THE GHOST CAT
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
We’ve had some wonderful cats, over the years. In fact, some of my best friends were cats. Therefore, if one or more of these favorite familiars were able to return from beyond “Life Nine”, even if only in spirit form, I would not hesitate to say, “Welcome back!” I’m thinking about specific cats, beloved cats, cats who have, alas, been gone too long.
Other felines have followed in their paw steps. One of these was a curious creature, a stray that Eunice brought home, one day. Her funny little face made me immediately think of a book I had, when I, myself, was still a kitten. The book had a round hole, neatly cut out of the cover that revealed a padded fabric cat’s face with glow in the dark eyes. I often held the book up to a light; then went into a darkened closet to see those bright eyes shine. The face, itself, was actually a pin-back button, attached to the inside of the back cover. There was a hole in every page that matched the one on the front cover. Thus, as each successive page was turned, the little round wide-eyed face would peer through the holes, and remain visible, at all times.
One day, several years ago, I walked out onto the back porch, and, suddenly, saw that familiar face, again. Sitting on Eunice's lap was a small black and white cat with that same little face, looking up at me, with a white muzzle and eyes, so round and wide, they looked like she’d just seen a ghost! And I exclaimed, "It's SPOOKY!" the face and title of that little book. And that's how Spooky got her name. With time and trust, she and her eyes began to look less frightened. But, it only took a sudden move, or unknown sound, to see that wide-eyed look again.
Spooky proved to be as good a cat as anyone could ask for. Throughout the day, her behavior was unpredictable; she did whatever suited her, when and if she wanted to. She always remained a little distant and detached, and never failed to ignore Fritz.
Fritz, our only other remaining cat, at the time, was a survivor. He had been with us for a record setting number of years, and had lived to see many other cats, including my all-time favorite, Peewee, come and go. Now in his declining years, Fritz just liked to lie around, and his body language broadcast, loud and clear, “Don’t bother me!” Spooky got the message, and went about her daily non-routine, as if, he wasn’t there.
Nighttime, was a different matter; at night Spooky’s behavior became predictable and routine. Every night, she slept with us. Well actually, although, there were three of us in the bed, she, more or less, slept with me. And she waited for me, faithfully, always in the same place, next to the end table at the bottom of the stairs, to walk up to bed with me, each night. On very rare occasions, if I came to bed extremely late, she would tire of the wait, and head up to the bed, without me.
Eunice and I slept on a raised platform, a sort of mezzanine I built myself. It was about three feet high, and occupied one third of the thirty foot long combination living room and secret bedroom. There is a waist high wall, around the sleeping area that offered just the right amount of privacy, and formed a six and a half foot tall wall, when viewed from the room below. The ceiling is extremely high, 14 foot or so, so this arrangement allowed us to have a private enough bedroom, and at the same time, share in the luxuriously large unbroken space that was once a schoolroom.
A wide stairway, to the left side of, and behind an ell shaped extension of the dividing wall, led to the sleeping area. A couch with built-in coffee tables, attached to each end, fit perfectly into the ell shaped space. A leaded glass lamp sat on the end of the long coffee table by the stairs, and sits there, still. As I passed it, on my way to bed, I would stop, bend down and turn it off, on nights that it was left alight. It was here, on the shag rug, beside the coffee table, whether the light was lit, or not, that Spooky waited for me, every night.
The routine was always the same. I knew how to maneuver the route from the bathroom to the bed, and often did, in total darkness. Every night I would exit the bathroom, turning out the lights behind me, and wend my way through the hall and archway into the large room. Then I’d continue, past the couch and coffee table, where Spooky would, immediately, jump up and greet me by rubbing up against my leg. This nightly routine became almost comical, at times, as she would continue to rub against me, hit and miss, on every step, up the stairs and across the mezzanine to bed. I learned to feel my way along carefully, in total darkness, so Spooky could weave, in and out, between my feet, without either getting kicked, or causing me to trip. Many times, she almost did. And I would reach out in the darkness and touch some nearby object in order to regain my balance. It’s a miracle that this little trip to bed each night did not succeed in tripping me.
I might add that I usually worked late most evenings, and therefore, Eunice often preceded me to bed. Even on early nights, I’d let her use the bathroom first, and head up to “warm the bed”, before me. Whatever the variation might be, Spooky always waited up for me, there, beside the coffee table at the bottom of the stairs. I think she liked the tricky game of weaving in and out between my legs, as we walked together, up to bed.
She played a similar game, each morning. Whenever, I donned my shoes and socks, Spooky eagerly rushed over to mess around, and make it as difficult as possible for me to get them on. Every aspect of that process she considered fun, until the last well swatted shoe lace was tied, and the game was done. Then she’d casually walk away, and go about her business for the day. Sometimes our paths would never cross, until bedtime, when we met beside the coffee table again.
One night, I had been working late. Eunice had gone to bed earlier than me, but not by all that much. I did all the usual stuff, brushed my teeth etc. and left the bathroom, putting out the lights behind me. The other lights were off already, and I walked along the couch where I met Spooky, and felt her rubbing up against my leg, as she would on any other night. Something about her touch was slightly different, a difference, so subtle that it later proved to be beyond my ability to describe. It didn’t attract my attention at the time; only thinking back, did I recall the ethereal delicacy of the touch. But it was, essentially, the same as always, the full weight of her body leaning against me, the rising arching of her back, as it moved along my leg. It was the unmistakable caress of an affectionate cat, and yet… although, it didn’t strike me as unusual, then, only later, did I remember, the ever so subtle tingling in my leg.
What did surprise me at the moment, was the fact that I made it to the first step, and then, onto the landing without feeling her rub up against me again. I stepped up two more steps onto the sleeping area, and hesitating, as I always did, so I wouldn’t bump into her as she would weave around my legs, I never encountered her again, throughout the 20 feet distance to the bed. I sat down on the edge of the bed, wondering where she went, and my hand touched something warm and furry. It was Spooky, and from her heavy breathing I could tell that she was SLEEPING soundly!
I found this extremely disconcerting. The inner sensors that have been known to signal me, when “something” extra-ordinary is near, were issuing a warning; sounding an alarm! What cat had caressed me at the bottom of the stairs? It had to have been Fritz. And yet, that would not be something he would be likely to do, even as a kitten. I sat there for a moment debating, whether or not; I should risk waking Eunice by turning on the light. It took me only a few seconds to realize that I really had No Choice. I Had to Know! So, I turned on the reading light by my side of the bed. And, yes, it did wake Eunice, and she was both puzzled and pissed off. I explained that I’d explain later, but for now; there was no time to waste. I jumped up and looked over the wall, with one thought in mind: Where’s Fritz?
I saw him. And a sudden sickening feeling made me wish I didn’t. He was across the room, sound asleep on the white sofa, where he had been all evening, and for that matter, throughout most of the day. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I scanned the room half thinking I might see another cat down there; and made myself walk down the stairs to look around. I saw nothing unusual. Fritz was as sound asleep as Spooky. I described what had occurred to Eunice, who was, by then, fully awake. She was clearly not amused, nor was she convinced.
Soon the lights were off again, and I found myself in bed, more unwilling than unable to fall asleep. I was assessing and, admittedly, enjoying my unpredictable emotions. Once I got over the immediate reaction, I was not frightened. In fact, I was essentially elated. I felt a tangible sensation of warmth and happiness, as I lay there, wondering and hypothesizing, which cat this ghost might be. I went through the long list of dear departed pets, reminiscing and remembering each one, fondly. And, all the while, hoping, wishing, sensing that this was my beloved buddy, Peewee. I thought of all the many happy hours we had spent together, listening to music. I had seldom played the stereo, since he passed away, and on the rare occasions when I did, I always wished that he was with me. Lying there in the darkness, thinking of the ghost cat, I allowed myself to fantasize that from that moment on, he might be.
In the end I told myself that it didn’t matter which cat it was, I loved them all, to some degree, and I knew that the unmistakable sensation that I now lay there reliving, in endless instant replays, was that of a cat affectionately rubbing up against my legs, and that it was a friendly spirit. And that was, for the moment, and would always have to be, enough for me. I finally fell asleep, still glowing with a kind of happiness.
Several weeks later, I had finally stopped looking for the ghost cat, and had given up hoping that it might come back again, when, quite unexpectedly, it DID!
On this occasion, even though it was quite late when I came to bed, the light on the coffee table was still lit. As I bent over to turn it off, I looked around for Spooky, and saw that she was nowhere to be seen. The act of staring directly down onto the light, had temporarily contracted the irises of my eyes, so the darkness that surrounded me when I clicked it off, seemed all the darker than it might have been.
I had no sooner stood up straight again, than I felt the unmistakable sensation of a cat, rubbing up against my leg, and my genuine reaction was to think, Oh, Spooky, there you are! The possibility that it might not be her never crossed my mind. I waited for her to touch me again, fully expecting that she would. At the same time, I was remembering that I hadn’t seen her, and wondering where she had been that she could arrive so quickly. Suddenly, it dawned on me, the possibility that this wasn’t Spooky. So I acted quickly and immediately reached down and felt around for a cat. Failing to find one, I turned the light on. The room was empty! No Fritz! No Spooky! I rushed up to the bed; and there was Spooky, sleeping soundly! Then, I looked around the house for Fritz and found him sleeping on the sofa, in the other room. All this activity woke Eunice; once again, she was incredulous. I could see that nothing I could say was going to convince her, so I gave up trying, and went to sleep.
I never met the ghost cat again, although I spoke about it to several friends, both in person and by email. I wish I hadn’t lost those “morning after” emails. They had an immediacy about them that can’t be recreated in retelling. And that is why I’m recording this occurrence, now, before all memory that it ever happened is lost as well.
Several weeks passed… Then, late one night, Eunice got up to use the bathroom, and when she got back in bed, she was shaken. And she announced that she had “just met the ghost cat”. The same thing had just happened to her that happened twice to me. A cat had rubbed up against her leg; there in the darkness at the bottom of the stairs, while Spooky and I were right up those stairs in bed. At that moment, Eunice became a believer, and she has remained one, ever since. What’s more, she has retained an open mind, believing, not just in the ghost cat, but also in some other things that happened later.
Spooky, lived with us, happily ever after. Unfortunately, “ever after” lasted only one more year. As winter blossomed into spring, she became obsessed with trying to go outdoors. We tried to discourage this, because there was a big fat cat out there, who bullied her. Eunice had named him “Smoochie”, and fed him twice a day, along with assorted raccoons, skunks and possums. He was a member of the night crew. Whenever Smoochie spotted Spooky, he chased her. Of course, he could never catch her; he was just too fat and slow.
Smoochie wasn’t really feral, but we never invited him inside, because he frightened Spooky. Nonetheless, throughout the winter, he gratefully lived in our warm cellar, where he ate like a king, and grew fatter than ever. Ironically, Smoochie never bothered” Fluffy”, another female cat that Fate had sent our way, that year. They’d sit out on the porch together.
And so it was, one summer evening, Eunice opened the front door, to discover Smoochie standing there. Spooky had been hiding in the hall, determined to get out. So, literally leaping over Smoochie, out the door she flew, and disappeared into the darkness. I was watching when this happened, and, all at once, a profound wave of premonition washed over me. I knew, and said to Eunice, sadly, “We are never going to see Spooky again!” … And, we never did!
Soon after that, Smoochie became an indoor cat.
My friend Cyndy Stevens, upon reading the above account of the Ghost Cat, informed me that she still has the original emails I sent her, right after the events. The first sighting was very much like I told it, but the second sighting had one important detail I forgot: PAWS! Here is the original mention of second event from an email, dated March 28, 2002
“A ghost cat walked over my foot the other night. On the way up to bed in the dark again. I could feel every little paw as they walked across the top of my bare foot, and the side of a furry body brushed briefly against my leg. But, this time I was downstairs just before going up the few stairs to bed and I immediately questioned what I felt, so all I had to do was bend down and turn on the light on the side table, which was right there. No cat in sight. I hunted for Spooky and found her asleep on the bed, and I looked around the house and found Fritz asleep in Toot's room.”