The Old Cat

The Old Cat
by Jacqueline S McCauley

At first, the old cat spent her days in the middle of the driveway fixed in place like an ancient Egyptian statue, a Bastet, frozen in time on hot concrete; her stare a singular prayer to summon the girl’s return, ears pricked at every low growl of an engine, the staccato of footsteps on the road.

After the first week, she retreated to the shady overhang outside the front door to observe the rosellas nest and feed, their occasional squawk and flutter a welcome distraction from the oppressive heat of the sweltering afternoons. There she waited in the shortening shadows of summer and in the long stretch from sunup to sundown, hope waning like the way she shed her winter coat. Imperceptible at first.

Sometimes when the old cat napped, the girl whispered into the corners of her dreams, leaving her confused and disoriented when she woke to pace through the house in a frantic search. For she knew that the girl would never abandon her and yet had not returned.

When the old cat stopped eating, they took her to the vet who kept her overnight, adjusted her meds and said that time would heal her sadness and slowly she’d forget. Yet, as the summer set, she perched by the window still, and watched the moon carve patterns in the sky. The promise in the wax and wane of that bright rock was that which has been lost can reappear and that which seems to fall away, will rise. For if all things are cyclical, perhaps there are no true goodbyes.

Now months have passed, the evergreens turned grey, and through the prism of each slow day, disappointment sits with the old cat on the stoop, hunched over her silver saucer. The water swirls with specks of dust and light until that too has faded into night. When it’s time to go inside, to lap at dinner, sharpen nails on her post and stretch out on her special mat, with toy mice, meant to comfort, scattered on the floor, her head is ever cocked towards the door. And as she slinks around the house, she hovers at the empty bed where nights she and the girl would curl to sleep, intertwined like vines that grew in unison, their gentle snoring synchronized so that the cat could hardly tell whose breath was whose. That’s how they grew. Together. In a spiral. Even as the mattress became smaller and the girl’s feet bigger, the cat no longer a kitten, the girl no longer a girl.

When the young woman packed her bags, she strode quickly out the door. She didn’t hover there to hold the cat she’d see no more. She did not pause for fear she’d howl nor hesitate for fear she’d break. And she did not look back for if she did, she knew she’d change her mind. All this she wished she could have told the cat she left behind.


Jacqueline S McCauley is a South African, Australian, New Yorker. She teaches English and drama and has a background in writing, directing, and producing youth and children’s theatre. Her writing explores themes around immigration, cultural diversity, parenthood, divorce, disability, grief and loss, and the way we process these.

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