Mango the cat

Mango seems to know melan­choly well. She goes out through the cat flap when­ever she likes. But some­times she just stands by the win­dow sill or the glass door, look­ing wist­fully into the gar­den. I think it is nec­es­sary that I open that door.

Mango lives in the kitchen. Whenever she and I meet, I am ei­ther chop­ping or eat­ing. She prob­a­bly thinks that’s all I do. Things have changed for her lately: last week she man­aged to es­cape. I found her in my room, un­der my bed. Now she would have re­alised some­thing for the first time that she had not known be­fore. She saw the books, she knows I read them. Yet the fact that I come down every night aim­lessly search­ing about the kitchen, de­spite the stack of Ritz crack­ers in my room, has be­come a mys­tery to her.

We’ve de­vel­oped some­thing of a co-habi­ta­tion narrative’ only known to us. Sometimes, when no one is around, I ask her ques­tions, im­i­tat­ing the way oth­ers in the house do. Questions that are re­ally state­ments that end with question tags’—a gram­mat­i­cal idio­syn­crasy that I’ve grown more and more used to since I came to this coun­try nine months ago. Mango is not a kit­ten any­more, and I don’t talk to her as if she is one ei­ther.

Mango knows that I linger in the kitchen at night. I lean on the ra­di­a­tor while wait­ing for the wa­ter to boil, or stand by the counter top, stuck in a mo­ment of thick­en­ing dull­ness. The lux­ury of the kitchen’s par­tic­u­lar si­lence at night should not be un­der­es­ti­mated. Get lost in it. Go blank. Wake up to the re­frig­er­a­tor’s gen­tle hum­ming, or the heat em­a­nat­ing from the ra­di­a­tor, and its abil­ity to make your skin sting.

Mango knows this well. She knows I come down at night and scoop di­rectly from within the fridge when no one else is around. When I turn around, she’s mind­ing her own busi­ness. Mango knows that each time a chili con carne is cool­ing on the burner, I dip my fin­ger in. We are all fa­mil­iar with that pass­ing sting of an un­in­ten­tional blame, how­ever slight our slip.

But Mango is not in­no­cent ei­ther. She loves milk. I caught her twice when she man­aged to get onto the counter top and dip her tongue in some­one’s mug. The first time was soon af­ter I moved in. I left a note, ad­dressed to the milk’s owner: Mango drank it”. The sec­ond time it hap­pened, I won­dered if by then we had built a bond through our shared se­crets. Harmless mis­chief. She nim­bly bounded off out of sight be­fore our eyes could meet.

I re­cently learned that Mango is scared of men. The nar­row gap be­hind the wash­ing ma­chine is where Mango dashes to hide when she hears a man ring the door­bell. How ex­actly Mango can tell it’s a man at the door, we’ll never know. But she al­ways knows. Gardeners came over the other day. Mango, as usual, dashed as soon as she heard the bell ring. I fol­lowed her to the util­ity room. This time she stopped in front of the wash­ing ma­chine and glanced at me, while I waited by the door. Two months into quar­an­tine, Mango knows no men would come in­side the house. Hesitantly, she won­dered whether hid­ing was still nec­es­sary. Or could the hes­i­ta­tion be about the fear it­self—is it still that much of a fear af­ter all? Could it have be­come but a habit, a po­si­tion to hold?

We drift in and out of our pat­terns; we rein­vent our sto­ries, or at least the sto­ries we tell our­selves. The rea­son­ings be­hind past de­ci­sions col­lapse, or are en­tirely for­got­ten, or even trans­mute into some­thing else. And some­times, you know, we are such or­di­nary peo­ple that we cul­ti­vate ec­cen­tric­i­ties. Whatever it was that hap­pened in that mo­ment of reck­on­ing, Mango did not hide be­hind the wash­ing ma­chine. Maybe she de­cided she’d fear no more.