This Long, Dark Morning

This morning has come painfully slow.  It’s the first rainy day in many weeks and the dawning sun cannot yet brighten the sky enough to reveal the difference in tone between the shadowed black of the trees and the lowering gray of the clouds.

I’ve been up since 4 am: a fitful night of half-sleep, wondering and worrying how I am going to get my sweet, feral cat Cosette to the vet.  Two days ago she began to limp and hold her left front paw up and out in a gesture of waif-like supplication. It broke my heart instantly – not just because I knew she was in pain, but because I knew what I would have to do to help her.

Cosette has been with me for 12 years; captured wild, pregnant, and barely a year old, one terrible winter. In all the time since, she would not be tamed. In all this time, I have not ever held her, never had her sit on my lap or even beside me on the couch.

She has come to allow me to scratch her head – but only at my full arm’s length, and while I’m sitting down.  She’s always watching my feet. If they point in her direction and start to move, even from across a room, she slithers to ‘safety’ slinking swift and low, like a stream of mercury, away from where I’m headed. Not one of my house guests has ever seen her. A knock on the door or even a strange voice through the front door screen generates a prodigious salmon-leap up the stairs and a flattened scoot under the bed.

On three occasions in our lives together I have had to capture her.  First, when she was caught – skinny and bedraggled, and taken to the vet to be checked out. Next, when I moved into a small apartment after selling my big house.  Then four years ago when I moved into the cozy cottage in Cleveland Heights where we live now.  Each capture was terrible in fear and trauma for her and rather bloody for me.

The house has suited Cosette.  Plenty of windows and a yard full of wildlife to watch from indoors. Some stairs to run and play on – and she does play.  I don’t want to give the impression that, despite her name, she is a poor, unhappy thing. She talks to me and races around the house like any cat. And her particular game is to drop her tiny nerf ball down the stairs, watch it bounce and tumble, then race to catch it and start the game again, yelling at the top of her lungs the whole while. She even has developed a habit of bringing one of her toy mice upstairs and leaving it by the bed as soon as I settle down for the night. Then she brings it back down in the morning, dropping it by my chair as I have my first cup of coffee.

Her coat is the softest pewter gray.  When she lies in the sun she gleams like old silver. She meows softly to wake me in the morning, a little louder when it’s snack time and ‘suppertime’ – a word she knows well.  And if I stay up past what she considers bed time, I hear about that, too.  She sits in the front window when I leave the house and is waiting at the back door when I come home.

But, still, she will not be caught and held.

I had this fantasy that Cosette would live out her life happily with, if distant from me, and one day I’d come home to find she’d passed quietly away.  That’s probably not the most likely scenario, though, and I don’t know what I’d do if she really got sick.  It’s so hard when you can’t make them understand you are trying to help.

So it’s been a long night and a dark morning of planning the campaign. I’s 7:30 now and my neighbor will come to help in an hour. I’ve got what I hope is a good plan of battle: closed-off rooms, a blanket, a broom. Gloves. But it will be terrifying for her.  

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