It was, without question, the longest and most troubled night in recent memory. A cat was missing. And not just any cat. The one whose capacity for friendship has made her a treasured member of the family.
For 15 or more years her routine has been unvarying. Hers is the chair next to mine in the upstairs bedroom. Side by side we watch the television together. Sporting events are the preference of us both.
I enjoy the strategy that guides the play. It’s the quick movements of the tiny figures on the screen that hold her attention.
She’s not much interested in the solemn pronouncements by politicians, talk show guests and financial analysts. In that our tastes are much alike.
But on a recent evening she did not come to join me in her accustomed place. Usually she responds immediately to the sound of her name.
I called out to her repeatedly, but she did not appear. What could account for it? Several friends and visitors had dropped by earlier in the day.
Might she have slipped out unnoticed as the door was opened to welcome them in? They didn’t think so. But sensitive to our concern, they joined us in a room-by-room search of the house and basement.
To no avail.
And soon, with the advance of autumn, full darkness came on. So if the cat was at large, she would be wandering lost in the night, in a neighborhood sometimes frequented by a stray dog or an occasional fox from its den along a nearby creek, and large owls — all serious perils for an undefended cat.
My wife holds a master’s degree in English literature — an interest nourished during her high school years in Jefferson City, inspired by a teacher, Stella Hellman, who was a legend in that Missouri town, and who required that her students commit to memory 75 lines of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Several of those passages are recalled readily by my wife:
Present fears are less than horrible imaginings, says one.
At bedtime, when the television went off and the room lights went out, the treasured cat did not join us in her accustomed share of the bed.
All through that night we called, front yard and back, and at every doorway. With no result. So this was the night of our horrible imaginings. Sick with worry, I could not sleep. And dawn brought no relief.
Shrubs were searched under. Neighbors were queried about any cat sightings.
Then, by mercy, a friend of one of our daughters came to see if a fresh eye might somehow be of help. And I heard a cry come up from the driveway below.
At some forgotten time a repairman had put a cover over a wooden basement side door to prevent drainage. And the helpful friend had spied just the least part of a tail — only several furred inches — protruding from under that cover.
And the precious cat joined me on her chair beside mine to watch a Chiefs football game. And after that demanded her share of the bed.
The next morning was cloudless and sweet, and the world seemed like a friendly place again — entirely free of any horrible imaginings.