It was now late October, and (despite the slow passing of each unbearable day), unseasonably warm for Michigan. The trees (which should have been mostly bare), were a glittering amber aglow in the humming street lights, made all the more lustrous by the deep cobalt blue of the sky behind them, like pieces in a velvet jewel box. There was a knowledge we could feel in our skin that the dew would be heavy in the morning.
Kent and I were on The Walk. Silent and solemn, we strolled hand-in-hand along the curves and reaches of Fairway Drive, taking in the oddness of warmth in the evening sky, the strange intensity of the colors, and an unshakeable feeling that something was happening. There was mystery in the air—we could feel it on our cheeks as the humid breezes lightly gusted. We could smell it like a spice, and could faintly taste in the back of our throats. Uncertainty hung. And we were alone.
—I am going to openly admit here that I do not, nor have I ever possessed a particular faith. Prior to that evening, I had never given significant thought to, what we’ll just call, the world beyond—
Kent and I walked on, blanketing ourselves from the evening. Without discussing it Kent began to sing—quiet and low, light but solid. His voice was distinctive, it cut through the dark as I linked on to the song, my own voice dancing on top and then below, weaving in he harmony that was our specialty.
—Things I did have in place:
I believed everything happened for a reason.
I believed that forces, invisible and unnamable were at work in the universe.
I knew that my mother was raised Catholic, my father’s family supper-club Jews (which I supposed made me a “Cashew”??) raised in a largely secular home.
I had gone to Jewish pre-school (and kindergarten!)
I had played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof in High School and was deeply excellent.
I had read Macbeth, and I knew not to fuck with the ouija board—
All at once there was a gust so strong I buried my face in Kent’s chest. He wrapped his arms around me, hands clutching along my back, his own face shielded from the wind within the mass of my hair.
—I believed in good and evil.
I accepted that good and evil was just how the world worked.
I was afraid of unknowns.
There was no one to pray to, there was no structured religion to comfort me, but an inner self-reliant religion of the spirit—
When we looked up, there it was, plain as day.
The cat before us was a silent ginger thing: collarless, and almost impossibly orange with white markings on his face, paws, and a bright white front as if he were wearing a formal dress shirt. He—for you could just sense that it was a he—sat looking upward, paws together, his tail curled perfectly around his feet. One could not deny—no matter how many times you blinked or shook your head—that he was smiling.
Kent and I stared in silence. We looked at the cat. Then at one another. Is this happening? our expressions whispered. My heart twisted in my chest thrusting blood through my entire body but not, for whatever reason, to my brain, which still could not fully comprehend the nature of the creature before us.
Kent crouched down and reached his hand out toward the cat. Psssst psst pssssst, he cooed, rubbing his fingers together, beckoning. The cat walked in a grand circle, making the dramatic entrance of a great actor perfectly catching his light, and approaching, he nuzzled lovingly into Kent’s outstretched hand. Kent smiled. He nuzzled back, scratching under his ginger jowls much to both of their pleasures.
Soon the cat caught my eye and stopped. What? No nuzzling from you? his expression said. I hesitated, but leaned down and stroked the cat along the length of his back. He responded differently to my touch, twisting thoughtfully and placing his head in the crook of my elbow, as if he were doing so with great, overwhelming feeling. It was so intense a gesture that it startled me. I stood, and seemingly having satisfied the cat's needs, quickly backed away and turned toward home. My feet carried me swiftly, practically running from the encounter, Kent rushed up behind me, taking my hand as we moved through the darkness.
All at once Kent’s clutch grew tight. He stopped dead in his tracks. “Al…” he whispered looking beyond my shoulder. I turned.
It was the cat.
—In the same smiling, perfect position.
It was following us home.
We opened the door to 1367, eyes locked on the cat. He hesitated only a moment before walking inside.
“What's going on?” said Mom, sensing something as she came upstairs to the foyer. Catching sight of the cat she stopped dead.
“Who is this?” she asked.
As if she knew what we all knew.
We all knew.
We made way for the cat—the very real, tangible cat—as he slowly surveyed the entire house, placing his paw contemplatively upon the walls, nuzzling up against the corners, soaking the place in with his oddly human eyes. He thundered downstairs in a too-familiar tempo, then thundered upstairs to peak into the office, the bathroom, my bedroom. Finally, he stood before the entrance of the master bedroom. He stared inward through the door left ajar; absolutely still, not breathing, not twitching, frozen in a kind of resolve.
He jumped up onto the bed of Death, circled the side that days ago had been Michael’s, and settled into the spot, head down, eyes closed.
The three of us had followed the cat throughout his house tour—down and up the stairs, and now we lingered in the doorway, agape.
No one made a sound.
“...Mike?” Kent said—it was as if the word fell out of his mouth without the will of the speaker. But the cat opened his eyes, lifted his head, and stared directly at me.
Suddenly he bolted beneath the bed, struggled with an invisible adversary, screeching, mewing, and without any warning, thundered down the stairs and out the still-open front door, never to be heard from again. Like a comet, one moment vivid and dazzling, the next vanished; away on its own journey through the endless dark unknown.
But these things happen.
Nights later, I dreamed: Dad was back, and no one thought it was peculiar or remarkable but me. I made my way downstairs and a particularly well-fed, healthy-looking Dad was leaving the shower in his favorite green velour bathrobe. I did a double-take, stopping him on the landing with sheer joy.
“Dad,” I cried, “Oh Dad, you’re back!”
“Hi Al” he said, smiling hugely, neither confirming nor denying my previous statement, "It's good to see you."
“Oh yes…” I cannot stare at him hard enough, cannot suck in enough of his smell which is so pungent, and real tears fill my eyes, “Papa, we've all missed you.”
He nodded, and with only the slightest tinge of sadness he gathered his green robe close around him and moved to make his way up the stairs.
“Wait! Dad!” I said, “The cat.”
I had to know.
“The cat, Papa. Was—was that…?”
Dad came down a few steps and got as close to me as I could sense he was "allowed."
He laughed a little,
“Of course” he said, eyes sparkling, “but you knew that"
“I knew you’d be afraid of a ghost or an angel, anything like that. I knew you would need to know that you had seen it, touched it. And I just had to make certain everything was okay.” He turned to go again.
“Wait—Papa!” I cried, not wanting him to go just yet, “Please. What’s it like?”
“Al…” he sighed, “you know I can't answer that.”
I nodded again.
He turned to go again, but stopped himself. Then, looking down at me looking up to him doused in the soft, warm glow of my dreams he said,
“It’s everything you hope it is...”
I woke in tears.
Certain of nothing.
Certain only, that we know nothing about the world beyond.
...So why not believe?
Because it happens.
These things do.