(This is an installment in a serial story. To read “Magic” from the beginning, click here.)
Sarah woke up to gentle paws kneading her. She opened her eyes and in the morning half-light, she saw a white fluffy cat sitting above her. Instinctively, she reached out and stroked the cat, who settled in and purred contentedly on her belly. She slipped back into sleep.
When she awoke again, the cat had crept up and was sleeping in the crook of her arm, cuddled against her chest. She flexed her fingers, playing with its fur, and when she opened her eyes, the room was bright. Sunlight streaked across her bed, and while she could feel the cat, she couldn’t see it.“Alba?” she asked, using the name Lupa had used for the cat. “Is that you?” The cat gave a kittenish little meow in response, maybe part yawn, and she felt it stand and stretch. She thought, for just an instant, that she saw the faint outline of a cat in the sunlight. It was like looking at a jellyfish, she thought; the edges were more distinct than the body.
Before she could think about it, she rubbed her eyes. “Shit!” she said, running to the bathroom to splash some water on her face before an allergic reaction could start. But she didn’t itch. After she made coffee, she checked in the bathroom mirror. Her eyes looked fine. They weren’t red and they weren’t puffy. Her nose wasn’t running. In fact, the only red on her face was the streak of crimson lipstick on her cheek where Lupa had kissed her the night before.
“So it wasn’t a dream,” Sarah said. As she talked to herself in the mirror, rubbing at the smudge on her cheek, she saw the cat reflected there plain as the day, sitting on the windowsill behind her. She turned around to face the window, but there was no visible cat. She turned back to the mirror – cat – and then again turned to the window – no cat. She walked toward the window and reached her hand to the spot where she had seen the cat. “Alba, kitty. Good kitty.” Her fingers hesitantly touched fur and the cat gave a little trill and rubbed the side of its face against her hand. She petted it for a moment and then washed her hands and poured herself a cup of coffee.
While she was having her coffee, sitting on the couch with her legs curled underneath her, she saw the cat walk into the kitchen. She saw it in her peripheral vision. Indeed, with the cat in the middle of the kitchen floor, grooming itself, she experimented. She could see the cat if she didn’t look at it. If her eyes focused above it, or off to the side, she could see the cat. But the moment she looked at it directly, it dissolved. If she swung her eyes to the cat slowly, the cat dissolved slowly, but if she cut her eyes to it quickly, it disappeared just as fast. She played with that for a while, seeing how close she could let her vision creep before the cat would start to shimmer and fade away.
She saw the cat look toward the front door and followed its gaze. There, just inside the front door sat Owl.
“Oh, great,” she thought. “Now there’s two cats.” But she didn’t say it out loud. That would have been rude. Instead she said “Oh, hey, Owl. Good morning to you.”
Alba walked over to greet the other cat. By keeping her eyes focused on Owl, Sarah could see them both, rubbing faces and curling around each other, one as black and sleek as the other was white and fluffy – a yin/yang of cats. She was still watching as they left the apartment, walking through the door as though it wasn’t there.
There was a sudden stillness in the room. “They didn’t leave so much as a smile,” she said to no one in particular.
Sarah heard a familiar faint buzz and crossed the room to pick up her cell phone. The screen flashed a picture of her mother.
Her mom launched into a long story about how cold it was in Minnesota. (“Colder than Great Uncle Bob’s rear end,” she said. Great Uncle Bob had been dead since the 1970s.) She continued, detailing the types and varieties of hot dishes at the previous night’s church supper. At the thought of the night before, Sarah smiled a little, remembering the women and dancing. She had spun around the floor until she was dizzy and laughed until she was hoarse. Somewhere around midnight, a nice woman had thrown her suit jacket over her shoulders and walked her to the foot of the Victorian’s steps and kissed her gently on the forehead. Sarah returned the jacket before she let herself in the front door, and then realized after she closed it that she didn’t even know the woman’s name.
“Sarah,” her mom said. “Did you hear a word I said?”
“Oh, I did, Mom. I’m sorry I’m so quiet, I’m just waking up.”
“Just waking up?” her mom asked, years of sunrise baking adding judgment to the question.
“I’ve been tired,” Sarah said. “I’ve been carrying a lot of boxes around, you know, moving.”
“I’ll let you go then, and get settled. We just wanted you to know we’re thinking of you.” As always, her mother spoke for Sarah’s father too. “And keep an eye on the mail. We sent you a little something for your birthday.”
Sarah had completely forgotten about her birthday. When was it? Monday? Tuesday?
“Bye-bye now. You know we love our girl.”
Just as Sarah started to set the phone down on the counter, a envelope slid under the door with a soft, dry whisper of a sound. It was cream colored, and the paper was thick and rich, as she found when she picked it up. There was no writing on the envelope at all, but the flap was sealed with heavy crimson wax that had been imprinted with a star. She slipped her finger under the flap and carefully loosed the seal and removed the panel card inside.
“A small party in honor of your birthday. This Tuesday night at 8 p.m. Wear something festive.”
It was signed in purple ink, “Lupa”.