Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Friday, October 14, 2011

Church cats

Alex and Vicky went to the Termales in Uruguay for the weekend and left me in charge of the cat. Just make sure he gets fed, Alex said, then she laughed; we all knew that of course the cat would be fed—overfed even, and spoiled rotten. I love Pirucho so much that Alex and Vicky call him my boyfriend. He is in love with me, too; I enter the apartment and he swirls around my legs and in the morning he cries at my bedroom door until I let him inside.

Pirucho worked steadily on his food that first day Alex and Vicky were gone, and by evening the little red dish was empty. Ok, dinner! I told him as he cried and swirled, begging. But the door to the food-closet wouldn’t open; it was jammed and no amount of pushing and pulling and swearing could get it open. Sorry, Pirucho, I told him, and he pressed himself up against my shins and moaned.

Guess how much longer Pirucho cried before I went out to buy him another bag of food?

The next day, when Alex and Vicky came home, they pointed out that the bag I’d purchased at the supermercado on the next block wasn’t suitable. This kind gives cats kidney problems, Alex explained. She told me she had a friend whose cat mysteriously died at a young age, and they later found out it was kidney problems. All her life, that poor cat had eaten the type of food I’d purchased.

Okay, we can just toss it then, I said.

No, no, Alex laughed. She asked me if I knew the church down the block, behind the plaza. I did. Just bring the food there! She suggested. A mountain of cats live there; give it to them.


So today I take the bag of food, which has been sitting, swathed in plastic bags, on top of the fridge, far from greedy Pirucho. I go outside, cross the street, walk through the plaza, and come to the church, which is massive and has been painted a grainy coral. On this afternoon it looks warm and radiant, surrounded by sweeping palms and ankle-length grass.

And cats. The cats, if you look closely, are everywhere. They’re nestled in the grass, in the crooks of trees, in the corners of doorways. They’re perched on steps, they hide behind rocks, I shake the bag of food and they come inching towards me, stretching, pricking their ears, taking their time.  I’m not one of the grandmothers that frequents this place, but they know the sound of food in a bag.

I pour the food out onto the grass through the bars that surround the church; the cats wait until I’ve gone to approach it. I turn back and there they are, eating steadily and flicking their tails. This afternoon, it’s warm enough for a t-shirt and skirt. The air feels slower on this side street, and heavy with late sunshine. The trees shade the cobblestones and the feasting cats. I love it here, I think for the hundredth time. In moments like these, I let myself forget I won’t be here forever.


And then there are the moments like these: I walk to the store, or walk to the school, or walk to the train, and the scent of lilac comes to me in the wind, then disappears. Home, some voice says inside me right then. It's not always lilac; sometimes it's bread, sometimes it's mud. Sometimes it's the profile of a woman's face as she buys flowers. Home. The word comes often and unbidden; it’s always just that one word. I push the reminder away, because I want nothing more than to stay here. These are the days, aren’t they? The church cats, the gold light, the music, the music. The open window in the night. I love the air here. But the word comes and comes, and deep down I know why: it's because I want nothing more than to come home.

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