The One Who Never Leaves

by Uvi Poznansky
February 2010

She sits on the edge of the crooked old couch, knees pressed tightly together, and I can see a little tremor that travels up her spine.

I try to calm her down; which is to say, I clear my throat, after which I proceed to explain to her, in my softest, most polite tone, that contrary to popular belief, cats do not have nine lives. 

She stares at me, terrified.

 האחת שלעולם אינה עוזבת

As well she should be. She is the stranger around here; she would be gone before the day is over. I am the one who never leaves.
“Really,” I insist. “Cats do not have nine lives.” 

She leans back, sinking deeper and deeper into the frayed cushion, not doing much of anything except breathing heavily. The danger of oxygen deprivation does not occur to me at first. But if there is one thing I have come to hate more than her breathing heavily, it is me, having to hold my breath. So many months have passed since I smelled fresh air. 

Come to think of it, it must have been years since I crossed the threshold, since I stepped into the sunlight, which—as I remember—is so warm, so magnificent; decades since I sunk my paws into the moist ground outside; or lifted my eyes to the blue sky; or chased birds. 

I have grown quite resigned, somehow, to the stale perfume rising from these blankets, which she now gathers around her. I don’t miss the fresh air anymore. I have even lost the urge to prowl around the rooms. All I do is keep my eye on her. True, her scent is overwhelming, her heartbeat palpable, her presence inescapable and yet—believe me—I pay no attention to that immensely heavy key, hanging way out of reach up there on the main door. Why should I.

I never show weakness. And most certainly, I never meow. 

“You know cats,” I say. “Just one short, miserable life, that’s what they have. Interrupted, every so often, by having to beg strangers, can you imagine? Really, I have to beg them for the most basic needs.”  

I find it difficult to guess if she believes me.

“My life, if you can call it that, may soon be over. I’m hungry. I could die. Really,” I stress to her.

She just sits there, and the window behind her shows her reflection; and her reflection is paralyzed, too. I can see a green flash of anger in the glass, and by hook and by crook I know, without thinking twice, what she sees in my eyes.

“Food!” I growl, “Something to eat!” 

And for added emphasis, I arch my back. She may take that as a threat, but I assure you, for me it is nothing more than a sudden urge to stretch. 

Somehow the sight of my sharp claws brings her to her senses, and so she removes the blankets in a big hurry. She has—or rather, had—a pretty figure, I conclude, now that I see it. The fabric is swishing softly as she ties the belt around her waist, showing off that which was once slender, but now is merely fragile. I trot behind her to the kitchen, and watch in amazement as she fumbles about, opening and closing cabinet doors in utter confusion.

By now, I am deeply in despair. Something fizzles in my throat, but I do my best to hold back, to subdue it from becoming a full-throated hiss. “What’s the fuss?” I ask. “Did I ask you to catch mice? Look here, for crying out loud, look inside already!”

And with that, I thread my long, flexible tail directly into the handle of the pantry door. It gives way; it opens with the usual creak, and there, on the lowest shelf, is that thing I learned to crave: A can with a lovely whiskered face on it.

She picks it up. I wait. I do not meow.

Now she embarks on shuffling stuff in the drawer. The hunger grows in me as the clink and the clank rise higher and higher, as spiky and prickly as rage. But finally she digs out a shiny tool and with gusto, sticks it into the thing, right between those whiskers. 

And with that one blow, the aroma! Ah, it spreads instantly, all over the place. Is she a killer, I ask myself. Is she is a killer, too?

Full of awe, I watch her closely as she labors to cut the thing open. I study her from one side, then from the other, only to catch her shooting a little glint at me from the corner of her eye, as she calculates the twisting of the knife. 

In this place, my hunger puts me at her mercy; and she is using this particular moment, I figure, to play a cruel game with me, a game of measure for measure: A measure of her skill with the knife against the measure of the pain in my stomach; her power against my need. 

Her lips curl up to expose some teeth, as if to say, “Let me hear you purr, will you? No?” Her skin hangs under her chin and around her neck like a delicate necklace, and her face is fallen; yet you can, without too much effort, use your bad eye to erase—if only for a squint—the marks of time. For that brief second you can still find in her the playful, if not innocent, face of a kitten. “You’re as quiet as a mouse,” she says, heaping the food on a plate and then, at long last, setting it before me.

I tear into it. I lick the plate clean. I wipe my whiskers clean.

But I never meow.

After that, I find her in full retreat, making her way back to the couch. I come closer, rubbing myself against her feet, as happy and bushy-tailed as I allow myself to become. Now I feel invincible. With the single exception of the main door, there is no door here I cannot push open. She knows it. She knows there is no point in hiding from me. 

I glance at the window. Between the smudges and through the layers of dust, fragments of murky sky are getting darker. I curl up beside her, rub against her skin for warmth and, with my eyes nearly closed, proceed to lick myself with a long, sweeping motion. 

She shrinks away, while at the same time making pronounced efforts to ignore me. 

With every instinct in me I know one thing for sure: Despite her silence, which is an insult to my pride; despite her looking away in every possible direction, at this corner then the other; and despite the failing light, she can still see me—or at least my eyes, shining at her from the darkness. 

So at the end of an unbearably drawn out, tense second, here it comes: She gives a gasp, followed by a jerk—a sharp one, mind you! Then with a click, she brings in a host of shadows by turning on the twisted lamp by her side. 

What do I care? I am busy, trying to imagine sun. Radiant sun. Sky—Ground—Birds—Mice—

I can feel her looking at me, trying, perhaps, to decipher the sudden flash in my slit pupils. I flick her with my tail. The shadows—small and large, sharp and fuzzy—all flick their tails at her. I am the master of this place. I am the one who never leaves. She will be gone before this day is over. 

Then I will be cold. I will be alone once more. Helpless. Choked to tears by something quite inexplicable. Perhaps that stale perfume; or else, the fading of that stale perfume. And I know: In vain will I resist staring at that immensely heavy key, hanging way out of reach, up there on the main door.

But never will I meow.

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