Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Flying Cat

It was 1990. I lived in a small Russian town in our company quarters in a room with two other girls. Ann was three years younger than me, cute, easy-going and friendly. Helen was my age, drop-dead gorgeous, and high maintenance. Helen was friends with Ann, and so was I; it was hard not to be. But as for Helen and myself, we barely talked to each other. The good thing about Helen was that she used to often visit her friends in Moscow and spend the night there.

The day I'm talking about, Helen had just returned from one of her Moscow trips, and in an unusually charitable mood at that.

"I had to help my friends out," she explained. "They're all leaving on winter break, and they have just got this cat, and they have no one to leave her with. So of course, I offered to take it for two weeks. Here."

Out of nowhere, a small black kitten emerged. The kitten looked intimidated.

"Her name is..." - but the name Helen's friends had given the cat would be difficult to an American reader's ear. Let's just call the cat Muffy. She deserved it, as you will soon see.

The three of us had dinner; Muffy feasted on table scraps. It was time for bed, as we all had to get up early the next morning. All three of us had strict hours at work. Come through the door at 8:01 and you will be written up and reprimanded. So we needed a good night's sleep to be able to get to work on time.

To our amazement, Helen stood up and put her coat on.

"I'm going to Moscow, you guys," she said. "I took tomorrow off. See you then."

"Wait, what about Muffy?" we asked her.

"What about her? Muffy stays here."

And she left. We climbed into our beds and dozed off happily. Almost instantly, both of us woke up to the sound of something falling.

The damn cat had managed to climb on top of our wardrobe and jump down on Ann's bed. We told the kitty to be quiet and fell asleep again. Again, the falling cat, this time from the top of our bookshelf and on my bed.

We didn't get much sleep that night. It was amazing how an animal that had been so quiet a few hours ago now had to crash-land on top of one of us every ten minutes. The cat reminded me of werewolves - sleepy by day, hyperactive by night. As soon as we closed our eyes, one of us woke up with a scream. It was the closest thing to living with a baby I had experienced that far.

About three in the morning, I got up and went to the bathroom. It was at the end of the hallway. Walking back in my half-asleep daze, I saw the door of our room open and Muffy fly out in a graceful arc. She landed on her feet and ran off.

I must had realized that my roommate, the sweet Ann, had just tossed the cat out of our room, but I was so sleepy by then, it didn't seem like a big deal. Besides, I said to myself, the cat would still be here in the morning. We'd bring her back in and Helen would be none the wiser. I fell into my bed and didn't register another thing till my alarm went off four hours later.

Ann and I got up and went looking for the cat.

The cat was nowhere to be found.

We couldn't understand it. All the doors in our building had been closed and locked for the night. Where could she go? And what would we say to Helen? And what the hell had happened to Muffy?? For the first time, I felt a weak pang of guilt. By the time my work day was over, I was crazy with worry. Visions of a tortured, murdered cat were filling my mind.

After work, we spent all evening running around the building, worried sick, looking for Muffy. Eventually we gave up and went into the kitchen to make dinner. Our neighbor Inna was there.

Inna, by our building's standards, was stinking rich. She worked in a clothing store; her husband worked at a meatpacking plant. That meant she had access to clothes and he had access to meat. In the 1990 Russia, with its shortage of just about everything, it was a gold mine. When Inna cooked dinner, the rest of us tried not to look; she used ingredients that none of us could either afford or find in a store. But she was a kind, well-meaning woman, and we were willing to overlook her in-our-faces wealth. We said hi to Inna and went on making our dinner.

"Can you guys believe we found a cat today?" she asked us excitedly.

We jumped. "What!?"

"Yes, a cat! My son wanted a cat for so long, and this morning, I walked out of my room, and there was one just sitting there! A small black kitty, very cute. It's a girl. I'm going to keep her. Just gave her sour cream for dinner."

Ann and I hadn't eaten sour cream in weeks, but we nodded happily.

"Good for you, Inna! Nice cat, huh?"

"Yes! We called her Fuzzy!"

Hey, definitely better than Muffy.

Helen seemed to take the news quite well when we broke it to her the next day. She never tried to claim Muffy/Fuzzy back. Eventually Inna and her husband built a house and moved into it with their son and, hopefully, Fuzzy.

Since I now try to add a moral to every story I tell, here is what we can learn from this one - everything happens for a reason; and, more often than not, whatever happens, happens for the better. Muffy was much better off with Inna, who cared about her and fed her gourmet food, than she would have ever been with her original owners, a random group of college guys with a tendency to leave town for weeks and dump their cat on the first person that came along.

Which in turn proves that there must be a higher power taking care of us. At least as far as cats are concerned.

That said, don't ever throw cats out of your residence. That stunt was performed by a trained professional, and you should never, ever try it at home.

The Goldie has spoken at 11:21 PM

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