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Cats in Windows

I first saw the house when I was seven years old. Our neighborhood is concentrated in a small area, so most of the kids walk to and from school. I was no exception to that, and neither were most of the 22 other second-graders in my class. On a normal day, the final bell would ring and our hearts would spring from their cages, forcing us excitedly out of our seats almost immediately. We would yank our backpacks from our lockers in a desperate frenzy, walk as quickly as we could to the double doors in the middle of the hallway, and, upon seeing our freedom through the glass, would break into a sprint as we slammed them wide open, all of us piling out at once.

The adrenaline would leave us just as quickly as it came, and we were left, still jittering, to traverse the parking lot and the front lawn of the school. The crossing guard stood there waiting for us; his presence was an unfailingly reliable one, and we were all secretly grateful for it. There was an element of translucence to him, for though he stopped the always light traffic for us every day, he rarely said a word and always seemed to be somewhere else.

We would cross the street, and then a whole group of us would turn right and take the long road back to one of our houses and act on whatever whims we chose.

One afternoon, though, I felt more like the crossing guard than a second grader, almost as though I had left myself and could see my ratty brown hair and my dirty nose and even the thumb that still made its way to my mouth sometimes, but only when I was nervous. My friends were walking too quickly, more so than normal, and I didn’t feel compelled to hurry and meet them, so I continued sluggishly along. Since I was already alone, I thought, I ought to take a different way home than I usually do; so, for the sake of variety and curiosity, I turned right, but instead of following that street I took another left and ventured onto a path that cut through the neighborhood.

Known to most as “the secret path,” the sidewalk that bridged the gap from the street across from the school to the next was rarely traveled by people my age, for it was dark and ensconced by trees and frequented by the older kids. I decided to brave it that day, and walked a little faster whenever I felt it get a little darker. My hand was a fortuitous one, for I was the only one who walked the path, and the sounds of my classmates talking were starting to fade away, muffled by the trees.

The experience was surprisingly peaceful, but I was still glad to find myself on the other side of the street, the secret path now looming behind me. I began to walk in the direction of my house, but stopped shortly thereafter when I found myself on an unfamiliar street corner staring at an unfamiliar house. I was somewhat unsettled, for I had traipsed along this street many times before and seen a house on this corner that was far more plain and understated than the one I could not draw my attention away from now. It was tall and made entirely of wood, a rare sight in our town; intricate details were carved into the pillars fronting the porch and a turret on the side of the house pointed prominently into the sky. Vibrant fuchsia trim surrounded the softer mauve that covered the house. I thought it was the most beautiful building I had ever seen.

I was so captivated by the house that, on the following day, I followed the secret path back to its corner, and was just as amazed by it then as I was the day before. I still enjoyed the company of my friends, so I didn’t abandon them for the house quite as often as I would have liked to, but I always thought about it and how wonderful it was and how much I would love to live there. I wanted to climb to the top of the turret, stick my head out of the window, and suddenly find myself taller than the trees lining the path that led me there. I wanted to sit on that lonely porch and stare, perhaps for hours, at the stories that were so delicately carved into the pillars in front of me. I wanted to walk up the stairs at night to my room and hear the wooden stairs creaking under me, as though the house were alive and telling me good night. I wanted it more than anything.

As I got older, the girls I would follow down the street became less interested in me, and I less interested in them. They invited the pimply boys in our grade who wore baggy neon shorts even when it was cold outside along with us, and for reasons unknown to me they seemed to enjoy their company. Their houses, once oases of youthful joy, were now landfills of rotting pubescence. It followed, then, that the older I became the more inclined I was to walk through the shady trees of the secret path, which was not much of a secret anymore, and down the street to marvel at that beautiful house.

 I came to believe that it possessed a sort of regal majesty that eluded the simple people who chased after it. If there ever was an ideal of the common people, that house represented it completely. I came to only admire and lust for something I had once dearly loved. Because of that, though, I found that I spend even more time in its presence; sometimes I felt privileged, even, to walk past it and feel the fuchsia trim fill my dull life with irresistible color.

It had only become more beautiful, but somehow I had disappointed it. I was a completely average person, trapped in a circle of depressing monotony. Everything I did was perfectly ordinary, and the house chastised me for lacking something better. After seventeen years, I had nothing to show for myself, and the house, which flashed its excellence at every opportunity, knew it. I felt like it had every right to look down on me. Wisdom leaked from every creak in its old stairs, but there never seemed to be any evidence of physical wear. The paint had retained its unique vibrance. Though I felt more attached to the house than ever, I also felt further away from it than I did when I was younger. Then, it brought me nothing but joy; now, visits brought with them a corrupting sadness.

One afternoon, as I did every other afternoon, I left the high school in a desperate hurry and walked through the secret path, trying to find novelty in it once again. Not succeeding, I hurried out of there too in an effort to prevent that knowledge from infecting all of my brain, hoping that some part of it would remain blissfully ignorant. I reached the house and gazed at it in admiration, as I always did, but this time I was not alone. Hesitating a little, I carefully stepped onto the smooth concrete path that took me to the porch stairs. I did not climb them, but instead leaned on the railing surrounding it and peered into the living room at the tiny cat that rested on the windowsill.

I was not deceived by it’s size, though, for its face seemed to hold infinite wisdom. It saw me and was not startled at all, as some cats would be, but rather adapted to my presence; it almost seemed to embrace my being there. It paced back and forth across the windowsill and licked its nose, then tilted its head slightly back in my direction, almost asking me what I was still doing there. Unsettled, I turned around and headed back to the road, though I could not help but stare at the seemingly enlightened cat returning my look.

I took the same route home the next afternoon, half-hoping that I would see that cat waiting for me again in the window. The other half of me wanted to never see it again, for something about it made me feel like I was a soldier with a chink in my armor that my enemy could sense. I devoted much more attention to the latter of my feelings than the former, so much so that I felt a pang of nervousness as I approached the house. As I walked closer, my steps grew more timid but somehow more heavy as well; I almost wanted to run past the house and not even check to see if the cat was pacing along the windowsill again today.

I stopped for a moment and considered my situation. I felt extremely childish. Why was this cat, tiny and seemingly benign, evoking feelings in me that were so strongly negative? How was I allowing it to happen, how was I giving it any power over me? Motivated largely by my own feeling of inadequacy, I strode confidently up to the house and perched my arms on the porch, resting my head in my hands, scanning the room for any sign of feline life. Seeing nothing in the window, I started back down the path, but stopped suddenly when I head a surprisingly loud “meow” in the back of my mind. Unsure of whether it was real or simply a figment of my imagination, and feeling rather foolish, I turned slowly around faced the house in its entirety. Starting at the roof for reasons unknown, I moved my eyes down the front of the building and ultimately to the lower left window, where a much larger cat greeted me.

At this point, I began to feel unreasonably irritated. I went back up to the porch and shot an annoyed look in the cat’s direction, but quickly shrunk away upon seeing that it was far more assertive than I. It stood powerfully and with a firm foundation, staring just as intently at me as I was at it, confident and unwavering. I had no other option but to retreat; I had been defeated yet again.

The next few days followed a similar pattern. School would end, I would happily leave, though usually still burdened by how much I didn’t want to return the next day. I would walk through the secret path, sometimes seeing the next wave of kids to venture through the colossal trees and into the darkness, and walk along the road towards the house. Much to my surprise, but also in the most predictable fashion, still more cats appeared in the windows of the house. The living room, the kitchen, and even the bedrooms on the second floor hosted a patronizing cat at some point, eagerly assisting it in its insidious mission.

In a way that I could not explain, every one of them had something seemingly extraordinary about them. They were wise, they were assertive, they were unshakeable, they were personable. It was impossible for cats to be so, and yet they all seemed that way. I wanted nothing more to run away from them and never see them again, but every time I saw one I could not tear myself away from them. Just like the house, there was something about them that was so alluring and beautiful, but also something that crushed my spirit in an unexplainable way.

I don’t know exactly how many cats it took, but I eventually came to the realization that the best way to escape them and their demoralizing condescension was to simply avoid them. It was like pulling a knife out of my back that had been there for so long that I almost felt sad to part with, and, though it was initially more painful than anything I had ever felt, the wound healed and eventually became nothing more than a fading scar. The house had been a part of my life for so long; it was something I had loved, something that I had aspired to, but also something that had eluded me for as long as I had known it. Whatever had satisfied me about it initially was washed away by time and cats, and I had nothing left to gain from longing for it. It was never mine to have, but it was never anyone’s to have. Perhaps others had walked before me, chasing after that which they could never reach, and had been stopped in their tracks by the power of its guardians. Perhaps they sucked the hope out of the others as they had me, perhaps they had cut open every tender wound on their bodies and left them, defenseless, to face themselves.

I hope they realized, like I eventually did, that some places were never ours to reach. No one was meant to live in that house, for no one ever could. I would never gain anything by staring at cats in windows. In spending my life longing to run with them, I would remain standing in exactly the same place.

It had been many months since I had taken that wooded, hidden trail down to that godforsaken house. The twins I was babysitting were each clutching one of my hands, both of which swallowed theirs. I laughed to myself as one of them pulled me down the secret path and to the right, along the road I once walked. They were distracting me and each other with the story of how all of their class pets had escaped overnight, and we soon approached the corner where the house stood without my being conscious of it. I looked to give it an apathetic glance, to acknowledge it and nothing more, but the fuchsia and mauve had been replaced by dull neutral tones, the prominent turret, which once accosted the sky, was now a complacent rectangular chimney. The house was gone.

The twins’ house was across the street, so I walked them over and delivered them to their father, who had been waiting for them at home. He reached for his wallet and handed me my pay—$32 for four hours—and I started on my way home. Further down the road, I saw a cat walking away from where the house once stood. It didn’t acknowledge me, but it didn’t need to. It felt my eyes linger, watching it wander down the long road, looking for someone else to chase it and knowing that I never would.


Steph Kang is a former Voices editor and staff writer for the Granite Bay Gazette as well as a semi-regular blogger at steph-kang.com. She is also the proud founder and editor-in-chief of Unfurled Mag and writes weekly for Femme and Fortune.

Morgan is a sixteen-year-old writer currently living in Ohio, though she longs to someday hide in the mountains. When she isn't reading the newspaper or drinking tea (which is all the time), she can be found writing, reading D.H. Lawrence novels, or pretending to do yoga. She loves complicated beauty, but also has a great appreciation for the crudest elements of life. Indicative of this are her two favorite movies: Mullholland Drive and Norbit. She wholeheartedly recommends them both.

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