Black Cat

art: Kate Lieper
art: Kate Lieper

As an adult, I’ve never been a pet owner so it’s surprising to realize that one of my best friends– ever–was a cat named “Licorice.”

My dad was stationed in Colorado when this wonderful black cat came into our lives. My Aunt Rene found her, meowing from a storm drain. She was only a kitten then, abandoned.

“Can we keep her?” sang the chorus of my sisters and me. The answer was, “No.” In the meantime, we fed her and held her and cooed over her tiny frame until the day that she was to be given away to a young couple from the hospital where my father worked.

On the afternoon of their arrival, I sat outside on the front lawn, praying with all my might that I would get to keep Licorice despite the inevitable. I held her close for say our last teary goodbyes. To this day, I delight in sharing the miracle that happened.

Just before they were to arrive, my parents came outside to tell me that the couple had called to say that THEY HAD CHANGED THEIR MINDS!   They had just purchased a new couch and a kitten would be a big mistake.  Licorice was mine!

Though it’s been over thirty years since this time, I can still recall my dear Licorice’s presence. I can feel her soft fur, sense her purr against my belly and smell the milk on her rough tongue as she licks my skin. In our most intimate of love rituals, I remember how Licorice would put her paws at the top of my head and run them down my face.

With an 8 year-old’s fervency, I insisted that Licorice treat all beings with such kindness as we shared. We practiced with my neighbor’s cat. I scolded Licorice each time she howled or clawed–and praised her for her friendliness. The progress was slow, but I didn’t give up.

On the night that Licorice had her first and only litter of kittens, she must have come to get me. I know this because when I woke that morning, I found blood on the comforter of my top bunk. And when I called out to my mother, Licorice came running into the room, insisting I follow her, pacing back and forth, with urgent meows, until I climbed down from my bed and followed her.

She led me to the storage room to an open box on the second shelf and to the sight of two black newborns. She jumped in beside them and licked my hands as we marveled at them together. For days, she refused access to “our” babies to anyone but me.

Licorice changed after becoming a mother. My parents had her spayed and she wasn’t a spry young kitten anymore. My parents let us keep “Jellybean,” the kitten who most resembled her once sleek form, but we were forced to give up chubby Gumdrop to others across town.

Both of Licorice’s children disappeared before long however and then one day so did she. I searched for her everywhere, canvassing the neighborhoods in our suburban Aurora. I’d even go so far as to jump over fences into back lawns to chase and retrieve any black cat I could find.

“That’s not her,” my mother would chide each time I dragged another certain stranger home. In later years, my mother would tell me that I had gone a bit “mad” in loosing Licorice. I know that my heart was never quite the same. Never again did I give it so fully and never again did I ask for a pet.

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