October 2, 2017 by The Citron Review
by Charles Kaufmann
There’s a term for when, half-awake, you feel your cat jump up on the bed, as usual, curl up on her spot to the left of your pillow, as usual, and begin purring. She’s fallen from the stars out there, somewhere from within Orion’s Belt in the clear, cold midnight sky of early December. She’s come in through the closed window above your bed, joined you as she always does, the feral kitten from the shelter your 12-year-old son named Koko—because Koko is what they call kittens in Japan—your best friend, your companion through years of crises, depression, and, finally, personal resurrection.
There she is one morning at the back door, waiting to come in after you’ve called, not lost in the freezing sleet and frigid wind. And there she is again two weeks later, even after you’ve replaced her with two new feral kittens, the one, Ruffian, curled up and asleep in Koko’s favorite spot, suddenly terrorized by some nightmare—some night terror—driving him off the bed, as if no creature but Koko, from then until forever, has permission to occupy that place.
Thanksgiving night, you found Koko’s frail, stiff, frozen body on the meadow across from Wolfe’s Neck, at the tip of land called Stockbridge Point, where the Harraseeket’s brackish mouth narrows into a raging ebb and flow, where there is a cluster of tall, spindly white pines that sway in winter gales like the masts of tall ships, where you and Koko used to go for walks. Stuck in her mouth was a single blade of green grass, her last effort to stave off dehydration, hypothermia, starvation, as if by swallowing that blade she could puke up death itself, like a hairball, and be well again.
You buried Koko under those white pines, wrapped in her favorite blanket; you tossed in her worn, forest-green breakaway collar with its small, round, blue metallic tag that reads “Koko” and gives your telephone number. Next to the blanket, you placed her favorite multi-colored felt ball, the one your sister made from laundry lint, and as you filled the tiny grave—those frozen-clay walls so carefully clean and square—you left a tulip bulb near the surface, something that would live again in the spring, something that would mark the grave year after year.
The term is grief visitation: random moments when your mind fools you with hallucinations, tricks you into seeing things that are gone, confuses you with patterns it can’t quite give up on, bewitches you into believing, against your better judgement, that Ruffian’s spook is the chimera of a jealous former pet, not the tapeworms that are winding their way through his intestines. (You’ll take care of those at the vet.)
But if it is Koko? Not the brain, not the worms: a ghost, a spirit, alive, trying to get back home—again, and again?
The term for that is love.
Charles Kaufmann is a writer, filmmaker, composer, and the founding director of The Longfellow Chorus, a professional non-profit performing arts organization in Portland, Maine. As a musician and writer, he often seeks to draw upon musical lyricism as a source of lyric expression in prose. He was twice a finalist in the Ithaca Choral Competition Contest, where he won second prize in 2007. His short stories appear on East of the Web and in Bound Off.