black blobs stopped licking her paw.

I eased the lace aside with one hand. I gripped my cup with other. Ink Blot Cat stared up at me, groomed casually, then returned my gaze again. Yes, that was me. It was I. Meow. I wondered why. I glanced at Kashmir Kitty still poised nearby as if she might know, also being a cat. She blinked in dismissal and left for breakfast. I held my vigil at the glass and considered the least likely of explanations. This monochrome cat in the technicolor grass woke me from a dream for what reason?

The most telling clue was the single call. She didn’t keep singing. She didn’t continue. One ring to wake me and then silently bedded down beside the brick below me like a watchwoman. If she didn’t intend to keep me awake why wake me at all? I asked her with my eyes, sneaking a sip of coffee. She yawned. She stared. To interrupt that transaction. She dared me to disbelieve.

I’ve seen this cat before but I’ve never seen her sleep nearby. Kashmir Kitty usually keeps her away, jealous and territorial. She slept so close in the night I could have tossed her a treat from the window. I wished for a fish. A sardine maybe, to fling in tribute. Indeed I did go back to sleep and back to dreaming but not back to the Man and not back to that transaction. Kashmir Kitty might be Guardian of the Grounds but dreams are obviously not her jurisdiction.

Ink Blot Cat lives around the corner at the bungalow of the Night Sweeper. He keeps many cats. Too many. Sometimes he tries to give them away and then later regrets it, but won’t ask for them back. He simply posts signs around the village: Lost Cat–Please Return. He’s a strange man. He perpetually rebuilds a rail fence which falls back down within 72 hours of his efforts. Again and again he puts it back up. It falls right back down. When it is up he flings cat litter over it into the woods. When it is down he dumps the litter on the other side of the fallen rails with far less verve.

The Night Sweeper always wears thermal underwear, even in the dead of summer. He sweeps the village roads every evening after sunset. I’ll see him sometimes under the streetlights well after dark; the sound of his sweeping as familiar as the settling of my castle. The ghost of his mother rides in the passenger seat of his sedan. She’s been seen by believers and disbelievers alike, so people are afraid of the Night Sweeper as if this is his doing. Maybe it is. His cats drip from every crevice of the village.

I once returned a wayward kitten to the Night Sweeper’s home. It had wandered into my domain and was trapped in a space too small for my dog’s jaws. My dog was inhospitable to it so I carried it home in my arms, wishing I could keep it. The Night Sweeper was not around but there was a Toolist working tom-toolery on a machine in the Night Sweeper’s carriage house. I gave him the kitten and an explanation so he’d know it was a rescue mission. He never said a word but he accepted the kitten. That was two summers ago.

I wonder now if Ink Blot Cat was the same kitten. Or the kitten’s mother, sister, aunt, or cousin, come in the night to pay it forward. To keep me from going astray with that transaction. Perhaps because I’m always nice to them, all of them. I always drive around them when they decide to nap in the street. I say kind things to them when I pass them on a run. When I see them hiding in the brush I whisper encouragement for their hunts. I smile when I hear the screams of their mating rituals though the rest of the village complains.

Many times the authorities have come around to challenge the Night Sweeper but somehow the Night Sweeper prevails and his cat population thrives. Perhaps because the cats are intercessors and the authorities are compelled toward ease even if they aren’t sure why. I’m rather glad I can’t remember the dreamland transaction from which I was saved so I can’t taint the theory with second guesses. Whatever it was, I trust the judgment of Ink Blot Cat and her single-note warning, so simple and effective.

She left her brickside post when I left mine to brush my teeth. She must have gone about other business, down the hill, around the corner. Home after a night’s work. No matter. I know where to find her to thank her, though it feels like a much more potent form of gratitude to believe in her and to confess such belief, which I have now done. I herewith change her name from Ink Blot Cat to Hester Interceptor and I live forthwith in her debt.

— Mercy

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