Monday, March 28, 2011

The great escape… sort of

Morgan and I worked beneath a bright white sun in the fading days of autumn. The burnt yellow smell of fallen leaves filled the crisp air. Overhead, silhouettes of naked branches reached for each other like fingers against a field of deep blue. Amidst the constant rustle of leaves we piled wood and cleaned up tools in preparation for the first snowfall.

We were jolted from our task by a loud, matter-of-fact meow nearby.

“Is that one of our cats?” asked Morgan.

“No. It can’t be,” I said, and scanned the woods with a sinking feeling. I did not want another cat, but what could we do if we found one? My eyes strained to pick out a cat-shape in the jumble of underbrush and fallen leaves; it was like one of those hidden picture games. When the second meow came it was muffled as though a long way off. “It’s moving fast,” said Morgan. I was flooded with relief as we returned to our work. It must know where it’s going, I thought.

Although we have two cats, the sound of a meow coming from outside amongst the trees is quite foreign to us. Chestnut and Cleo are indoor cats. We decided they would be when, as kittens, they tested positive for FIV. With their compromised immune systems I didn’t want to take any chances. Of course they still managed to get out anyway from time to time, making kamikaze charges for the door when we opened it for the dogs.

In the face of their determination we may have relented on our decision if they hadn’t proved to be such efficient bird killers. After finding dead songbirds around our house courtesy of the cats, we became more diligent about keeping them inside.

It didn’t take long on that perfect fall day to almost forget about the mystery cat passing through our woods. We were once again quite involved in our cleanup almost 20 minutes later when the meow came again sounding as close as it did the first time.

“What the…?” Morgan said, straightening from gathering leaves.

It sounded as though it were standing right beside us, and this time it didn’t fade or stop but became more insistent. Morgan and I stood silently turning our heads one way then the other trying to pinpoint where this distress call was coming from.

Through the trees, about 25 feet away, I could see the back wall of our sauna, a small building painted autumn orange. As I cast my eyes in that direction I caught a glimpse of white. And then Cleo’s face came in to focus, wild-eyed and desperate, framed by the square vent just a foot below the roofline.

“It’s Cleo!” I said, pointing and starting to laugh. “How did she get there?”

The vent, just big enough for her face, pinned her ears flat to her head as she tried to push herself through. Bright green eyes, wide with panic, stared at me above her mouth flashing pink accusingly as she squawked again and again, “Can’t you see me here? Help me! I’m stuck!”

I clambered through the underbrush towards the sauna shaking my head and laughing as I imagined her frenzied attempts to find a way out on her own. Cleo revels in her independence and spends her time trying to convince us she doesn’t need anyone, except maybe Bear, but she and Bear could get along quite fine on their own thank you very much (as Bear backs away slowly). I could imagine her indignation at actually having to ask for help.

She tried to dash past me as I opened the door, but I expected it and clamped my hand on the back of her neck, then scooped her up into my arms. I could feel the embarrassment coming off her in waves as I carried her unceremoniously back to the house.


  1. A funny read - very enjoyable. You give Cleo's character such clear substance as she navigates her way out of her comical predicament. Cleo is certainly no feline silhouette here. Initially, she communicates with merely a "loud matter-of-fact meow." As her imprisonment presses further upon her, she now, with "face . . . wild-eyed and desperate", "squawks" "Can't you see me here? Help me! I'm stuck!" Her clipped and monosyllabic vocab a good choice. I laugh as you note her canine embarrassment when you escort her home.
    The intro portrait of regal Cleo is quite good and most appropriate - mischievous grin, wide-eyed, clearly an ancient Egyptian queen. She's a beautiful cat.

  2. "Canine embarrassment"???? Sorry Cleo no slur intended. You are the essence of cat through and through. I need an editor, I guess.

  3. That's okay, I'm pretty sure Cleo thinks she's a dog anyway.. except when it suits her to be a cat.