A certain friend recently asked me to take care of her apartment while she sojourned at length in spicy India. She mentioned she lived with someone, but she assured me that he wouldn’t be any bother. So, of course, I readily accepted.
We decided that Friday afternoon would be the time to get acquainted. In the midst of the millenial-minded shopping center, her apartment felt friendly and familiar. Inside, the compact space promised intimacy. Bookcases framed the walls of the two rooms. Books had even invaded the kitchen and laundry closet. Ranged on a sloping shelf above the washer and dryer, portfolios with such titles as, “Dante,” “Shakespeare,” and “Medieval Lit” dwarfed the “Bounce” box.
I peeked into the bedroom. No sign of my co-tenant. In the bathroom there was one vanity–for one woman. I turned to my friend with a question forming on my lips, but she anticipated me.
“Oh, Domino’s not out now,” she gestured in a direction that seemed to be toward the front door.
“Not out now?” I echoed. “Don’t you mean he is out now?”
“No, no,” she said laughing jovially. “Didn’t I tell you? Domino’s my cat.”
My Mysterious Co-Tenant
But day after day, he made no appearance, despite my cat calls. Desperate, I put in my DVD of Guys and Dolls and played the number “Pet Me Poppa,” hoping the chorus of “Meooow, meooow!” would coax him out. If this was a game of Domino’s, I was the loser.
I’d heard of imaginary playmates. Was it possible my friend had an imaginary pet? Was she delusional?!
Nothing to Fear but Fear
Of course that couldn’t be because there was the ocular (and olfactory!) proof. Mountains of food disappeared from the feeder…and, like magic, reappeared in the litter box.
But where was he? No animal could hide under the couch. I did a daily under-the-bed check, but he had never been there. I began to dread going to bed. Eerie nightmares dominated my sleep. Would he land on my head and suffocate me? Would he pounce on me from around the corner? When I went into the bathroom the next morning, would he spring on me through the shower curtain?
Climbing the lonely stairs to the apartment one evening as darkness fell, the words of a nursery rhyme ran in my head:
“Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a cat who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
I wish that cat would go away.”
The Hallway Meeting
I was about to step into the bathroom.
Suddenly there he was: big, black, blocking my way. I backed up two steps, but he didn’t budge. He just stared. His eyes: green-rimmed black holes. His tail: twitching.
I could retreat to the bedroom, but how would I ever get to work? And if I didn’t, how would I explain it?
Then I heard it start. The low rumble. He took a step toward me and turned his cheek. Then—I reached out, too.
Later, the words of a better poem crept into my consciousness: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” To this day, I don’t know what wall Domino was behind or where he was hiding. But he understood that walls don’t separate enemies; they create enemies, and he had taken Frost’s theme a paw further. It is not only love thy neighbor—it’s love thy mammal!