Noe Valley Voice November 1998

A Very Important Cat

By Lauren Schiffman

One day last summer my roommate Lisa was horrified to see two mice by the stove. I think mice are kinda cute, so it didn't seem like a big deal to me. But her room was next to the kitchen, and she wanted all mice out!

Lisa's friend Bonnie had a cat named "V.I.C." (for Very Important Cat), also known as Vic. Bonnie told us that Vic often brought her little "presents" of mice from the garden, so Lisa asked if we could borrow her star mouser.

At first, Vic was scared to leave her carrier, but we finally enticed her out with some tuna. Then she took to the apartment in a flash: peeking through potted plants and kneading couch cushions.

Vic spent the first day following the sun's migration east to west through our living room. She lay in the shafts of light, flicking the black tip of her tail. Day two was a repeat of the first. The cat's big blue eyes blinked lazily into sleep as she snoozed in the afternoon sun. Vic didn't seem particularly concerned with running after small rodents, or anything else for that matter. However, it was nice having Vic padding around the house in her elegant tortoise-shell coat. She slept underneath the desk and kept my feet warm while I worked.

When Bonnie called that night to see how things were going, Lisa asked if we could keep Vic a little longer. There were no signs of the mice so far, but we hadn't lost hope. Bonnie said her schedule was crazy until Saturday anyway, so she'd pick up the cat in three days.

The next day was unseasonably warm for June in San Francisco. When I got home from running errands, I called to Vic. There were no meows from behind the couch, from the litterbox in the bathroom, or the fleece jacket that had fallen on the floor, which Vic had adopted as a bed.

I looked in every room . . . and then I spotted it: The window next to Lisa's bed was open.

I poked my head outside. There was a ledge below leading to our deck. I ran out to the porch and called, "Psss, psss. Here, girl." I grabbed Vic's canister of cat treats and took it out to the deck. The rattle of that can always brought her running. Nothing. My calls became shriller, "Vic! Here, kitty kitty!" All I could do was hope that Vic was hiding somewhere in the house and being uncharacteristically quiet.

The first thing I asked Lisa when she got home from work was if she had taken Vic somewhere.

"No," she said, "she was in my room when I left this morning."

I spoke quietly, "I hate to break this to you, but I can't find Vic anywhere. And I noticed when I came home that your window was open."

"Oh, my God," she gasped. "I can't believe it! I didn't even think about that!"

Without another word, we both went on the rounds again. We looked under the beds, up the chimney, in the kitchen cupboards. The cat was gone. I asked Lisa if she was going to call Bonnie and tell her the news.

She shook her head. "Let's give it one more day. I'm sure Vic will show up tomorrow." The unnatural falsetto she used to give us hope made me even more depressed.

When Lisa got home the next night, I simply stated, "No Vic."

She nodded and went into her room. I didn't see her for the rest of the evening and figured she'd called Bonnie and told her what had happened.

When I was sipping my coffee the next morning, the doorbell rang. It was Bonnie. I opened the door and said, "Bonnie, I'm so sorry about what happened."

Her smile faded. "What are you talking about?"

"You didn't speak to Lisa last night?" I asked.

"No, why? Is something wrong with Vic?" Her eyes widened in panic.

I couldn't believe I had to tell this woman I barely knew that the cat she'd had for eight years had escaped out our window. Lisa had already left for the weekend to celebrate her niece's birthday down in San Jose, but I knew the truth couldn't be avoided any longer. I took a deep breath and told Bonnie the whole story. Bonnie was incredulous. "This happened on Thursday, and no one thought to call and tell me?"

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I thought Lisa already told you. She tried to reach you last night."

"I was home all night, and I didn't get any calls." Her eyes started shining with tears. "It would've been so much easier to track her down when she first disappeared. Do you mind if I come in and try to call Vic from the porch? If she's nearby, she'll come when she hears my voice."

We went up to the deck and called to the cat, but there was no reply. Bonnie went home to make posters with Vic's picture to pass out around the neighborhood. We spent all afternoon stapling posters to telephone poles and slipping them into mail slots. Everyone was very supportive, but no one had seen Vic.

Soon after Lisa left for work on Monday morning, there was a knock at the door. It was Bonnie with a woman who was swathed in layers of flowing blue and green gauze. Her red hair was in a braid halfway down her back, and she wore piles of silver bangles on each wrist that clanked as she came up the stairs. Bonnie introduced her friend: "This is Crystal. She's a pet psychic. Would you mind if we looked around the house for a while, so Crystal can get a feel for the location?"

For a few seconds, I just stood there smiling. I was trying hard not to burst out laughing, so I pressed my lips together. The two looked at me expectantly. Finally I composed myself enough to squeeze out, "Go right ahead."

As I took them on a tour of the house, Crystal asked me a lot of questions about where Vic slept, when she ate, what she played with, and so on. The tour ended in the kitchen, where Vic's bowls were still waiting hopefully. Crystal asked me about Vic's relationship with the kitchen window. I told her that Vic enjoyed sitting in front of that window, which looked out over the neighbors' gardens. The roses, lemon trees, and wildflowers were all in bloom. "I'm getting something," Crystal murmured with closed eyes and upheld palms. "Vic loved those gardens. She wanted to be out there in the sun with the birds and insects."

Crystal opened her eyes and looked at me. "Can you get to these gardens from the window she climbed out of?"

"I think so," I replied. "Those gardens are right behind the wall of our porch."

We all raced out to the deck. Crystal began speaking faster. "Oh, yes. She could've easily climbed over that wall. Bonnie, I'm getting a strong feeling that Vic is safe and she's very close. Call to her."

Bonnie hollered Vic's name over and over. After five minutes, Crystal put her hand on Bonnie's shoulder. "It's all right. Vic is safe. She's lost some weight, but she's doing fine. She's under a nearby tree. It seems dark where I see her. Let's go talk to the neighbors whose gardens border this house."

I worked hard to keep the grin frozen on my face as I let the two women out. All I could think was poor, sweet Bonnie. By the way her face had lit up, I could tell how hopeful Crystal's psychic prediction had made her.

I wasn't very hopeful for Vic's return. She had been roaming in unfamiliar territory for days. At this point, I thought our best hope was that some nice person had found the cat and was taking care of her.

Lisa called Bonnie that night, but Bonnie wouldn't speak to her except to say that she'd searched the neighbors' gardens again with no result.

"I feel awful about this," Lisa told me after she hung up the phone. "I wish I could do something to help. Bonnie won't even talk to me, and I don't blame her. I'm gonna get some air."

A few minutes later Lisa came running up the stairs shouting, "You'll never believe this!"

I came out of the kitchen and there was Lisa, holding a bedraggled Vic. The cat looked skinny and was shaking with cold, but she was safe! My jaw fell open. "Where did you find her?"

"It was so weird," Lisa gasped breathlessly. "I was standing in the garden, and I heard meowing from behind the tree, and she was just calmly sitting there." Vic sneezed and Lisa held her tighter. "Bonnie will be so happy. She hasn't seen Vic in almost two weeks."

"I've been in that garden every day, and there were no signs of Vic," I said. "I can't believe she found her way back after all this time. Maybe the pet psychic really did have a vision...."

Lisa was already on the phone. "Bonnie, there's someone here who's very anxious to see you!"

She put the receiver to the cat's mouth, and Vic let out a plaintive "Meeeoooww!"

Lauren Schiffman is a transplant from the East Coast who's lived in Noe Valley for three years. She is currently working on her MFA in poetry at San Francisco State University.