The cat was gone 24 hours before Sheila would admit it. The Web sites, Sheila saw later, tell you to begin your recovery of the cat the moment you think it might be missing. As soon as you run around the house, frantically poking your head into cabinets, opening kitchen drawers, checking garbage cans, draining sump pump basins, calling, “Phoebe! Phoebe!” you need to get a grip and admit to yourself that the cat has vamoosed. You can’t tell yourself, Shes just hiding somewhere inside I havent thought of. Right now Ill go to bed and tomorrow Ill wake up and there she’ll be, in the kitchen, up on her little stool, waiting for me to spoon her stinky food into her silver bowl.
You cant go to bed when your cat is outside somewhere in the cold, shivering despite her coat of fur, soft, young, lush as sable, hunkering down in corners of people’s wood sheds, hiding from raccoons, craving canned liver, wondering why her owner couldnt admit that her cat has wandered awayby accident, she was let out and thenlo!she saw the whole wide world and she was curiousand now she is lost shes two blocks away but she is nevertheless lost; she has no idea which alley she should take to find that warm place again, that place where she was allowed to doze on the queen-sized Tempur-Pedic and she was fed, on demand, Purina Pro Plan chicken with liver, and a doting pomeranian licked her ears when she was snoozing in a patch of sun slanting through the window in the den, late in the day.
All these animals, shed gotten them for her kid. Or the kids dadwho lived in another househad gotten them for the kid and theyd ended up with Sheila. Dont ask how. There were stories. None of the other mothers would have permitted any of this business. Some of the kids friends had no petsnone, not even a bettaand from their mothers Sheila would get parenting tips. Theyd look her in the eyes, instructionally, and tap her forearm, and tell her, Its OK to say no. Sheila would give the mother a look of relief, as if saying no was an option that had never occurred to her before, and shed bow her head. I know youre right, shed say. And then shed get the woman and her petless child through the door and shed call after them, Come again!
One spring, when the kid was eight, Sheila was crouched among the ajuga, wondering why it was failingajuga was supposed to be an easy plant, so why couldnt she grow it?and she spotted a beautiful small frog, intensely green, nearly glittering among the blackened flora, and she called out to her kid. Look at this! The little frogs emerald back was inked with rows of artful spots that looked impossible. Immediately the kid had the frog on her palm, so they were all eying each other, and the creature raised itself on its front legs, its clubby fingers splayed, and it showed them its jungle-patterned underbellyshapes of orange and black fluidly blendedand the kid said, We have to keep it. Sheila started to refuse, butshe could see the frog didnt belong in this garden, this neighborhood, this hemisphere. This frog was tropical. It was April but the nights were cold. This frog was far from its home. This frog had to be taken in and kept warm.