“You know,” our Rabbi said to us, one afternoon, as we walked to our home in Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, “There is an old Kabbalistic idea that cats are the transmigrations of souls. A gilgul of a person who has passed, and may have more to accomplish in life. That’s why Florida has so many cats. From all the old people who have died…” The road was littered with them. Under cars, behind bushes, crawling and pouncing on passing dragonflies. One perched, sunbathing on the rooftop of a car, as if it were his. Maybe the reincarnate of an old Miami beach-goer. All these spirits lurking the streets, ghosts cloaked in fur, disguised as cats. I hated all of them.
When we had moved into our townhouse earlier in the month, the previous owner informed me that there was a lovely cat whom she used to feed every day. The cat is used to getting food from me, she explained, so you really need to continue. I’ll leave the bowl on your front porch. After unpacking, I spent the first supermarket trip perusing the pet-food aisle, unsure as to what food the stray-cat would enjoy. I settled on some dry pebbly brand, a fish-smelling cross between rabbit droppings and Cocoa-Puffs. The smell lingered in my nose distastefully for hours.
I played the part of the benevolent animal-feeder for a whole two days, before I realized that I really didn’t want a cat on my porch, especially not a stray one who was probably a breeding ground for diseases. But it would trail me daily from the car to the front door, meowing softly, urgently, its dark eyes doleful and sad. So I kicked the bowl to the other side of the shared front porch, adjacent to a neighbor’s door, who was also moving in. The cat comes with your house, I informed her, her hands full of overflowing boxes. It even has this special food. I proudly handed over the bag I had purchased and wiped my hands, both with some Purell, and of the task of caretaker-for-the-cat.
Emmanuelle, who was then just a year old, loved watching the cat. From the safety of our closed front door, we would sit together and peer through the side glass panel, as the cat would come for its feedings, sometimes bringing a friend or two. I didn’t like their unpredictability, the way they would hide and then suddenly appear out of nowhere, quietly, spy-like at your side. Or the way they assumed our front stoop was theirs to share. To nap on. To perch. To people-watch. I couldn’t be near them.
One Sunday afternoon, we had returned from a family outing, and my husband opened the front door of the house and entered ahead of me. I followed up the driveway a minute later, having unbuckled Emmanuelle from her carseat, and as I ascended the porch stairs, I noticed the cat, with one paw poised on the edge of the open door, the other already through the threshold, about to enter. It stared at me, paused in its indistinct waltzing, and threw me a look as if it say, It’s my home too, you know. I was here first.
“Yoni!” I screamed, “Close the door!!” From inside, he came running and kicked the door shut, barely missing the cat, who stealthily scampered off the side of the porch into the depths of the overgrown hedges. I shuddered at the possibility of it actually entering my home, of shedding its tic-infested fur on the pristine entryway. Of lying supine on the cool white tile, legs stretched in the air, absorbing the chill of the floor as the Florida heat evaporated from its skin.
But this was a determined cat. A few days later, Yoni was outside cleaning his car before going to work, and the front door was closed. On my way downstairs, after getting Emmanuelle dressed, I heard the familiar click of the metal as it unlatched, and the low creaking of the hinges. Let’s say hi to Daddy before he leaves for work! I told Emmanuelle, as we raced down the remainder of the staircase. It took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t heard his usual loud footsteps, but their absence only registered when instead, there was a loud, perilous meow! There, sitting squarely in my front hallway, was the cat. It blinked at me.
So this was it. He had somehow pushed opened the front door and entered. He had gotten his wish. And this was our face-off. Sarah and Baby vs. Cat. Who are you? I wanted to scream. And what do you want from me? Instead, I backed up the stairs from which I had descended, and pulled the baby gate shut behind me. The cat, too, slinked backwards into the window next to the door, the one through which he frequently watched us watching him. When I retreated to the living-room, a half-story up, the cat, emboldened, began to explore the lower part of the foyer.
“Yoni!!” I yelled, cranking the window open. He was across the street, his lower body visible as his upper torso stretched to remove hidden garbage from his car’s interior. A loud Arab-Israeli song emanated from his stereo, muting my voice, my pleas for help. “Yoni!!” I tried again, and because luck was against me, he still didn’t notice me frantically waving at him from the window. I pressed my head against the screen, defeated, and stared at the cat menacingly. He stared back.
There was, finally, a moment when the music ebbed, the clanging of the cymbals and tambourines faded to a hum, and the street was cloaked in silence. “Yoni! Help! The cat is in the house!” He looked up, suddenly alarmed, seeing Emmanuelle and I hovering by the living room window, isolated and anxious, and ran for the house.
The door was thrown open, and the cat’s fur stood on edge, a sudden, unexpected mohawk of self-defense. “Come on!” Yoni directed the cat in two simple words, daring it to get up and meet him at the door’s threshold, to cross, and then return to the outside world of desperate, foraging animals. The cat seemed to sigh, to shrug its shoulders and hang its head, the mohawk falling flat with every resigned step it took. With one last hesitation, the cat paused mid-step, its feet centered on the brick porch, and turned his head to me for a final glare. We’ll meet again, it seemed to say. And the door was closed.