Claiming the Cat-Scope
By Lyn C. A. Gardner
For years, my husband saw phantom black cats,
gone when he turned his head. Too many black cats and their ghosts
filled our house to follow them all. But when I caught
our new black cat diving away from us that frosty night
as we entered the living room, his long tail snapping an alert,
I knew they were hiding something. While my husband snoozed,
the cat-scope sailed through the night to lodge
under our loveseat--a blocky wand with an eccentric lavender glow
that the invisible man would have loved or cursed:
either way, his secret would be out.
Quick as mice, we laid our counterplot.
While they lounged, sedated by sun and soft bedding,
I snagged the scope from hiding. It flickered in daylight,
its gleam no more than a shadow. Our skin itched with the sense
of invisible cats just beyond our ken.
At night, we drew the shades, waited till cats curled tight
around heat-generating husband. When they finished washing,
sleepy, he snuck out to pee, an urge they understood.
They pooled into the warmth he left, smiling in innocent slumber.
We leaned together, whispering. My husband flicked one switch.
Our cats disappeared, leaving indentations in the bedspread,
their lazy yawns popping with the click of teeth.
We chuckled softly. It explained some things.
A different switch brought new cats
dribbling smoothly from the scope, tuxedos and snowy silk
winding through bookshelves, ducking behind the fridge,
pots jangling with their complaints: we'd stolen their secret weapon,
their master spyglass to guard frail bones against cat-rending canines
and crushing human feet. Their periscope, their decoder--
they yowled threats, stalking us with gleaming eyes, shining claws, sharp leaps--
I flipped the switch. They flickered out.
Sly, we prowled the night with our captured Enigma,
scanning their haunts with this secret violet glow
from the box-like wand that translated sprayed squiggles
into ornate calligraphy in our tongue:
"That little black cat's too high and mighty.
Don't crown him king, even though you love him most.
I'm the best cat for the job." The signature was a bold, unmistakable C.
We knew which quivering tail had marked these
elegant threats and snide comments on court intrigue.
While we deciphered, the cats grew uneasy:
We heard them scratching and whining from the bathroom,
no doubt smelling the facts as we wiped their secrets from the wall,
their history vanishing in a mist of enzyme spray
as we erased vituperations about who bit who's tail.
When we released them, they rushed into their domain,
small round bodies looping furniture, reestablishing their index,
connecting communications as they laced the air with crossing arcs,
leaping from one end of the house to the other,
their claws cutting small notes in wood,
impressions and reflections scored for later pondering.
We still claim the cat-scope from time to time.
We let them think they've batted it out of sight
beneath the dresser, then listen in on prison talk:
C knows we're thinking about relocation camps for the worst offenders,
those whose sprayed messages deface our books, whose claw-marks
shred couch and papers. C offers to solve the problem permanently:
he sleeps in our bed often enough to elicit no suspicion
the night he'd smother us. Appalled, we shove him outside,
back into the snow he came from six winters ago.
His gray-striped brother yowls reproach, scratching glass prison bars.
Tonight, we'll read what he says about it--
if he doesn't flick the scope for backup, calling new cats to do C's work.
We take the violet glow to light our bedroom, just in case.