Some time ago, I wrote about a bookstore which housed a small, dainty cat. Her name was Zola, and she had that peculiar feline quality of making one ashamed in her presence.
Before being accepted into that literary haven, she had a hard life. Misuse and untended infections destroyed her teeth, and took away one of her golden eyes. Her remaining eye, though scarred, has still kept all of its facets: a yellow diamond embedded in a petite icon.
Her paws are like snowflakes: small and silent. Her voice is a little song: I can see notes and flats and sharps falling from her mouth each time she meows. Boyfriend and I hadn't seen her lately. But the last time we were at the bookstore, I quietly pointed out to him the warm, dappled rug curled on top of a pile of books, fast asleep.
Now, when asleep, most cats will dream of champagne-colored mice, spilling out of glasses, with infuriating whiskers and tails. They will dream of velvet pillows, smelling of feathers and sky, warming in the sun. They will dream of exploring fields of white flowers that nipped at their noses and drove their muscles into delight and madness.
But it is the special cat that will make a bed of books. She absorbs the visions and histories, adventures and tragedies, poems and meters that drive upward like roots from a fertile, creative ground. Languages that are not her own course through her and create new, purring dreams.
She might be stalking through jungles, drawn towards heartbeats hidden in the thick darkness. She could be on the seas, riding on the back of a whale – with every twist and turn thundering like an earthquake. Perhaps she will be in a Victorian alley – concealed by the smoke of nearby opium dens – watching a man in his parlor reading about murder and brandishing a syringe. Or maybe she would be lost on a battlefield, stepping over shredded flags, glancing distastefully at the stale, red pools, comforting the dying horses' white-eyed pain with her whiskers.
Or that lucky cat would feel its substance losing dimension, until it could walk through centuries of art. She would nibble at Dutch still lives: broad plates of tulips, bread and cheese. Her form might appear in a carved frieze of warriors and slaves, riding in a chariot. She would invade the portraits of women who hunted the courts with feral intensity. Resting by their petticoats, her tail would wrap around shoes painted with scenes of masquerades and banquets.
Before we left that day I saw that Zola was awake, and was yawning luxuriously. Whatever story she had chosen (or had chosen her), it must have been a very fine and lengthy journey.