It has been a happy and sorrowful week. Annalisa, my younger daughter, celebrated her fourteenth birthday. Anna, the stray cat we took in…well, she took us over, actually…died on the same day. Anna would spend her nights outside by (her) choice during the summer; in the morning I would open the front door and tell her, “Welcome to Egypt! Where cats are worshipped!” and she would saunter in, looking for breakfast, which, of course, was quick in coming. Anna would venture outside in the winter for a few moments, then appear at the rear sliding glass door, screaming the feline equivalent of “It’s cold and I have no pants!”
An aside: Anna’s death continues a pattern. Birthdays at casa de Hartlaub are viewed with simultaneous anticipation and trepidation. Bad things can happen. My mother died ten years ago on Annalisa’s birthday (I wanted to ask Annalisa, upon Anna’s death, “Who do you think will die on your twenty-fourth birthday?” but I didn’t, since I will be seventy by then, and, uh, well, it might be me!). My grandfather passed on my cousin’s special day; my grandmother went beyond on my father’s birthday, who in turn, died on the same day as another cat of ours, and of the same cause. My birthday, of course, is on September 11. No explanation necessary.
We spoil our pets around here; Anna, as a result, has chosen not to leave just yet, despite being buried in our backyard pet cemetery. She follows the example of Madrigal and Rebel, our other deceased cats, who choose to dart across our paths occasionally in different parts of the house at all hours of the day and night. Madrigal, a Siamese who loved me like no other creature ever has, has tripped me a few times in the middle of the night when I have gotten up from bed to do what old men do in the middle of the night. The first time it happened was startling; now, if she doesn’t do it once a month, I wonder where she is. Cats are not the only spirits who visit us. Someone/thing at irregular intervals walks slowly across the upstairs floor. This occurs, when it does occur at approximately three pm or seven pm. It may not happen for months, but then will occur every day for three weeks. Annalisa, when she was much younger, told us that it was an angel, and that she saw it several times at the top of the stairs, surrounded by light, looking down at her. She didn’t consider it to be frightening; it was just there. She stopped seeing it when she was about four years old. Whatever it is continues to make itself known when it so chooses.
I’m not necessarily given over to haunts and the like, but I know what I see and I see what I know. I’ve only discussed so far the strange things in our house which I am able to explain. The cats all belong here. The angel, or whatever it is, seems to have come with the house. There is one thing that occurred, however, which I am at a loss to understand, and which accordingly comes closest to that state we call “frightening.” I got up one night about three am (that old man thing again) and when I came back to bed my wife Lisa was moaning in her sleep. While I was debating whether 1) she was having a nightmare and 2) I should wake her up or 3) just let her sleep, I heard a voice in my head, the voice of a young woman, asking “Are you okay?” Lisa, still asleep, answered “um hmmm” with a lilt, as if in affirmative answer. She remembered nothing about it the next morning; I will never forget it.
Not all houses are so benevolent, particularly in fiction. Hopefully you have been watching the stylishly gory AMERICAN HORROR STORY, which has something that will offend and titillate nearly everyone. It is a psychological thriller dressed in ghoul’s weeds, centering around a family who has moved from the east to the west coast in hopes that a change of scenery will salvage their relationship. Of course, the house that they move into is loaded with ghosts. It is the family, however, that is truly and fatefully haunted, and as they continue to make the mistakes that caused them to leave Boston the viewer slowly comes to realize that they can’t get away from themselves. It’s just the thing to watch as the spirits of dead pets sit and sleep in the corners, waiting to trip the unwary in the middle of the night.