Jacob Lawrence, "Cat" 1967
Jacob Lawrence, Cat (1960)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

April 18, 2005:

"Where are my lost babies?"

We gave away her kittens too soon. I think my mother was concerned that if the kittens were older they wouldn't find adopters after we took them to the pound. So we took them away very young, long before they were ready to be weaned.

All day long day after day the mother cat searched the apartment, crying, crying, calling out for her lost babies. Sniffing under the couch, walking into closets, scratching at closed kitchen cabinets, peering into the heater vent, climbing bookshelves, crying, crying. "Where are my lost babies?"

My mother said, "She'll forget them." From the belief that animals are more mentally limited than people. As if their smell would ever completely leave the rooms. I don't believe she ever did forget them. While her crying eventually stopped, she was never happy afterward, and when she became pregnant with her second litter and it was time to give birth she left our apartment and disappeared forever. My mother believed she was hit by a car. While that was sadly common in our crowded neighborhood I believe it's false. I believe she ran away from us to prevent us taking her babies a second time. I was disconsolate.

She was my first animal. I found her as a kitten, in a box of kittens on a sidewalk, walking home from first or second grade. The family were giving them away to passers-by. I loved her on sight. "Oh no, my mother won't mind." I guess the family were desperate to find homes for them because they agreed to that childish nonsense without too much persuasion. Of course she minded. But she relented when she saw how truly I loved the little thing.

She gave birth on an old towel inside a cardboard box with low walls inside the hall closet. It was painful for her: how she cried and panted! Then afterward how she purred and purred! First she ate the pink afterbirth, then she licked her babies clean, licked them absolutely clean nose to tail, with their squeaky mewling and their closed little eyes. How proud of them she was! How she loved them.

Of course, when the time came my mother made no attempt to find homes for them. That would have meant talking to people. Better take them to the pound. People who want kittens will go there to look.

I have the fantasy that the mother cat fled into the canyon to give birth to her second litter. I suppose if this is true the likelihood is that they were all eaten by hawks. My fantasy though is that their descendants live there still today, fearless and feral and free. It's a happy picture.