Last month, Claude went missing. He’s an inside cat (born under my couch) who’s never left the house except for vet visits. It’s hard to overstate the gradual escalation of panic that unfolds as you realize yes, your cat is really gone.
“Hmm, I haven’t seen Claude all morning” becomes “Maybe he’s hiding” becomes “Maybe I should shake a bowl of food to flush him out” becomes “He isn’t in the house, not anywhere.” Then you’re barefoot on the sidewalk, yelling his name again and again into the annihilating pastel dome of a springtime sky.
And he is nowhere and everywhere — under the house, in the gutter, in a crawlspace, trapped in a garage — all at once.
Every other cat that crosses your path seems to be a black one, which is unlucky. Or is it lucky? It depends on the culture, Egyptian or German. But today, who can tell?
So you accept that this is happening, cry and Google “how to find a lost cat.” In response to the internet advice of countless cat ladies and gentlemen, you…
- Station food and water outside
- Post notices to lost pet sites, Craigslist, Nextdoor and Facebook, where your friends share it 22 times, bless them.
- Order a humane trap
- Notify the local shelters and microchip company
- Move his litterbox outside, so he can smell it
- Take walks at 5 a.m. shaking a bowl of food and calling his name while barefoot, hoping the scent of your feet lures him back home, even though a lot of sites say you shouldn’t do that.
A day goes by. Two. Three. Your humane trap nets five cats, but none are Claude. Soon, the cats wise up and stop taking the bait. You make flyers and post them at every intersection. You talk to your neighbors, baristas, pizza delivery drivers, librarians. They say they will keep an eye out. But you know that’s a lie, because you never keep an eye out when you see a flyer for a lost cat. Claude is just one among so many missing; who can keep track? And he’s black, like a million other cats in Bywater.
Meanwhile, Roland (Claude’s brother and best friend) gallops up and down the hall alone. Claude used to chase him; they’d wrestle on the living room’s wooden floor. Finally, they’d groom each other and curl up in a cat yin-yang. Now Roland just sleeps and eats. He’s stopped climbing onto your lap in the morning.
Claude is not among the cats at the shelter, though an employee does give you a lead: a woman who monitors the neighborhood’s feral cat colonies. You email her for addresses.
She promptly replies with four colony addresses and a note about the number of caretakers (e.g., 700 block Independence, 2 caretakers). And less heartening news:
We were scheduled to do some trapping on the 500 block of Alvar a few weeks ago for TNR and when we went for that trapping the person who called us said he had not seen the cats in about a week. I am wondering if someone is removing cats and dropping them in another neighborhood. I know that is not the news you want, but I would try to place flyers in an expanded area around your home.”
You double down on your flyering, paying the extra 60 cents for each color copy. It’s been a week. Strange numbers light up your phone. The clusters of texts and calls come in the morning and evening, as people spot the same cat or group of cats sprawled on cracked sidewalks, lounging on shotgun house porches, dozing under rust-gnawed pickup trucks. It’s a bit like hunting a rare Pokemon, each time you investigate a black cat sighting.
But it is never, ever Claude.
Nine days go by. Your friend Cari, who is psychic, shares a spell with you. She says to cut a string the length of your dining room table’s circumference, attach it to a photo of Claude, light a candle in the center of the table and stare into its flame while visualizing Claude coming home and pulling the photo toward you. Finally, wrap the photo in the string and put it under your pillow. She also advises upping the reward to $100.
You sleep with a picture of Claude wrapped in red nylon cord.
Your friends Adriane and Andrew stay with you for a week, because they are back in town for their wedding. They have cats, too. They understand your loss. At the same time, this is a happy week, and you don’t feel Claude’s absence as keenly.
A stranger calls with a cat tip while you are at Bacchanal drinking red wine, but he is obviously a weirdo who just wants the $100. Also, the cat he found has a patch of white. Claude is pure black.
Your parents tell you they are praying, and you are praying, too. A tiny miracle brought Claude to you. Perhaps by some tiny miracle, he will return.
You cruise Petfinder, wondering if Roland could handle an adopted sibling. You remember how glorious it was to have two black cats who are brothers. One black cat is banal, but two black cats are enchanting, like a cheesy poster for jazz music come to life, and there’s a keyboard in it somewhere.
Because Roland has anxiety and bladder issues, you reconcile yourself to being a one-cat household for the next decade or so. Roland is adjusting pretty well to being an only cat. But you know how bad his memory is — he sometimes didn’t recognize Claude after a trip to the vet— and wonder, Did you simply forget, Roland, how you’re suffering?
Eighteen days pass.
Your phone rings while you’re working on a piece for Marriott Traveler. It’s Elizabeth, your neighbor, calling with a lead.
“Can you go investigate a potential Claude?” you ask Bryan. “I’m on deadline.”
Bryan and Andrew set out. Five minutes later, Andrew is back. “It’s Claude,” he tells you, breathless.
Later, Andrew says you threw your laptop when you got up. You can’t imagine you’d throw something so expensive, but maybe; you were excited, definitely. But you’re also guarded. You know how many false Claudes are out there.
The black cat is a block away, in an overgrown backyard at Pauline and Chartres streets. He might be Claude. You’ve learned to disqualify black cats the way slush pile readers reject manuscripts: quickly, by noting incorrectness. This one’s ear is torn. This one’s a little too big and his eyes are amber instead of green. This one still has his balls.
Nothing disqualifies this potential Claude. He isn’t running, the way the ferals did. He is gobbling tuna from the can Bryan brought while making crazed grunting sounds. He is letting you pick him up and hold him like a baby. He is going willingly into his carrier.
He is home, and he is slamming his face into your hand so you’ll pet him harder, rearing up on his hind legs, meowing a ragged, more desperate meow than you’ve ever heard him make. You feel his hips and jagged spine through his fur, which is alive with fleas.
You’re 99 percent sure it’s Claude. He’s changed, though. You make an appointment with the vet, who administers shots and flea medicine, then scans the microchip like a grocery store clerk ringing up a banana.
“It’s him,” the vet says.