It gets cold here. Cold enough that sometimes a green sweater isn’t enough, that sometimes even with my scarf I find myself shivering. I get a fire going in the grate, but still the drafts get in, swirling around my damp feet as I study. Sometimes I like it, the chill. Other times it feels stifling. Everything feels stifling.
It’s only fall, but already nature is feeling the cold as well. The trees are flaring up in orange and red and yellow, as though decorating themselves with the colors of flames will keep them warm. A man sits at the market stand, peddling spaghetti squash and pumpkins, all arranged in a neat line. The birds are calling to one another less and less.
And there’s a cat I’ve seen drifting down the street beyond my window every so often. No one pays it any mind as it mews and searches for food, shoulders hunched, looking bone-thin and worn out. I’ve never understood cats, but I like them. The hungry look in their eyes. The long tail that twitches back and forth like a broken metronome. The inherent coziness of their fur and their purr. I’ve heard that if a cat blinks at you slowly, it means the cat loves you.
I grow so tired studying in my room by myself during the long nights after school. I put on my headphones when I get lonely and try to tune out my thoughts, focusing on the formulas and readings. But I can’t put aside the fact that something feels like it’s missing.
One cold night, I’m sitting at my desk, staring at my copy of Moby-Dick. I haven’t read a sentence in a half hour. I’m thinking about how I haven’t gotten a text from anyone in a week, and how I haven’t heard from Mom in a month, and how I try to talk to the man at the market stand every day when I buy my vegetables, but we don’t know one another’s names. And today I saw the cat go right up to him and place a paw on his shoe, and he didn’t even look down. Didn’t kick it away. Just ignored it.
And maybe that’s why, on this cold, cold night, when I hear the meowing from outside my door, I go, and I open the door, and I let the cat in. It lingers on the doorstep for a moment, shivering, staring up at me with dark amber eyes, almost as though it’s surprised at my kindness. And then it creeps past me into the room and straight to the fire, curling up into a little ball on my oval red rug.
I approach it softly. It’s an orange cat, long stripes of color running back and forth along its torso and around its tail in rings. The orange of its fur is as deep and true as the fire before it, but still the cat is shaking. And now I feel cold, too. I rub the tops of my arms with my hands, draw my chin into my sweater, but it doesn’t seem to help.
I sit down next to the cat. “It’s chilly tonight, huh?” I say. “It’s a good thing you’re here and not out on the street. No one ever seems to see you. Just like no one ever seems to see me.”
I want to reach out and touch it, stroke its fur, tell it everything will be okay, but I know that if I do so, my hand will reach through it. I do it anyway, my hand drifting along the cat’s back and disappearing into it, coming back into the light for another stroke and then dipping down once more. The cat begins to purr.
“Are you the ghost?” I ask it. “Or am I?”
It opens one eye at me, then two, and then ever so slowly, it blinks.