We awake in the night to an un-spooling ribbon of sound. At first it's like the crying of a baby, then it's like no sound we ever heard--a nasal noise rising to spiral out and on out before coiling down, deep in self-absorption. It's a plaintive mewling in the dark. It's a riff played on some alien instrument, expressing primal longing as its song unrolls--mid-register to high-pitched now--forming patterns that puddle, swell, then stream on and on through dreams of 2 a.m., until some wakeful portion of mind isolates that strangely melodic riff as....
The cats have gotten out again. After all it's springtime, and always in the spring our cats go batty to escape the only reality they know--our log house--before crying to come in again.
But wait. Our cats never sounded like this. Some heat-seeking feline serenades the night. Still, best to make certain....
Spayed and de-clawed, our cats are honed for the great indoors, and mostly they're complacent about it, content to lie in residue of warmth pooled in the seat of a chair, or to bask in the breath of floor vents, with one eye on the cream dish beneath the coffeepot. Or to stalk our affections, seizing stray moments to settle in a lap and await petting hands and cooed comfort.
There comes a day each spring, though, when wanderlust gets the best of them, and our two cats long to be outside, grow neurotic to be outdoors, then crazy to be outside. They gaze out windows, mesmerized and mesmerizing the chickadees, cardinals and sparrows that land among red blossoms of the quince bush by the driveway, before braving the last naked sortie to the birdseed dish on our rustic porch.
Our cats know for a certainty they're supposed to flay those birds, capture and consume those birds. Tear them wing from stem. Or do they?
Look at them.
Selene is radiance of moon glow, her soft plume of a tail gently twitching. Salem's patterns of deep gray and white are symmetrical, like a Rorschach test, as she stares sphinx-like, tracking motion and color of a world seen through windowpanes.
Though weaned from the vigor of youth, these dignified cats yield each spring to sudden impulses to bound about the house, chasing one another, hiding behind furniture to pounce ("You're it!") before changing directions on a dime ("flee! flee!"), scurrying up doorframes like trees, trying their mittened best to climb.
Mostly, though, they move languidly from window to door to window again, tracking the re-emergence of life. They sniff discarded jackets and tennis shoes for residue of earth, wind, water and sun, and scout opportunities to escape. They time the openings and closings of doors and test loose window screens. They make precise notes on what they've observed and hold furtive conferences in the shadows to coordinate their schemes. They're busting out of this joint, understand?
At last, they find their opportunity and leap through some dilating doorway to land in the sudden bliss and giddy fear of... being outside. At last. Blazing new trails along foundation walls, navigating a sea of tall grass, these mighty hunters, mighty fighters gather themselves to leap and bat at birds that, inexplicably, soar higher than any ceiling. The cats gaze longingly, perturbed. ("How do birds do that?").
But when dusk comes, they realize the error of their ways.
We see them sitting on windowsills, looking forlorn, or else hear them meowing in distress, pouring remorse and regret on the night. Making bargains. ("Please let me in! I'll do anything if you'll let me in. I promise not to walk on your face before the first cup of coffee... promise not to leave hairballs in the hallways... or leap from the head of the bed onto your belly... or stink up the house just as guests arrive.")
We hear such promises from time to time, but they sound nothing like this plaintive crying in the dark that has awakened us. Our felines possess no such musical ardor. We locate them sleeping quietly in the rooms of our children, curled in the circular pose of ancient animal comfort, ignoring that siren song receding on the night.
Some unseen cat moves spirit-like out there, dismissing the two de-sexed cats inside the log house ("Wrong gender anyhow"), seeking elsewhere for responsive heat of animal passion. Moving on. Must be spring.