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Shelley Pienn, Florida, USA
November 1997

In my mother's house in North Miami Beach, there are more housecats than I've ever seen in anyone's home. Throughout my life, she's had cats, all different kinds, all different colors, and I loved them all. Each one was different, with its own personality, and each one was like a member of the family. Since I no longer live there, I don't see my "family" as often as I used too, but one particular animal, through strange circumstances, has left an indelible impression in my mind.

About two years ago, I was visiting my mother. She was cooking, so I stood with her in the kitchen, chatting. "Mom," I said, "I can't wait to show you these pictures of my trip to Alaska. I just have a couple of frames left to shoot on this roll of film."

"Take a picture of Toon," she suggested, gesturing toward the little black-and-white cat I had affectionately named "Toon" because he looked like a cartoon. Toon and I had a special owner-to-pet relationship. He was oddly human-like in his expressions and actions. My mother had told me that when I moved into my own apartment, Toon would rush to the door of my parents' house around six o'clock, the time he expected me to come back from work. He would also "scream" all night, meowing in a high-pitched tone. Whenever I came to visit, no matter what random day it might be, my mother said he would be waiting ahead of time by the door, too excited to stand still.

I went to get my camera. There seemed to be two frames left on the film. I hunkered down on the kitchen floor and tried to shoot Toon, but he was so excited to see me that he kept running out of the view frame. Each time I depressed the shutter, he had already gone out of my frame of focus. I stood up. "I can't get a shot," I said to my mom. He keeps moving." My mother was facing away from me, moving pots and pans around on the stove. Suddenly I heard a young woman's voice, right close to my ear."This is your last chance," she said. My mother spoke. "Take a picture of Monty," she said, pointing to a well-behaved red striped cat who was posing conveniently by the dish rack. I moved numbly over and took a perfect photo of Monty. I still heard the echo of the other voice, like a cobweb dangling in my inner ear. Silly, I thought to myself.

A month later it was nearly Christmas. I was planning to visit my mother again for the holiday. Alone in my apartment a few days before my scheduled visit, I watched a particularly touching Christmas story on T.V. For some reason, I was overwhelmed and began to cry violently. I felt so strange. I suddenly felt the great need to speak to my mother. This is dumb, I told myself. You're just over reacting to this sentimental show. The urgent feeling persisted, but I ignored it and went directly to be, still in tears.

The next day my mother phoned. Apparently, she had been making her bed the previous night when she noticed that Toon looked strange. His eyes glazed over and he fell to the ground. She immediately paged the veterinarian and said there was an emergency. She drove Toon to the vet's office where he mysteriously died. I hung up with her and cried, remembering the voice, and what it said.

Shelley Pienn, Florida, USA
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