“Here, kitty, kitty…” The girl made a welcoming sound in the back of
her throat as she coaxed the shy tabby out of the sand. Loving hands
ran over the cat’s smooth, soft back, brushing away excess grains from
the tabby as it turned a pebbled stare on her. Beside it, a sleepy cat
yawned and stretched, oblivious to the inscrutable gaze of a sphinx
who studied the retreating sea. Behind the girl, a calico cat twitched
its coconut-ribbed tail as it stalked a mouse, teaching a pair of
kittens how to hunt. A timid kitten peeked out of its mother’s shadow,
terrified by the sea spray. Carefully stepping back, the girl surveyed
the gamboling cats and clapped her hands with delight.
Just one more, and then the light would be perfect for a picture. The
girl worked with an easy rhythm, digging into hot sand with glee,
raking away powder-dry layers to uncover memories of this morning’s
tide. Nimble fingers shaped the sand into an arched back, alert ears,
and a bushy tail that almost seethed with anger. She bent to brush her
lips against the cat’s warm forehead and for a moment she thought she
could feel it move under her hands. Asking the fierce cat to stand
guard, she ran, breathless, to call her parents and show them the sand
Her mother put her newspaper down, said “That’s very nice,” and went
back to reading the entertainment page. Her father—ah, her father had
a camera, her father would take a picture of her cats, would love them
as she did! She flew down the beach, clambered among the rocks and
pulled her father’s sleeve insistently. He laughed. Of course he would
come. He would take their pictures.
Her father ambled along the beach taking pictures of every wave, so
slow she pulled him in impatience. Couldn’t he hear the cats call out
to them? Didn’t he want to learn their names, their stories? Didn’t he
understand that her cats were waiting to be photographed, worshipped,
loved? She dashed ahead, then circled back, alternately pulling and
pushing him as she chattered about the cats’ antics.
As they crested the rise, she heard the sea keen, a long, low note
that sent shivers up her spine. The once-angry cat bowed its head in
apology and pain, his face mauled by a vicious footprint. She cried
out to shoo away the kids gleefully stomping on the other cats but no
one paid her any heed, and when they moved on to other distractions,
she ran to the ruined tableau of all her cats wounded and grieving.
She turned away so that her father couldn’t see the saltwater that
stung her face. In a wavering voice she said she’d do them again,
already stooping to reform the cat closest to her, pouring all her
love into it. Sand caked her skin and got under her fingernails but
she didn’t mind. She didn’t even notice when her father strolled away,
laughing about the simple joys of childhood.
When she smoothed the last cheek and pinched the last ear, the sun was
too low and her father too far away to call for pictures or
admiration. No one would understand anyway, no one but her cats. She
sat there, still and silent, a sand-girl-cat guarding her kittens. The
tide came in and claimed them all.