She knows as well as I do that the dark currents in human nature never require much summoning, and that the chariot steeds of the Norse goddess Freya—for such the black cat is—have served too long as a too ready lightning rod to bent and sadistic souls. Statistically, the domestic cat, regardless of color, is the most abused domestic animal. The black cat, with all its primal and atavistic associations, is doubly marked for negative attention. Even when Halloween is not on tap, it is best to keep temptation out of the reach of so many sinners.
But this little fellow would not in any case have been going out. Some of us, our own notions to the contrary, were not born to be wild.
He came to me a summer ago as a tiny, lost, but decidedly unwild kitten. And what he lacked in size he made up in attitude.
He stared down the lately acquired border collie puppy and climbed to places where no previous cat had climbed before. He squawked to be fed, fussed to be carried, and filled the still hours of the night with the mysterious sounds of scrambling feet and falling objects. Once, a nocturnal ninja run over a wall unplugged the freezer, resulting in the loss of several turkeys and a haunch of venison. He alternated between sticking himself to me like a deer tick and serving as a corporeal poltergeist. He became the resident Goblin, and he lived up to his name with innocent, perverse glee, particularly when he sneaked out for the first time.
On that and subsequent occasions, it was as if a switch had been thrown.
Once outside, the purring house kitty vanished into the wild kitty. Days would pass, and I would catch only hair-second glimpses of a golden-eyed black wraith who would flit through the backyard jungle, hanging just out of reach, pretending not to know me as he sparred and flirted with the outside cats. A lust for canned cat food and lunch meat would finally prove irresistible. Like a kid from Highland Park who had gone slumming in Oak Cliff, the allure of the gangsta life would yield at last to the prospect of clean sheets, room service, and gourmet meals.
(For those of you unfamiliar with the city of Dallas, be advised that while Neiman’s finds a nice chunk of its customer base in Highland Park, the life and economy of Oak Cliff rests more than a little on transactions in sex, controlled substances, and ammunition. But I have been told that the rents are cheap, if you can handle a certain amount of ground fire.)
The last wilding took place a week ago. He is inside now, chastened and still nursing the sprained leg that would have made him easy prey for an owl, a coyote, a dog, or a nasty human. Outside, on this Day of All Souls, (it is also, I think, the Day of the Dead—Dia de los Muertos) my other cats are sunning themselves.
They came to me in the winter as indubitably wild kittens, glad for steady meals but skittishly doubtful of the hand that extended the invitation. Now, they pony up for head rubs and tummy scratches. They are thinking that they want to come in.
Gazing down at the sleeping occupant of my lap, I note that the swelling in his leg is finally subsiding. His eyes open momentarily, and we look at each other across an evolutionary chasm, that which separates the latest made of the primates from the ancient, elegant tribe of the felinidae.
And yet whatever has been lost in our translation and separation, the shared capacity to wish for things opposite, to imagine What if? , remains to bind us. A thing to consider as I contemplate my own dream of wilding, not knowing who, if anyone, will take me back when I want to come in.