A week after Mother’s accident, I met Vanna. I had seen glimpses of her before, darting through doorways or disappearing under a bed, but I had never really met her. She was a fearful, shy cat who rarely ventured into the open, even around Mother.
When Vanna finally allowed me to pet her, I discovered that her hair was dry and loose, falling out in handfuls. She had not been taking care of herself, and her matted fur felt like a physical manifestation of my own distress.
For the first time in days, I knew exactly what to do. Here was something that I could actually fix. I found Mother’s cat brush and went to work, laughing at Vanna’s ecstatic response to my grooming efforts. She purred and drooled, rolled and kneaded the air. And I fell head over heels in love. Three months later, when I announced that I would be taking Vanna home with me when I returned to Virginia, no one objected.
The drive was too long to cover in a single day, so we stopped at the Holiday Inn Express in Emporia. Mother would have laughed herself to tears over the thought of Vanna sleeping on a hotel bed.
Now it’s been a full year since our long drive together. Vanna has settled in and taken over the house. Her two housemates are too lazy to protest as she claims the warmest pools of sunshine and the softest pillows. They move aside as she bolts past them in the hall, as she chases her favorite toys or races to get there first, wherever she is going. They are patient, gentle cats, amiably dodging her jealous swipes and ignoring her touchy temper.
Some of their ease is rubbing off on her, and she is learning to share food bowls and favorite perches. Best of all, she rarely hides anymore. I seldom find her in a closet or under a bed. Instead, she sleeps in front of the windows and sprawls across the beds.
Every so often, usually after a poor night’s sleep, I catch myself indulging in a moment of grief as I watch Vanna. She is Mother’s cat, not mine. Or at least, she should be Mother’s cat. What if Mother had survived her injuries? Would she have consented so readily to my taking her neediest cat?
Such moments are lessening in frequency and intensity. I’m learning to file these questions in the unanswerable category, alongside a litany of other questions that start with “why?” and “what if?” I may as well ask why is there sunshine. Or why are there cats to enjoy the sunshine…