Past Lives Chasing A Mouse
It was a chilly March day with strong hints in the air that spring was on its way.
Elsa had traveled by train every couple weeks to go to the Film Forum to see some classic cinema. Going to see films, especially foreign ones, was something she and her husband Michael did regularly when they lived in the city. After he died, ten years ago this April, she retired to Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She was entering her 70s and needed a bit more quiet, perhaps a few more stars overhead, and she so loved being near the ocean.
She met Zach that day—on line waiting for an Aki Kaurasmaki matinee double bill. A conversation began over the image of the man with a bandaged head on the the poster for A Man Without A Past. Neither of them had seen this film and were looking foward to it.
Zach was Elsa’s age, had arrived by himself, and so they chose to sit next to each other in the theater. He had smuggled in a big bag of peanut M&Ms and shared them with Elsa.
They chatted in the lobby afterwards, exchanging their delight with the films. She surprised herself when she suddenly asked him if he’d like to go for some coffee. He smiled—and suggested Rocco’s Bakery on Bleecker Street.
Turns out that Zach’s wife Melinda, who likewise had shared a passion for cinema, had also passed away what would be ten years next month. The two of them had also regularly come in from Brooklyn to see films at the independent cinemas.
Before parting—Elsa heading to Penn Station and Zach to the subway—they exchanged contact information and proposed the idea of getting together for some films in the future. They had looked at the upcoming schedule and the Pedro Almodovar films in a couple weeks appealed to them both.
They were both rather astonished at the spark they experienced that night. Both had very comfortably settled into their solitary lives and romantic entanglements of any sort were not on their GPS.
As time moved along they got together for many other films—expanding the cafe visits afterwards into dinners and even walks around the city.
There was the Almodovar double feature and then their other favorites . . . Ingmar Bergman and Henry Jaglom and John Cassavetes and John Sayles and Spike Lee and Woody Allen and Agnès Varda and . . . well, then there were the visits—overnights, to each other’s homes.
It was during the celebration of Zach’s 80th birthday—while enjoying slices of Joe’s pizza in Father Demos Square—that they discussed what had been on both their minds for a while. Both agreed that Elsa’s home in Ocean Grove was the better choice for these two passionate seniors so two months later a moving truck with Zach’s belongings arrived in New Jersey.
And it was about a week after they had put the last of the empty boxes out for recycling that this full grown black and white cat showed up on the porch. That night they gave it a bit of the chicken they were having and then it went on its way. It had no collar and on the next day it returned. Both Elsa and Zach had some mild allergies so they simply put food out in a bowl on the porch—mostly scraps from their meals. As time went by the cat came indoors on occasion to look around, eventually spending the entire day on their porch. Noticing nothing more than a bit of sneezing as a result, Zach and Elsa bought a cat bed and let it move in.
Recalling the day they first met at the movie theater they decided to call it M‘n’M.
It was a couple months into M’n’M’s occupancy that the strange thing with yowling started to happen every so often.
Because of their allergies they managed to train the cat—it did take occasional squirts of water—to make the bedroom off limits. And she seemed to accept this limitation most of the time.
Zach and Erma were two healthy older individuals who thoroughly enjoyed their intimate relationship. Sex was right up there on their list of pleasures along with movies, good food, and evening strolls along the boardwalk.
So all of a sudden—about one out of three times that they were making love —the cat would sit in the living room and yowl unpleasantly. It didn’t made the sound otherwise—except occasionally when playing with the catnip mouse. They found it somewhere between amusing and creepy and for the most part they ignored it.
One morning after a particularly passionate session, punctuated by the intense yowls, Zach joked that maybe the cat was jealous. Elsa added that perhaps the cat was the reincarnation of one of their former spouses. They enjoyed the laugh.
Even though it started as a joke, a bit of superstition had snuck in. From that day on neither of them looked at the cat the same way. They didn’t talk about it but now when they went to make love they always shut the bedroom door. Even so they occasionally still heard those discomfiting yowls.
They treated the cat as kindly as usual but they each began leaving the back door ajar — just in case M’n’Ms destiny called it elsewhere. She did not go out in search of her past or another future.
The next day they were walking along the ocean, as they did almost every day, when Zach let out a little giggle and said—Hey, I just thought of something kinda funny regarding our talk about the cat being jealous. You know your husband’s name was Michael and my wife’s name was Melinda . . . and we did name the cat M’n’M.
Oh dear!—Elsa snickered. Then, after she silently calculated the numbers, she offered the detail that the cat was probably born around the time that their partners had died.
They turned around on the boardwalk near Asbury Park and headed back home.
When they arrived there was a man sitting on the steps of their porch.
Hi. My name is Ted. I live a few blocks from here and, well, we lost our cat a few months ago, and earlier today when I was on my way to the beach I noticed what looked like Kismet sitting in your window. I was just wondering . . .
As soon as they invited him inside the cat rushed over and rubbed itself back and forth against Ted’s leg, purring madly.
There was coffee and conversation.
Ted explained that his kids really missed the cat.
I didn’t want to say anything until I talked to you. We got her as a kitten almost ten years ago. We were just starting to talk about getting another cat.
Elsa and Zach shared that they loved having her but agreed that she should return to her long-standing family. I suspect we probably spoiled her with table craps and deli meats, added Elsa.
Thank you for taking such good care of her. We live near Pilgrim Pathway. You can always come and visit. Was she any trouble?
Not at all—Elsa and Zach said, almost simultaneously. An occasional yowl here and there, said Zach, but otherwise a perfect guest.
Funny thing that she should do that here, said Ted. At our house the only time she ever yowled was when—he lowered his eyes, a bit embarrassed—my wife and I made love.
Zach and Elsa watched Ted walk down the street, with the big black and white cat comfortable in his arms, until he disappeared around the corner.
What do you think, asked Zack—is that either or both of our spouses heading off into the sunset?
Elsa replied: I think we agreed after seeing the wonderful Kenneth Branaugh film Dead Again that neither of us believed in anything like an afterlife. Besides, Michael wouldn’t be jealous, he would be happy for me.
You’re right—likewise Melinda for me, said Zach.
Maybe those were celebratory yowls.