It’s been a year to the day. Our last interaction was not a nice one. I screamed at her. I told her I was done. She kissed me goodbye, and she was gone. Not a day goes by that I’m not spending time reenacting our last moments together in my head. Our shouts and angry words reverberate in my head. I will never not be sorry, and the hole in my heart and the empty place in my bed and my life will never be filled.
Every day since then, I see something I never noticed until the day after she was gone.
Paw prints on wet concrete. A bell around the neck, paws moving quickly. After months of watching her rush by, I follow.
I rush behind the long black fur blowing in the cold wind as the stealthy paws move ever forward. A bell around her neck jingles with each movement. Her tail straight up as she prances.
I know this cat. I’ve seen it around the neighborhood every day since the last day I kissed her goodbye. Long silky black fur and big glowing green eyes. Her collar a pink satin bow with a gold jingle bell. I see her walk past my porch every day. She walks with purpose. Too clean and well groomed to be a stray. Plus that pretty pink satin bow.
Always, at sunset, she makes her way past my porch, jingle bell jingling.
Vibrant pink streaks through the sky as the sun begins its descent below the horizon. The same pink as the satin bow around the black furry neck.
I struggle to keep up with the small legs rushing brisk up the street. Mist clings and settles in around the street. Shops begin to close up and I am maneuvering around crowds of people as I struggle to keep up with my mysterious feline friend. Drinks in their hands, voices elevated in celebration they are flocking to the night’s revelry. My agile feline friend winds around feet and ankles, determined.
Is she a friend though? Really? I’m just being nosey, and I sense she knows I am tailing her and she’s not happy about it. But really? Are cats ever happy? Why do I even care where she is going?
Around the corner and across the street she is moving ever swift, no sign of slowing down, nothing interfering with her mission of making it to her destination.
Birds are flying to their nests with the settling in of the early evening. Crows call out to one another, alerting each other of found food and carrion. Nothing distracts my silky keen friend as she moves. Bass and jazz and laughter pour from the open doors of bars and restaurants as we make our way to our unknown destination.
She comes to a busy crosswalk. Late evening commuters on their way home from work zoom past. She stops at the traffic light, taking a light seat as she waits for the light to change.
I stand slightly behind her. Her tail flicks back and forth as she waits. The wind blows cool and humid. The smells of last night’s spilled drinks and vomit hang thick in the air. Brightly colored purple, gold, and green beads hang from the branches of trees and the wrought iron of the gates. Glittering and reflecting the setting sun and the gas lamps as they slowly click on up the street. The plastic beads make a rattling noise in the breeze.
My strange feline guide knows I’m there behind her. She doesn’t move away from me. She doesn’t do anything to acknowledge me. But I know she knows I’m there. I resist the urge to bend and pet her soft head.
She makes a small “meow” to acknowledge me.
The light changes, and she resumes her trek forward. I follow behind her upward tail - the tip curling to and fro as she walks. Across the street and down the way, she leads me to the gates of the cemetery.
Through the wrought iron her lithe body squeezes. Here, she stops and faces me. She sits and waits for me to undo the latch.
The metal groans as I heft my weight against the cold damp bars. I close the gate behind me with a loud clamor that echoes off the monuments and structures inside. I can hear the music of a second line parade making its way through the streets in the distance.
She gets up from her haunches and turns back onto the path through the tall mausoleums. Intricate, with their stained glass and wrought iron French doors rusted over.
The cawing of more crows echoes off of the stone structures. I follow her to a newer section of the cemetery, toward the back. The tombs here are less ornate, more modern, simple.
She heads to the steps of one- two large crows flank the entrance. They holler a greeting at her and the wrought iron door swings open with a whine.
In she goes, turning to face me. Waiting. I look up at the name. Alize Toussaint. My heart cracks in half. It had been a year since last my lips had touched hers. She kissed me goodbye. A long kiss. Soft and warm. She knew it would be the last time we would see each other. She knew it was her last night and that by morning, she would be dead. I had no idea. No clue.
Her death plunged me into a darkness I never knew I was capable of. One that debilitated me. I missed her funeral. I missed her internment. I have avoided this cemetery. I have avoided this tomb. I have avoided all thoughts of her until now.
I opened the gate, and there she was. Pale. Glowing against the setting light of day. Perfect, if not cold as my hand reached for her, caressing her cheek. Icy lips turned to press into my palm.
I tried to speak to her. To tell her how much I loved her. How much I missed her. How sorry I was for my cruelty. But words failed me. I failed her a year ago. I’m here now, and I’m failing her again.
I fall to my knees on the cool stone floor and go to gather her into my arms, but she is gone. It sinks in, I will never hold her again.
A clipped meow startles me back to the present. Warm fur bundled into my lap, purring. I hastily wipe my eyes and scoop up the purring bundle of fur in my lap.
I stand and make my way down the steps letting the iron door swing shut behind me. My feline friend makes no effort to leave my arms as the two large crows take flight and leave. Her face nuzzles into my neck and her body relaxes against me.
The cemetery gates swing open and I make my way home with my new friend. Alize’s consolation prize for me. A life to be lived without her, but now with a new friend that reminds me every day of what I could have had. What I should have had.