The Absence of a Cat
Trigger warning: this post is about pet loss.
This is my Henri. He was the best of cats. Below is a story that illustrates how I felt about him.
Edge of Life
The fade began at the very edge of Nan’s life. Like an old photo, left in the sun. The colors of her peripheral vision began to wash out. She made a note to get her eyes checked. But her eyes were fine. The fade crept in, so gradually that she couldn’t track it. She lost color and detail in her daily life. At work, people flowed around her like water rushing over a stone in a river, wearing it down. One day someone else sat in her seat.
Nan realized that she had become that photo, the image bleached away, but she was still there. She was becoming one of the missing, who simply fade from view. No one knew because no one cared.
At home, she still had Henri, her big, steady black cat. Night times they shared a pillow. She shared his dreams.
They were monochrome, but full of sharp edges. Full of birds and blades of grass, rain on windowpanes. And the woman. Nan saw herself, large, and comfortable, as Henri saw her. Her eyes, like amber, blazed with the only color that lived in their invariant dreams. Nan was alive, solid in them.
They caught house spiders in their sharp teeth and crunched them down. Sometimes they caught bigger things.
Daylight slivered her down, like soap in the shower. Till she was almost gone. As she lost definition, she lost feeling. She could not feel the space her body took, nor the tea she drank. No taste. No warmth.
Henri caught her as she slipped, as she began to dissipate. The sting of his claws yanked her away from the yawn of the gray fade, pinned her back into the world. He wouldn’t let her implode into the fade and join the forgotten.
Now she moves through the world without shadow or presence. Only Henri sees her. They sleep together still, but he keeps his dreams. He is her last bit of warmth.
Nan is a ghost in her house, new people live in it. They feed Henri. He is polite, accepts the touch of their hands on his head, their kibbles in a bowl. But at night he curls around Nan. The world is this tight circle. Nan can almost feel the rumble in his chest.
This story was published in February of this year by Everyday Fiction. I wrote it in the dead of night in the middle of the pandemic. Henri was curled up next to me, purring in his sleep. I'm posting it here because I think it illustrates what he was to me. He was the single reason I made it through those nights. When I had COIVD, early on, and couldn't get out of bed he never left me.
A few weeks ago, I lost Henri to heart failure. It was terrible and unexpected. I live in a house full of people, cats, and a dog, but none of them are Henri. I know there will be other cats in my life, that's how it seems to work, but none of them will be him.