In May of last summer, on a sunny, windless day, I threw open all the windows in my third floor apartment. It wasn’t meant to be some kind of experiment, at first; winter had been interminable, the spring had hurried by. My finals over, I was happy, hopeful. I was cleaning.
That night as I ate dinner and read by the window, a wind kicked up and blew my papers clear across the room. It was as if a passage was opened, from one end of my apartment to the other. The breeze persisted all night, and I liked the feeling, of the outside inside, of the hard outline of my little apartment blurred, so I kept them open. I finally closed the windows end of September, when there was no more denying that the seasons have turned. These are some stories from that summer.
I. JP Licks
JP Licks, by nature, is an outdoor cat. When my parents found her in their backyard in the summer of 2008, she was with a boy cat from her litter. They were two skittish, starving little things, probably not 3 months old, climbing trees, digging up gophers, wrecking my mom’s vegetable garden. Every day, teeth marks on the plants, poop in the flower pots, ripped up grass and little rat skulls scattered around the yard.
One morning, I get a call at school. “Do you like cats,” my mom asked. I took them both.
Maxwell, the boy cat, died age 6 months. A girl in my dorm, on the 4th floor of the building, had fallen in love with him. Then, one day, he fell, too, out her window, onto the concrete outside.
Maxwell was the only cat friend JP Licks ever had, but she kept up the habit of going outside, anyways, on her own. She was happiest in San Francisco, after I graduated, where I lived on the first floor of a little row house near the ocean. The door to the backyard I left open, every day, pretty much all year round. From there she could hop the fence to the neighboring yards, and from there, get out to the park, if she liked. I never did find out what she did all day but when I called in the evenings she would come running. Next morning, she’d be by the door again, waiting.
One day, JP Licks was sick with a fever and stayed in bed all day. In the backyard, through the window, just that once, I saw a perfect white cat, long-haired and unmoving. It just sat under our tree and stared at our door.
Then I came to Boston, and my apartment is so small and winter so cold that JP Licks took to sleeping 15 hours a day. The first chance I got, I let her out my window. The fire escape in the back of the building starts at my window, connects the three floors of apartments, and ends at the pavement below. But it’s a skeletal structure, narrow and high, with a huge gap before each stair and bolts that appeared to be pulling out of the wall. Every time I climbed out there, at first, visions of plunging headfirst into the ground were all I could manage, and my cat, too, I assume, since she refused to step out onto the grating. Rather, for days, she sat on a wood board in the corner of the platform, in the sun, and took it all in.
Then, gingerly, inspired by some moth or mouse or bird below, she took her first step.