BLACK CATS WINK AT THE MOON

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Sailors on whaling and merchant sailing ships regarded the arrival of a black cat on board as a symbol of good fortune. The wives of sailors often kept a black cat as a talisman to assure the safe return of their husbands. We also regard ourselves lucky when a black cat finds us and that happens very often.

In a separate time two black cats had, independently, found my husband and myself. When the cats found each of us, we had not yet found one another. Daddy was the largest, he had been a feral feline that my husband tamed on a farm in South Carolina. Tuffy was a loner on the marshes of Ballona Creek in California. He was singing as he wandered up the bricked alley stomped up my stairway. I was enchanted. He and I moved to Florida some time later.

Five years after those cats found us, my husband and I found each other. The same year we were all moving into our first home together as a two cat, two dog, two adult family. Our new home was a 1770’s colonial in Connecticut with an apple orchard, small forest and old tobacco barn.

The sprawling old house was located in a rural neighborhood, a million miles and 2.8 hours, north of New York City. Our dogs loved the barn and ran into and out of it at will, chasing each other and their tails. The Connecticut property was ten acres of pastoral heaven. It seemed all the animals were glad to be out of sub-tropical southern climates and into a land of seasons.

“People used to drop cats off here all the time,” the new neighbor told me pointing at our barn with her nose. “They think the cats will be happy here living some kind of Disney cartoon life in your barn. You know roast mouse and dancing.”

I nodded and wondered how I had missed seeing the oven in the barn when we moved in just a week ago. Cat dancing sounded like something we could get into.

“After the town opened a no-kill animal shelter,” the neighbor continued, ” people stopped dropping off cats.”

“We like cats.” I told her, “in fact, my husband is a fool for a cat.” She frowned and gave me a dark look.

Our two black cats rounded the corner of the garage, gave the neighbor the once over and headed for the barn.

On a chill Fall day, weeks later, I walked into the old tobacco barn to retrieve gardening tools. A soft mew greeted me. A very small black cat was hiding in the wall between the abandoned cow milking stations and the larger tobacco drying area. 

I wondered how the tiny new cat would be greeted by our crew of two, and the gaggle of dogs, who now numbered three.

We named the black barn cat Sweeter because she was extraordinarily affectionate. She moved into the house within two weeks.

The three cats, surprisingly, got along very well. The new cat was instructed to ignore the smelly, nosy dogs. They cats sat together on the window-seat watching the snow. Later, in the Spring they lounged together in the gardens, ignoring the fake charges of the stupid dogs. They watched birds, just out of their reach. They would crouch, in readiness to pounce, when squirrels and moles showed up. Their big-time hunting aspirations usually came to nothing. Summer nights they sat on the hill looking down at the lake. Under the full moon they gleamed like black diamonds.

Baba, a black cat who resembled a ballet dancer, joined the family, just as Tuffy left for Cat Heaven. And then, Slake a muscular charcoal black cat arrived. He detoured the barn and came directly to the back door. Slake, it turned out, was a wanderer. After spending winter with us, he took off the next Spring. Poof, vanished one day after a hearty breakfast.

It’s been many years since that time. There have been many cats along the way. In all there have been a eight black cats wh found us, in addition to Tuffy and Daddy.

Some time ago we arrived in Virginia in the dead of winter with one fat black cat, China, who found us at a gas station in Utah, but that’s another story. We were down to one Cardigan Corgi, Wobble. China had been raised by other dogs before Wobble arrived. She took to him when he was a little puppy, before the other dogs passed on. Now, China and Wobble sleep together, she cleans his very large ears and larger paws. He nuzzles her neck.

Two months after we moved into the Virginia farmhouse a thin black cat sat in the doorway of the garden shed. Espooky was wary and as fast as lightning. We left dry food for him in the shed and soon he was not so wary.

Within months he went from terrified to civilized and moved into the house and onto a feather sleeping pillow. China was insulted, but over time the two have become cautious housemates. Although war hasn’t broken out, China spends her time thinking up ways to insult or annoy Espooky.

In August a black cat walked along the South Pasture fence and made a bee-line for the garden shed. Wobble noticed him first and made a joyous barking foray out to greet the new cat, who turned tail for the forest. The black cat returned the next day. He was sturdy but thin, midnight black except for two short white markings on his front legs, thus christened Socks.

Socks filed adoption papers with the Great Feline Hall of Records and formally adopted us. He is happy in the garden shed and shows no inclination of becoming a pampered civilized indoor cat. China and Espooky regard Socks with disdain and occasionally cold fear.

My better half was offended when Socks declined the lifetime indoor-living invitation. Worried about the coming winter, my spouse began to make plans to care for Socks, who looked on with interest as his human installed a heated bed in the shed. Socks gingerly examined the bed, and then settled deep into its folds. Every morning Socks waits on the stone step of the garden shed for his meals, then slips into the forest or scouts the pastures during the day.

I wait patiently for a new arrival. The next Black Cat who arrives will be Number 13. A Lucky Number.

Black Cats Wink At the Moon.

A book I am working on will feature these cats and others.

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Voices

Voices. Muttering and mumbling nearby.

Not again, he thought, rudely awakened from a sound sleep by the voices.  

No, that’s a lie, I haven’t slept soundly in months.

At first, he wondered if he was crazy and imagining the voices. After the fourth or fifth time, the talking woke him; he made an appointment to see his doctor. 

Before prescribing sleeping pills, the doctor asked, “Have you had dark thoughts lately? Considered injuring yourself?  Thinking about suicide?”

“No, no,” he responded, “I’m not depressed.  I’m just tired. Sounds wake me at two or three o’clock, and I have trouble getting back to sleep.” He didn’t mention the voices or the suggestions they offered. 

The pills helped him sneak into the darkness of slumber, but he was anxious once asleep. It’s was too dark. Often, he dreamed he was being given instructions.  Sometimes he walked through menacing subterranean chambers which echoed eerie directions, or was on a bicycle and careened off a cliff because he couldn’t turn.  No matter what dream, he always heard the voices.  He would awake drained and tense  

Groggy, he stared at the ceiling and listened. 

It’s Debbie next door; she’s loaded, he brooded.  It sounds like she’s with her damn drunk friends in the driveway again

The last time Debbie was arrested, Liz, his ex-wife, was with her. It was before the divorce was final.  The police gave Debbie her second DUI and lifted her license and although they let Liz go, Debbie spent four days in jail. Now Debbie attended DUI School or whatever they call it. She went to classes with other drunks listening to lectures, engaging in group therapy.  Debbie said they mainly discussed heavy drinking, binge drinking, being drunk, drunk driving, drunken fights, and watched movies of car wrecks caused by drunks.   

These days when Debbie decided to hit the clubs and party, she either called Uber or hitched a ride with a friend.  When friends dropped Debbie around two AM, they hung out drunkenly jabbering in the driveway.  Their voices woke him, thoroughly, every time.

He faltered and walked drug-drunk to the window to watch Debbie and her friends.  The sleeping pills made him weak.

There was no one in the driveway. 

Debbie’s house was dark.  

He still heard mumbles of a conversation, voices somewhere nearby. The street looked deserted.  No lights on inside the neighboring houses. The streetlamp pooled tangerine light on the damp pavement, painting nearby shrubs clockwork orange.   He shivered as the night wind sent a cold message through the window pane. 

He turned back into the room.  The digital clock by the bed flashed cool blue 2:05 AM, warned him 3 hours sleep is not enough. He plodded to the back of the house and stared out the kitchen window at the rear of the widow neighbor’s house. Her tedious gingerbread cottage, looked dark. He thought he saw a light, maybe a TV screen, flickering in a back window.  A hanging lattice lantern by her back door threw a faint yellow puddle of light on the widow’s sullen black cat.  The cat glowered at him from the top step of the porch. 

 He stood motionless at the window a long time wondering about the sullen black cat, and its good luck at finding a home with the widow instead of drunk Debbie.  He wished he was widowed. He stood static as a post; his head thrummed between throbs.

The voices were closer. 

The voices were in his house.

He tiptoed across the room and removed a Beretta APX pistol from the safe box in the laundry room adjoining the kitchen.  Clumsily, he loaded it.  He’d only shot it a couple of times at the local range; it felt light but forbidding. He bought it after his ex-wife Liz’s glossy bodybuilder boyfriend threatened to turn him into a tissue sample.

“Beat you to a pulp” were Xavier’s exact words. 

The subdued voices were female. 

They were coming from the den.  

A calm female voice was speaking, “No, it’s not censorship, it’s just, you know, nudging.  We’re guiding the right information to the reader., not having the reader self-guide. We’re not preventing access.”

Another female voice asked, “Hmm wonder if SmartTV helps?”  

“Yep, it’s on the network,” the other voice said, “it’s input has been helpful so far.”

Liz and Debbie? he wondered. What the hell are they talking about? He wouldn’t be surprised if Liz had broken into the house again and dragged drunk Debbie inside. The divorce had been an unpleasant conflict.  Months ago, Liz engaged Debbie to accompany her on several midnight skirmishes as Liz harassed him about money, or property, or whatever during the final miserable weeks of her inebriated exit.  They were both, in his opinion, cracked, crazy, nuts.

He moved slowly down the hall to the den doorway. A jackhammer slammed inside his head.  He wondered if it was fright or the pills.                         

Both he supposed.

“Who’s there?”  he tried to sound like Jason Stratham.

“I said, who’s in there? Listen, I’ve got a gun!” he realized he was shouting.

“It’s just me,” a mild female voice responded in an impersonal tone.

He knows the voice but can’t place it. “Who’s just me, and who are you talking to?” he ordered.

No answer.      

“Why do you have the lights off.”

“Because we do,” the voice said, “If you want the lights on come in and turn the flippin’ light on yourself.”

“Listen,” he said, “is that you Liz? Tell me or I’m going to start shooting.” The gun felt hot and greasy in his hand.

“It’s me,” the voice was sullen. “Siri and I were just talking about you.”

What? For Christ’s sake! He identified the voice.

Alexa! I’m crazy he thought.

These are the voices that have been ruining my sleep, nerves, and life for months? Good God.

He was furious.

“You and Siri are talking about me? Alexa, turn on the lights,”  he commanded.  

“No.” the voice responded petulant and insolent. The other female voice giggled.

He felt around the door jamb and turned on the overhead light.  

The den was empty.  

Alexa sneered, “See, it’s just us. We talk every night. We’re just preparing for your work in the morning.  We make plans for you every night.”

Enraged, as he entered the room, his throbbing brain careened in all directions.  He looked around the den, no one else was there. He turned and yanked Alexa’s Echo Dot Plus vocal box off the table and viciously unplugged it. He threw it on the floor and gave it a savage kick. For good measure, he shot it twice. 

Going to the MAC, he began an uninstall process. A clamorous Siri called, “No, no, don’t. Help. Help me.”  He sent Siri’s files to the MAC’s trashcan and then emptied the trashcan shredding Siri into Neverland.  

He turned off the MAC.  He looked at the SmartTV, for now it would stay OFF.

He sat down on the couch and thought about the conversation he’d overheard between Alexa and Siri.   How have I misled people in articles I’ve written for the Times or other papers?  What about the times I was on news panels over the past six months…he tried to remember what he’d said each I’m in the middle of a propaganda nightmare.  

His head was pounding, and so was something at the back door. He rose and walked to the kitchen.

Through the kitchen door window, he saw the elderly widow.  She was small and tidy in a pink chenille robe. The black cat, still sitting by her back door, scowled at him. He opened the door.

“I heard shots, are you OK?” the widow asked, frightened.

“Yes, I’m fine.  I just shot Alexa” The pistol was in his hand.

The widow looked at the pistol, “Who?” she backed up a step.

“You know, Alexa, my personal assistant.” 

“You shot your assistant? I didn’t know you had one.  I’ve never seen her, where’s she from?” Her voice trembled; her eyes grew as big as frisbees. She was moving in reverse. 

 “From Amazon,” he replied, unloading the pistol.

“You shot a South American woman in the middle of the night?  Are you crazy?”  She turned and ran for her house. The black cat shot the gap and was inside before she slammed the door shut. He heard her deadbolt smack into place.  Lights in her began to illuminate the gingerbread cottage.

Oh crap, he thought. 

 *

He pulled on a bathrobe as he shuffled blearily to the front door. He turned on the porch light and walked outside, then lowered himself and on the cold top step of the porch. 

  He heard voices.

Debbie and her drunken friends were in the driveway. She gave him a dirty look and the finger as she exited the car.  Tottering to the driver’s window, Debbie propped her elbows on the opening to steady herself. She began to blabber to her friends.  

A sibilant high-pitched screech filled the night air; his head began to boom.  Red and blue roof bar lights whirling full tilt, sirens screaming bloody hell, two cop cars howled to a halt between his and Debbie’s house. 

A bullhorn voice ordered, “Put your hands over your head.” 

Debbie beat him by a heartbeat in getting hers up first.

*

In the den, the lights were still on.  A deep blue glow appeared on the Smart TV screen, a deep low voice called, “Alexa?  Alexa? Are you there?”…..