Circe’s Ghost

It is dusk. My younger son looks out the window and sees, amidst the strange topiary of the Filipino garden opposite, a white cat drinking from a white fountain. I say white but that is not strictly true: the fountain in this light is cream, the skinny cat a yellowed shade that seems a diminuendo of the colour of the basin before which it is poised. A couple of evenings later, alone, I see it again, in the same place, in the same pose, drinking: still, as if carved, like those stone birds you sometimes see placed at the lip of a pool. I have never seen this cat before but now look for it slinking through the crepuscular half-dark of any other evening when I am here, idle, expectant, watching; but it does not appear. Or perhaps I have. Seen it before. There was that night, too long ago now to remember how long, when I saw green eyes glinting up from the north wall of the garden; the night I saw the future, the one without us in it. When a spectral window opened into the beyond then, as spectrally, closed again. I have been living another future, the one without you, for a long time: more than half my life. Each year when your anniversary comes around I remember how long and, this time, sitting before my emptied plate at the window, I wonder if tonight I will see—what? Not the scrawny yellow cat, that is just a prompt, but something else, some sign perhaps, or sigla: a figure of absence that encodes presence. This is the foolishness of survivors, this is how we continue, imagining the possibility of what we know can’t be. You had a white cat once, her name was Circe, she was long-haired and stupid and gave birth in the hot water cupboard to four mewling kittens white as herself; which she neglected and they became so flea-infested it was hard to see how they had enough blood left over to nourish themselves. I forget what happened; maybe one was run over by the family car that day when we were all packed up and ready to go away on holiday; and so remember, involuntarily, the kitten’s pinkish brain protruding like a stalk with an eye upon it as the right rear tyre of the Valiant squashed its head. But I think that one was a tabby. We had so many cats. Circe; a tragic pet; one you loved like life itself—but you did not really love life, or not later on when you tried, voluntarily, several times, to leave; and in the end did so. It’s later now, dark, or dark as it gets in the suburban night. The white sodium glow of the streetlight casts stark shadows down upon the Filipino’s garden and I wonder again what makes him trim topknots into his shrubs so that they look like de-natured Daleks; if such a thing can be. And where were the Christmas lights this year? And what about the letters along the bricks at the front, that used to identify the house as a day care centre? Where have they gone? None of these questions signify, I ask them simply in order to keep on writing; as if afraid to stop; as perhaps I am. Not scared to enter the silence into which you have preceded me, that doesn’t bother me; but an opposite fear: that silence will enter me, that I will be rendered wordless. Some movement from the shadows comes and I look; but no, it’s nothing; or nothing I can name. And then I hear a voice that sounds like yours: What’s the matter? it says, with a ghost or glimmer of a smile. Cat got your tongue?

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