It starts when I ask my Russian house painter not to let out my black cat, Maggie May, while I’m away. It’s unlikely she’ll bolt, she’s old, I say, but still, would he just be careful.
Careful, Victor says. I promise careful. Cat will never get near door. Victor is adamant, as he attacks my window sill with a fresh sheet of sandpaper.
I ask him why he’s so vehement. He tells me about a big painting job he had for a wealthy couple in the city a few years back. The husband warned him about their one pet, a black cat named Mehetabel, who was an escape artist. Both husband and wife worked every day until after 6 pm., Victor explains, that he was alone with a cat who spent much of the time looking out one of the downstairs windows, eying birds.
Mehetabel escaped one day, probably familiar with Victor’s work schedule. It happened after he cleaned up for the day, checking to see he had his keys, thermos, and lunch bag. I open door, he says. The next thing I see is damn cat flying out door! I run after him like crazy man. Cat goes in bushes, cat climbs up tree, then cat crosses the street, but I run like wild animal too and catch him. I pick him up by the folds of the neck, the way you do with cat.
Everything is fine until I see another black cat just like first cat I am holding! Cat Two looks at me. He’s moving, but slowly. I grab him too. They are like same cat, green eyes, short black hair.
I bring both cats into house. I don’t know which cat is right cat. But I don’t want customers mad at me…I’m tired, it’s hot day. I live far. I call family later when I am home. I leave message. But no return call. Nothing! That is that. Two cats I leave, exactly the same. How can I know the right cat? Victor shakes his head. You think customers might want to know why two cats are in home, but no.
Next day I go back to job, and two black cats are staring at me. Now I must be sure not one, but two cats stay in house! I look for some explanation, anything. No note. Nothing. And so I continue my work with two cats, like, oh sure, everything normal. Cats seems fine though. They sleep, eye birds, no more escapes thankfully. I work hard, I do good job. I go home.
Victor smiles. I do wonder about life, sometimes, when I think of two cats. He looks out my window thoughtfully. He says no more.
Wait, so what happened with the cats? I ask, confused. I don’t understand, I say.
What happened? says Victor. Nothing. I finish. People leave me a check when job is done a week later.
But why wouldn’t the owners mention the additional cat to you, I ask. I can hear frustration in my voice. Do you think they simply became fond of the new cat, too? Did no one leave flyers about a missing cat? They really never mentioned it to you, not once?
Victor laughs this time, before shaking his head.
I laugh, too. I can’t help it. I stretch and heat us up some strong black coffee. I offer Victor some of the Italian sesame cookies I made earlier for my grandkids. It’s no trouble. I can bake more later. Sitting there with our mugs and our cookies, we sip, and muse, enjoying a quiet moment of wonder.
Tamara began her MFA experience while teaching English full-time at a community college until she retired in January of 2019. She completed her MFA in Fiction Writing through VCFA, and while she started out determined to write only short stories, she became equally as enthusiastic about writing memoir and essay, especially mixing the forms! Tamara lives in Chicago, IL with her cat, Mischa, and her dog, Rooney.