We had a routine, the pets and me. About 10 p.m. every night the cat would stand at the sliding glass door and just stare out into the night.
“Want to go out, girl?” I would call from the sofa where I was usually wrapped in a blanket because it had been so damn cold. Earl, Brad’s boxer, would be sound asleep, taking up most of the sofa, but that was ok because he kept my feet warm.
At the word “out,” Earl would run to the door with this newfound energy, his nails clattering across the hardwoods.
“It’s cold,” I would warn them as I unlocked the door.
Earl would fall over himself in delight getting out the door and have to do a lap around the yard before peeing. The cat though would walk to one side of the deck and stare into the woods for a moment like she was waiting for a sign before meandering down the stairs and into the yard.
As for me, going out onto the deck was another chance to have a cigarette, which is something I have been doing a lot of since Brad was deployed. I suspect he is smoking a lot too.
On that particular night in December, the wind had picked up so I was reconsidering my cigarette. Earl had been reconsidering too, because he was clearly done after his one lap and was standing by the door waiting to go in.
“Hey, girl, let’s go back in,” I called to the cat. I could just make out her grey shape near the tire of the truck. She didn’t move.
I walked down the steps to get closer, and Earl whined just a bit because clearly I was walking in the wrong direction.
“Psssst, kitten,” I hissed as I approached her. She turned to me for a second. I only know that because her eyes glowed like jewels in the dark. Then I saw her scoot around the side of the truck and disappear into darkness.
I hurried back to the sliding door and waited inside. The routine was that she would be gone about an hour. Brad joked that this was part of her security detail, that she had to check the perimeter. Then like clockwork, an hour later, she would be sitting in the same spot by the door only looking in, a mirror image.
Except she didn’t that night. But I waited. Midnight. Then 12:30. Earl snored on and had some kind of dream where he was chasing something. On the TV, Olivia and Elliott found a serial killer and a lost kid. I listened to the heat pump struggle and whine.
It hadn’t been that great a day. Brad had called, but the connection was bad. I would hear three words and then garbled noise. In case he could hear me, I told him he was breaking up, that everything was fine here, and that he should try to call back. When the connection broke, I thought maybe he would call back, but my phone didn’t ring again.
On the hour and the half hour, I would go out on the deck and call for her. I woke up at intervals throughout the night and would go and check the door. When the sun came up, I decided to check the truck to see if she had somehow gotten in there and spent the night. Frost had covered it like filigree, and I knew there was no way she could’ve survived the night out there. But I keep hoping.
Brad always said she was more feral than not. I knew she could only stay in this house so long and then she needed to be done with me and the dog. Maybe she went looking for him. She was done waiting.
Colleen Kearney Rich is a fiction editor for Literary Mama. Her writing has been published in the Smokelong Quarterly, matchbook, wigleaf, Minerva Rising, and the anthology Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, among others.