, Gloucester, MA

September 20, 2013

A dream, glass panes, and Mr. Pumpkin

Journal Pages
Susan S. Emerson

---- — He slept through it all. Personal history confirmed for him that he was always safe, protected, free to dream.

Ominous rumbles of thunder cracked loudly. I wondered if they belonged only to the sky, or might instead smash down like great granite boulders in an earthquake. Razors of heat lightning sliced through the pale blue afternoon sky as if controlled by a small child flipping a light switch on and off.

A trio of baby seagulls fell or jumped from their nest atop the roof of the adjacent Main Street building, mistaken in the assumption that they could fly. They slapped their webbed feet clumsily against the heat of the pavement, foraging through street garbage made available to them by their mother who tore open trash bags for their benefit, all the while screeching directions and commands.

Through it all, the cat slept, basking in the rays of the sun that managed to peek through dark thunderclouds and settle on the floor of the vast southern exposure of the shop window. “What’s the cat’s name?” people asked, coming in to visit him.

“It’s Mr. Pumpkin — fat and orange,” I say, smiling down on him.

Occasionally, the cat rolled over on his back and stretched, exposing his long white belly and holding that position as he fell back to sleep. More than once, a concerned passer-by poked his head through the door to report, “There’s a dead cat in your window.”

If some one of his adoring public tapped a fingernail against the glass, the cat might open one eye, lazily studying the interloper and any other pedestrian traffic passing by. His was a world made secure, he knew, by that huge pane of glass that somehow separated him from the world outside. Often, he responded to such attention in his cat voice, reserved for just this occasion. It sounded like a question, translated: “Oh, hello. What’s up?”

Sometimes a leashed dog trotting by the window with its master might peek through among the posters in the window advertising musical events in the city (for the cat’s domain was a music store) and spy the great, furry hulk of sleeping cat stretched out, prostrate, framed in geraniums.

The discovery of a cat so close, but still out of reach, often sent dogs into a mad frenzy. Even when they barked hysterically and threw themselves against the window, the cat slept on.

I wonder what he dreams when I see his feet move in his sleep. Is he a hunter, in pursuit of lesser creatures than himself? I have watched him crouch and drag his belly across the floor to stalk a spider. I have seen him jump up into the air to cuff a fly in flight.

In springtime, I sprinkle bread crumbs on the sidewalk beyond the window for the sparrow family that nests in the tree outside my door. The cat hides behind a guitar, stealthily creeping up on the birds as they picnic on the pavement. Hasn’t he noticed that the same pane of glass protecting him from the dogs also protects the tiny birds from him?

His mouth quivers — memory of a catch in some previous life? Thousands of years of history are wired into his brain. His ancestors were hunters. He is a hunter. He lunges at the glass when the confused baby seagull patters too close to the window.

Fearless, he never tires of conquest. Still, he comes running to his bowl of Meow-Mix when he hears the slightest crinkle of the bag.

Susan S. Emerson is a regular columnist for the Times.