Chapter one: waiting



         “All cat stories start with this statement: "My mother, who was the first cat,
told me this...”   

 Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle    
 


                

They did the things that cats and boys do. If cats and boys do anything at all. 

Already a mature female of eight when Davey was born, Flora slept in his crib from the day his parents brought him home. She was his royal bodyguard, shielding him from the world’s unknown horrors, luxuriating in his soft, child warmth.  ‘

That cat will suck the breath right out of him when he sleeps,’ Grandma warned.   

‘Piffle,’ said Mother, a word she would use when she wasn’t saying ‘nonsense’ or ‘balderdash.’ 

So Flora and Davey used each other as pillows from the beginning. Flora, a green-eyed tabby who’d spent her early days in a dumpster, had originally been Mother’s cat. Neither of her two other children showed much interest beyond an occasional nuzzle. Now she protected young Davey with a singular devotion. Neither snakes nor demons nor lunar eclipse would threaten her charge. 

As he grew and learned all the things that children need to learn, like walking and talking, Flora stood watch. And while she didn’t intrude on his wobbly first steps and inevitable tumbles, she provided comfort for his tears, and a nest for his worries. 

When everyday dramas and family squabbles sent Davey to bed, it was Flora who absorbed his woeful sobs. 

When he started going to school, they settled into a routine: he saved a few sips of milk and a random Cheerio with each breakfast for her, a farewell pat as she sat on the arm of the davenport, afternoon curled up on Davey’s bed, and then at precisely 3:15 p.m. every day, she would march down the front walk and sit – awaiting his 3:30 return. 

By the time he was eight, when bikes and other boys monopolized his time, when dirtball battles and early evening games of jailbreak kept him away, Flora would sit in the window, silently observing the movement of day into night. 

Mother would do her best to keep her distracted during those long stretches, casually tossing the ball of her yarn off her lap to be batted and clawed or offering sips of her Taster’s Choice coffee. 

By the time Davey was nine, Flora was moving slowly, often sleeping under the kitchen table long after he went to school, ignoring the occasional ball of yarn or morsel of chipped ham dropped into her bowl. 

Toward the end, when Mother warned Davey that Flora wouldn’t be with him much longer, he became the watcher – waking at night with flashlight in hand to find her new hiding place in the closet, when the warm spot on his bed no longer comforted. 

On the final Friday he asked Mother if he could stay home. Dad would have none of it, but once he was off to work, she relented. ‘How unfair!’ his older sister Ellen complained, to no avail. Steven, the oldest by far, just shrugged his shoulders and scruffed Davey’s head before heading off to school.  

And so Davey spent most of the day on the closet floor, practicing his penmanship in a 3-ring binder Mother had rescued from Steven’s discard pile. He hoped if he could get is Ts and Qs right that maybe Flora would get better. 

He’d try to tempt her with saucers of Mother’s half-and-half, or the last precious licks of his Dilly bar. But she only blinked and rested her wobbly head on her thin paws. 

Her eyes had lost their emerald glow. Her fur, now over-licked and scruffy, smelled of spit and something else just beyond each breath, giving the closet a dark, musty air. 

And still he waited. 

Finally at night, Mother found him, blanket and pillow yanked from his bed for his night vigil. 

“She needs to do this alone, Davey.” “But I can’t leave her.” 

Mother knelt down and smoothed his cowlicked mop. “She’s waiting for you, now, honey.” 

She didn’t press or prod, just lingered a moment at the bedroom door before a gentle ‘night night.’ 

As if to answer Mother, Flora painfully dragged herself away from her nest behind the broken toys and mismatched shoes, nuzzled up to her place on Davey’s chest and rested her head on his shoulder, fogging his glasses with her breath. Her purring never stopped. 

But she crawled back a few minutes later, turned around a few times on the pile of abandoned t-shirts, and closed her eyes. 

Davey touched the top of her head with his lips and went to bed. 

The next morning, at the first light of the sun, he tiptoed over to the closet. But he knew before he turned on the light. The closet no longer vibrated with her purrs. 

There she was – one paw stretched out, as if grasping for that last ball of yarn, just out of reach.  

For now, her days of waiting had come to an end.