The Inexplicable Fascination of My Cat

September 21, 2009

My wife called me from the breakfast table this morning to see “something strange”. I came out to the hallway where she was standing and my eyes followed her pointing finger. There was my cat, poised and erect as an Egyptian statue, sitting just inches from the pale green wall, staring at it with an intensity undeserved by such an ordinarily blank surface. The focused feline didn’t even stir as I knelt down to see if there was anything—a bug maybe—that could have demanded his attention so completely, but that particular spot on the wall was as boring and clean a specimen as you’d find anywhere. I wondered if the cat’s advanced senses had detected something, if perhaps those occasionally twitching ears had heard a mouse scurrying amidst the wiring behind the painted drywall. But I couldn’t hear the tell-tale scratching, and so at last I decided it must just be another one of those strange habits that our feline friends delight in torturing us with.

On my way to work, as I drove through a quaint little street lined with a variety of small shops and cafes, I passed a building that had been vacant for as long as I could remember. It had always stood dark and silent against the line of cheerful storefronts, and that’s why I noticed the bright sign that hung in its otherwise empty window. The sign announced in elegant script and classical serif fonts the grand opening of a new art gallery on October first. My wife and I had long been pondering the idea of acquiring some pieces to decorate a few bland walls in our house, so I made a mental note to mention it when I got home.

Work was boring, and as I sat at my desk, staring blankly at my computer screen and typing mindlessly, I felt a little like my cat staring at an empty wall. My cat was still staring at that unimportant spot on the wall when I returned this evening, although he had moved to the other side of the hallway so that I felt like I was awkwardly intruding on a private conversation as I passed between him and his object of inexplicable interest. I told my wife about the art gallery, and she seemed delighted. We plan on attending the grand opening on the first. I think our cat’s favorite wall will make an excellent display for whatever we come home with.

October 1, 2009

My cat is still enamored with that wall, but now there’s something to hold my interest as well. After another boring day of work I returned home to pick up my wife, and together we went to the new art gallery. For nearly an hour we browsed works by a number of local artists ranging from classical portraits to cubist still-lifes. In the end we settled on an abstract landscape of colorful shapes so distorted and mixed together that we really had no idea what it was supposed to depict. Its vague title, Shadows of the Heavens, did little to help us understand its meaning. But we liked it, so now it hangs in our hallway, and our cat’s curious fascination—which has become a little unnerving—seems a bit more justified.

I say the cat’s unusual habit is unnerving, but that’s only true part of the time. During the day it’s just annoying, and I feel occasional urges to pick him up from his vigilant post and force him to just settle down in my lap and relax. In fact I’ve tried it several times, but even as he sits there purring under my caresses he continues to stare straight in the direction of that wall, as though he can see through all the other barriers to whatever interested him. And after he’s set free he returns to his strange sentinel duty, taking breaks only to eat and make use of his litter box.

After the sun sets, however, his unblinking gaze makes me wary. When the house is full of the shadows of the night I find myself avoiding that hallway whenever I can help it. I have heard it said that animals can sense, if not see, things that we humans cannot, and though I consider myself a skeptic, I can’t help but feel a bit nervous when I glance at that spot my cat finds so interesting.

October 13, 2009

Today did not begin well. Somehow I managed to sleep through the obnoxious beep-beep-beep of my alarm, and ended up rising groggily from my bed a half hour late. I skipped breakfast, and as I ran for the door my foot caught on something soft, sending me sprawling to the floor on my hands and knees. The cat, who had been examining the wall as usual, yowled in panic as it shot from under me like a bullet. I wanted to go after it and give the obsessed feline a good kick for bruising my kneecaps, but I was running late enough as it was, so instead I limped angrily out to my car.

As the workday dragged slowly by, I could feel the tender purple spots blossoming where I had hit the ground, and every time I accidentally brushed my knees against my desk a wave of pain rippled up and down my legs. So it was that by the time I returned home I had not forgotten my grudge against our cat, and throughout dinner I kept throwing spiteful glares towards the hallway where it kept watch. There are times when I really don’t understand—wait, what was that noise?

Later

Well, as I was saying, there are times when I really don’t understand why we love cats. Just a few minutes ago my wife and I were lying in bed, she reading her favorite book and me writing in this journal, when we heard a vicious, continuous hissing. We immediately recognized it as that of our cat downstairs, and we wondered what on earth could be upsetting him since we don’t have any other pets. Suddenly there was a tremendous crash, and an unearthly howl preceded the rapid patter of our cat tearing up the stairs and bolting into our room, a dark fuzzy blur as he dashed under our bed.

My wife insisted that I go down to check and see what had caused all the ruckus, and so, with no small amount of grumbling, I trudged down the steps. There lay our new painting, face down on the floor. With a frustrated groan I bent down to check for any damage, and fortunately, especially for the cat’s sake, all was well. I have had it with that cat and his annoying habits, and I don’t know what I would have done with him had the frame been scratched or the glass protecting the painting cracked. After returning the artwork to its place on the wall, I went back to bed and explained everything to my wife, who seemed much more forgiving of our troublesome pet than I was. She says I’ve just had a bad day, and that when I wake up in the morning everything will be better. But I bet I’ll come down those stairs to find our cat focused as intently as ever on that ordinary wall, and it will drive me nuts.

Anyway, tomorrow I plan on re-hanging the painting more securely so the cat can’t knock it down again.

October 28, 2009

I wonder if I am subconsciously beginning to believe those stories about the feline “sixth sense”. At first our cat’s obsession with the wall was cute, and then it became annoying. Now it has morphed into nothing short of disturbing.

In spite of the securest methods of hanging I could devise, the painting on that wall continues to end up on the floor. At first it was just a couple times a week, but now we are awoken by its crashing every night. I have even given up replacing it, and have for now simply leaned it on the floor against the wall, but still it is tipped over every morning.

I continue to blame the cat’s mischief, although my wife doesn’t agree. She doesn’t see how I can believe our pet managed to climb halfway up the wall without the aid of any furniture and lift the relatively heavy work of art off its hooks. I think I know she’s right, but I refuse to admit it. I’m afraid of what it might mean.

The cat doesn’t just stare at the wall anymore; he stalks it, he tries to frighten it. As he approaches his pace slows; he cautiously places one paw perfectly in front of the other without making a sound, as though tip-toeing in order to sneak by. Then he arches his back and his hair bristles like a porcupine. His eyes widen, green orbs glowing in the dark hallway, and his black slit pupils dilate into wild spheres. As we watch him transform, his throat rumbles with a low gravelly whine, and at any moment we expect him to spring at the pale green drywall and unleash the fury of his razor sharp claws.

Halloween is fast approaching, and tonight my wife and I brought home a pair of bright orange pumpkins and performed that annual ritual of festive dissection, transforming those innocent gourds into ghoulish monstrosities. They are sitting on the kitchen table right now, their wide grins flickering with the yellow light of the candles nestled within their hollow shells. On Halloween night we will set them in the hallway where trick-or-treaters will see them when we open the front door to pass out candy.

November 1, 2009

Everything has changed for us. The only bright side now is that we still have each other. Let me explain.

Halloween night, as trick-or-treating was coming to a close, my wife and I left our bowl of candy on the front porch with a note inviting any straggling candy-seekers to help themselves while we went for a moonlit walk through the neighborhood to admire the graveyards, ghosts, and jack-o’-lanterns that adorned each and every house. I was breathing deeply the scent of seared pumpkin flesh when a fleet of fire engines, sirens wailing and lights flashing, sped past us. We looked to see where they were headed and saw rising above the rows of silhouetted homes a smoky orange glow. I felt the fist of fear close around my heart as I realized the firelight was emanating from the direction of our own house, so I grabbed my wife’s hand and led her as fast as I could back the way we had come.

Looks of horror danced across our faces as we stood illuminated in the flickering blaze that was once our home, feeling in the waves of heat the loss of every material possession and memory contained within that condemned building. We received our only scrap of good news that night when a fireman came running to us, clutching to his chest a dirty ball of quivering fuzz. Our cat smelled strongly of smoke, his whiskers were singed, and he was terribly frightened, but otherwise he was fine. I’m pretty sure he was responsible for the inferno that was devouring our home. I could see it playing out in my head as he rubbed too hard against the lit jack-o’-lanterns perched precariously on the table in the hall, sending one tumbling to the floor where it shattered, releasing its tiny flame to grow as it feasted on our house. But now I didn’t care who was to blame; I was only glad our entire family was safe.

The next morning, after a sleepless night in a cheap hotel, I returned to the desolation that was once our nest. There it stood, a blackened framework of splinters, a ghost of what it once had been, enough of it remaining that I could still trace the floor plan and wander from room to room, remembering what used to be. I chuckled cheerlessly to myself as I paused where my cat had once sat and stared at the wall, remembering how much it had annoyed me at the time, and then a stirring of the ashes at my feet caused me to look down. My toe nudged the spindly remains of the frame that had held Shadows of the Heavens. The painting itself was completely consumed and the protective glass was warped and cracked by the heat. But then I saw something else behind the glass, framed in the remains of our painting. There, in the narrow space once occupied by that most intriguing wall, staring up at me with hollow sockets and an emotionless grin, was a charred and broken skeleton.

James Colton

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