I heard the howls and cries well before I saw her. As a lifelong cat lover, I instinctively understood what she was trying to say. Not English, not Spanish, hers was the language of a terrified cat, screaming:
“Help me! Look at me! Up here! Up HERE! I fell from the open window above and landed on this ledge! I’m afraid to jump down now because it is too, too far, even for me! Look at me, someone! Please help me!”
As I walked down Cuadrante here in San Miguel the other afternoon, her cries became louder. And then I looked up and saw her, a thin, young, all-black cat (whom I only guessed was female), pacing the short length of a narrow stone window ledge high above me.
As she cried out, she bared her teeth. Her eyes bulged. She looked frightfully thirsty. How long had she been there baking in the midday sun? May is the hottest month of all in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
What could I do?
Cars whizzed by, and green-and-white taxis too. But I knew none would stop for a cat. Seemingly sleepwalking people, likely often kept awake at night by barking dogs, walked past on both sides of the street, taking little notice of this cat’s cries.
I looked up and down for an oncoming black-and-white police car, believing (childishly?) that police officers everywhere in the world are paid to be awake and alert to the community’s (including cats?) safety and needs. Nada.
Then along came a gringo, a slightly built, gray-haired man, who stopped to take the situation in. “She looks just like my own cat,” he said. (How did he know she was a she?) Then without another word, he took action.
He climbed up the front of the building, grasping the iron burglar bars over the window within reach, and he managed to grab the cat by the scruff of her neck. Then he lowered her down to my waiting hands. Together we found where she belonged.
“I love cats,” the gringo said to me.
“So do I,” I said, as we went our separate ways.
I look and listen for life lessons everywhere I go. (Why confine yourself to a Sunday morning sermon, sitting in a hard wooden pew, when you might get an even better one walking down a cobblestone street on a sunny Monday afternoon?) So this was just another one for me.
What if that young black cat had given up on humanity and stopped calling out for help? What if she’d gotten tired of pacing and crying and had just allowed herself to crumple in a heap, thinking, Oh, what’s the use? Nobody cares about me. I’m just a worthless little cat…
It’s pretty clear to me that if she hadn’t fought for herself and spoken up for herself, she wouldn’t have survived.
In the introduction to the 1955 book of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams tells a parable about a group of little Southern girls who played dress-up “in their mothers’ and sisters’ castoff finery, old raggedy ball gowns and plumed hats and high-heeled slippers.”
One of the girls, however, was unhappy that she wasn’t getting the attention she felt she deserved, “so she stretched out her skinny arms and threw back her skinny neck and shrieked to the deaf heavens and her equally oblivious playmates, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me!’
“And then her mother’s high-heeled slippers threw her off balance,” he writes, “and she fell to the sidewalk in a great howling tangle of soiled white satin and torn pink net, and still nobody looked at her.
“I wonder if she is not, now, a Southern writer,” Williams asks himself, no doubt tongue in cheek.
“Of course,” he adds, “it is not only Southern writers of lyrical bent who engage in such histrionics and shout ‘Look at me!’ Perhaps it is a parable of all artists. … However, it is well to know that out of your personal lyricism, your sidewalk histrionics, something has to be created that will not only attract observers but participants in the performance.”
The “necessary trick” in doing so, Williams says, is to rise “above the singular to the plural concern,” to go from the “personal to general import.”
That little black cat, it seemed to me, believed in her right to be. She wisely attracted participants in her performance. Her singular, personal dilemma encompassed others; not many, but enough to matter. Obviously, she is not a writer and she can’t tell her own story.
So I just did.