Orange Balloons

My cats are not outdoor cats. I have two, and we named them Noah and Bailey, and we never let them go outside the house.

[Brief aside: I realize that bringing up cat stories is like bringing up Jesus -- at least half the people in the room start eyeing the exits -- but bear with me. I have a feeling this isn't really a cat story.]

For Bailey this isn't a problem. He's content to lounge on his back on the bedlinens, pad around corners looking for lost toys, and meow for food from time to time.

But Noah's different. He's not just curious, in that universal, catlike, hey-whatcha-doin kind of way. He's... inquisitive. Noah wants to know. If there's a visitor, he's standing on her lap, sniffing her chin. If there's a siren on the television, he's on the coffee table, wondering whose house is on fire. If there's a storm he's in the window, watching the thunder and lightning.

You get the picture.

So this evening I came home before Penelope, and the house was locked, and I was without key, so I removed a screen and climbed in a window.

This amazed Noah.

Once inside, I closed the window, rounded up Vince and went out the back door to play in the yard. Since it's nice out, I left the main door open and slid the screen door closed. Noah watched through the screen as we ran across the grass, sniffing at the outside air like he always does. And sure enough, when I came back in, he made a break for it.

Now, I know better than to chase a cat.

I walked slowly after him, saying his name, and checking the open spaces in the landscape he might decide to dart through. He didn't, though -- he just scuttled around the side of the house and settled in between two bushes.

Relieved, I picked him up and headed back inside.

Halfway there I had a change of heart. Maybe it was because I was so thankful he let me catch him. Or maybe I just felt bad about all these years of fuzzybutt captivity.

Maybe it's just a nice evening.

I set him down in the grass beside me, and let him sniff the ground. He hunched low to the earth, looking around, ears perked up. Slowly, he crept forward, pushing through the air with his nose, listening to the highway, feeling the cool dirt on his pawpads... being outside.

He went to the tree, and sniffed some bark, as I followed a few feet behind him.

Vince watched from the other side of the yard.

As I watched Noah exploring the outside world, for maybe the third or fourth time in his life, I wondered what I felt. It was unusual. There was fear, you know, of course, because what if he runs up the tree somehow, with no front claws mind you, or darts out of sight and cannot be found?

That would be awful.

I'd have to explain it all to Penelope when she came home, about the screen door and the nice evening and the fuzzybutt captivity and all.

I'd have to search for him, and goodness knows where you look when you're trying to find a renegade housecat, drunk on the freedom of a world suddenly expanded a thousandfold. We've always considered the cats as basically orange balloons, and if we forget for a moment and let go of the string... oh! They're drifting off into the unreachable heights.

So there was fear.

But there was also happiness. I was happy for little Noah, seeing him nose through the grass he's watched for so long. I was happy he got the chance to really be *in* it, you know?

And I was proud. Proud that I had the chance to give him that. To trust him enough to set him back down in the grass and let him go... sort of... and that I did.

Maybe it's true that we're all reincarnated former animals, and that we have the chance of being reborn again with four feet or flippers. If so, I definitely scored some karma points.

As I carried Noah back inside and set him down on the rug, safe again, and still excited from his adventure, I gave him a little pat on the head and a cat treat. I was thankful.

Thankful that he let me catch him, and thankful that I let him go.


Thomas said...

I think if you have two, one is always nice and the other a bit naughty. Nice story.

sheri said...

Ahh...that was a heart warming story. I would suggest you get a leash and take him on walks or tie him to something in the yard, then he could explore until his heart was content.

Jodi Williams said...

I know this is an old post, and I am not certain that you will even see it, but I think you are brilliant. I knew you back here in Indiana when we were little.I knew you were going to be a writer in 6th grade with you first hardback book assinment in first period block about those damn frogs. This cat story was great and I can't wait until you and your wife have children. I can only imagine the stories then!! God Bless Colin
Jodi Williams