Phantom Cat

by Marissa Solomon

A phantom cat lives in my house.

Thump, thump, thump.

No matter what house it was she would go down the steps the same.

Thump, thump, thump down the stairs at One Pleasant Circle.

Thump, thump, thump down the stairs at 165 Nutter Island Road.

Thump, thump, thump down the stairs at 65 Cedar Lane.

Always two paws on the first step and two on the second.

Thump, thump, thump.

Mom always said she sounded like a baby elephant, her paws as heavy as lead weights. We thought she’d dent the hard maple wood of the steps. An eight-pound kitten shouldn’t thump like that. But there she went: thump, thump, thump.

Coming home from Thanksgiving break, the thumping was slower, almost pained, and when I beat her to the bottom of the stairs she looked at me incredulously as if to say, “Hey, that’s not how we play this game.” So, I went around the corner and hid until she reached the bottom of the wooden steps and yelled at me in a pitchy meow. “I’m here now,” she seemed to
say.

Sometimes I still hear it; the thumping. Coming home from winter break, it was fast and enthusiastic, the thumping down the stairs, but when I turned the corner there was nothing on the threshold but empty air.

A phantom cat lives in my house.

For fourteen years she thumped through my life, a spiteful ball of brown and cream fur with wide blue owl eyes that never blinked. I swear I hear the footsteps still. The last time I saw her, her eyes were still open. So she must be coming down the stairs then because her eyes were open and she would only ever stop thumping if her eyes were closed, right?

I held her when her eyes were still open- when she was quiet for the first time in her life. It was like she was sleeping, but her eyes were still wide open. The vet said it wouldn’t hurt, that it was only two shots. She might still just be sleeping. She’ll thump downstairs tomorrow morning.

If she is sleeping, I know where she sleeps; I knew where she slept. The wire clothing baskets in the back of my brother’s closet, the open sock drawer in the back of mine. The window seat in the hallway that gets the best sun at three in the afternoon. Underneath the rocking chair on the oriental carpet. The white couch in the corner of the red room. I still walk into each of these places expecting to be greeted by an indignant “meh,” kind of a half-hearted
“mew.” It’s quiet in these places now, but I still hear the “meh” echoing in the back of my head. If her eyes were closed, I wouldn’t hear it, right?

A phantom cat lives in my house.

If her eyes were closed, she would be dead. But her eyes were open when I gave her to the vet’s assistant, and her eyes were open when they stood on the front porch and wrapped her in a towel, and her eyes were open when they got in the van and drove away. Her eyes were open, so she couldn’t be dead.

They gave me a pot of ashes and a card that said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But my cat’s not in the pot. She’s in a laundry basket, or a sock drawer, asleep. She’ll thump down the stairs tomorrow.

Thump, thump, thump.

A phantom cat lives in my house.


Marissa is a junior majoring in English and newspaper online journalism. She enjoys hiking, skiing, road-tripping and traveling overseas. Her inspiration is her family, with whom she is very close.

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