Lula was a cat. This is something she had finally come to terms with. Despite a rough start to things, she found herself with a nice home, a nice new family, and a relatively grumpy older step brother. She had food and water, warmth and affection, and she knew from her reflection in the standing mirror in the bedroom, that she was a relatively cute cat.
The realization of her manifestation in the feline form had initially come as quite a shock. It was a cool afternoon in May when she first remembered finding herself surrounded by mewing newly born kittens beneath what appeared to be a 2002 Toyota Corolla. In the coming days she would come to realize it was in fact Mr Burgess's white Corolla from number 49 on Walnut Avenue. It was missing two front wheels and, accompanied by Mrs Burgess's daily tin of Fancy Feast cat food, it made for sufficient accommodation and protection for her and her new siblings, tucked away in this quiet corner of her Oakland neighborhood.
It wasn't long before Mrs Burgess's friends started to come by with charmed awws and ahhs, quietly overpowering the defenseless kittens and abducting them away from their exhausted and subsequently bemused mother. Lula eventually found herself being deceived by what appeared to be a snack, but was in-fact a piece of string with a feather tied to it (how embarrassing.) Then it was into a spacious Amazon box, as she was whisked a few quick miles down the road by a young couple that smelled like dog, Anthropolgie candles, and chardonnay.
In the coming weeks Lula settled into her new abode, and found herself intrigued by her surroundings, and her new sense of scale and physical capabilities. Life was nice.
But as time passed, she found herself missing something. A sense of longing for a thing she couldn't quite put her finger on, and she had looked everywhere. It was not behind the sofa where she hid her toys from the dog. It was not inside the drawer in the bathroom where she went when playing hide and seek with her new parents. It was not in the closet, with her mom's expensive woolen sweaters. After a while she came to the only logical conclusion— it must be somewhere else.
On one warm Thursday evening, the parents were sitting outside in the garden enjoying a 2017 Estate Chardonnay from Sonoma County, when Lula was proffered her first opportunity for exploration beyond her new confines. Dad came inside for a refill, and having failed to apply WD40 to the sliding door last weekend as he said he would, the otherwise impenetrable fabric screen came to a halt several inches before closing completely. With the smell of freshly cut grass and daring adventure in the air, Lula snuck through the gap, under the garden gate, and out onto Shelterwood Drive.
Somehow, everything seemed a little familiar. Like she'd been here once or twice before, however she couldn't comprehend how that would be possible. But one thing she knew for sure, was that the thing that had been tickling at the back of her mind was down the hill, second road on the left after a white house with a thatch roof and a noisy grey and white pitbull terrier.
The terrier must have been out for his walk, as she passed the house in virtual silence. The gentle ring of windchimes from the porch brought a sense of relaxation to offset the anxiety and nervousness building up inside her (from where she could not tell you) as she continued to stalk through the long grass by the busy road.
It was nearly dark when she reached the corner of Scout Road and Banning Drive. She instinctively turned up the hill and her eyes were drawn to the bright blue door across the street. Framed on either side by white roses that were just coming into bloom, and surrounded by the evening fragrance of honeysuckle which was ever-so-neatly manicured beneath the kitchen window. And then she saw him. Lit from within, standing at the sink washing a blue mug which she knew was emblazoned with "My Other Mug Is A '60 El Camino", Derek looked old. Lost in thought as always, but lacking the blissfully unaware contentment he usually carried. His eyes looked glazed and aimless, and somehow it made her ache to see him look so small in that square of light, on the otherwise dark and empty street.
She snuck across the road and into the garden, past the rosemary bushes and the expired daffodils which Derek should have cut back weeks ago. Crouched beneath the honeysuckle, Lula could hear the television in the sitting room. Blended with the fragrance of the garden and the fading warmth of the evening, she could remember the taste of port. Warm fruity flavors, date and fig, brown sugar and cloves. She'd never been much of a drinker, but she'd always thought of it more like dessert than a beverage—that's why they always served it after dinner in tiny glasses, at least that's what she had told herself. Derek had always said he hated the taste of it, but always liked to kiss her after she'd finished hers.
Now she put her paws on the window sill and could see him puttering around, organizing his newspaper, putting the changer on the side table where it belonged. In a sudden moment of longing she thudded her paw against the glass as if to reach out for him, only for Derek to continue right past her, turning off the lights by the door as she heard him slowly head up the stairs to bed. She laid there for a while on the warm earth, the sound of crickets in the grass and birds coming to rest in the trees. She allowed herself a moment to soak in the end of the day, imagining she was in their bed upstairs with the window open, as the cooling breeze brought a chill to the air and washed the fragrance from her garden.
The night had gotten cold and darkness truly settled in by the time Lula turned back on to Shelterwood Drive. The lights at home were still on like a lighthouse at the top of the hill. She snuck under the gate and up to the sliding door, through the glass she could see her Mom. She was on the phone looking concerned, and the dog was laying with her chin at her feet looking forlorn. Suddenly from the darkness a looming figure appeared, snatching her from the floor and up into the air. The familiar smell of Hugo Boss and needed-to-be-laundered hoodie filled her tiny nostrils as Dad snuggled her tight to his chest. The parents' relief to see her—combined with several dehydrated fish treats—for a moment overcame her somber mood. But that night as the lights went out and she dozed beneath the covers in Mom's arms, the image of Derek alone in the kitchen window made her sad, and she wished it was his arms—big and hairy as they may be—that she was falling asleep in.
After that warm Thursday evening, her parents became far more wary of her movements around all entrances and exits to the home. The sliding screen was greased, the front door never left unattended. Not that it felt restrictive or anything, her new home was not to be scoffed at, with her grumpy older brother to toy with, and the dog to torment, she built up a taste for tuna mayonnaise and unattended sushi leftovers. But during her warm afternoon naps in the sunshine that frequented the bedroom, more and more often she found herself daydreaming of ways to escape, and plotting plans for how to tell Derek that she missed him and that everything is OK. How long might it take to spell the words out with petals from the rose bush in the garden? It would have to be on the back porch to minimize the chances of the wind blowing them away, and she'd have to time it right to make sure there were enough petals on the ground to complete the task... maybe that wasn't such a great idea. Little did she know that she would have to come up with something soon, as it wouldn't be long before opportunity would come knocking.
In fact, it wasn't opportunity that came knocking, it was Greg the construction worker that had been repairing the plumbing in the basement. He came knocking on the door around lunchtime, somewhere in late Fall, to do some tinkering in the bathroom—oblivious to the consequences, he failed to close the door behind him. It seemed to be nothing other than fate that at that very moment Lula was making use of her bathroom, which is located in the closet facing the front door. She stepped out from behind her little curtain, to find herself face to face with an open door, and a cool autumn breeze. Without thinking, she (quite literally) jumped at the possibility and made a dash for the bushes. Free and clear, she took a moment to compose herself, before pouncing up onto the fence. With one quick look back over her shoulder, she reached down the outside of the wall, and dropped gently out into the world.
The trip back to Scout Road was full of mixed emotions. She had been looking for opportunities to escape with the default assumption that she should be back with Derek. But it turns out that the passing of time and her coming-to-terms with her new cat-based mortality had left Lula with less of a longing for her husband, and more a sense of nostalgia—the way one looks back on childhood camping trips or the experience of driving your first car. Now that the opportunity was afoot, she wasn't sure it was something she felt she really needed to do again.
It was with this emotional tension in mind that she turned up the hill to see a new car in her driveway alongside Derek's overly manicured, pristinely preened 1984 Chevrolet.
With her curiosity piqued, she stalked across the road and up underneath the honeysuckle, which along with the rest of her garden, was looking not the least bit bedraggled. Softly reaching up with her nose peeking over the window sill, she scoped out the kitchen and the living room beyond. Her gaze panned across Derek's vacant chair and settled upon her two seater settee, which at this very moment was occupied by her husband, and a blonde haired, bespectacled senior citizen with a name like Gladys or Phylis or Margaret. Filled with judgement and a slowly warming sense of fury, all thoughts of nostalgia and camping trips went out the window. The couple simultaneously laughed at whatever was on the TV, and Lula experienced tunnel vision as she saw the Phylis reach across her body to grasp Derek's hand.
The unexpected—and frankly unprecedented—anger within her was suddenly all consuming, perhaps a previously untriggered aspect of her feline instincts. She turned from the window and stepped out into the garden. She suddenly had visions of the house exploding from an unattended gas leak, or collapsing into the Earth as a sinkhole opened up beneath it. She moved out into the driveway, and her now-red-hot desire for vengeance and justice crystalized in the form of that red Nissan Altima in her driveway.
Lula had spent enough time with Derek in the garage whilst he was changing spark plugs, checking oil levels, and refilling washer fluid, to know her way around the fundamentals of an automobile. So her sleek form and fantastic low-light vision made it easy to locate the brake lines just inside the wheel well. Her needle-sharp teeth made short work of the tubes and her mouth was filled with the acrid taste of hydraulic oil which spluttered out and down her front.
She crawled out from beneath the car and shook the worst of it off, before taking a minute to clean and calm herself behind the rosemary bushes, the sea of red residing from her view of the world.
As she returned to a more level-headed state of mind, she retreated to the long grass on the other side of the road. She looked back at the house with the blue door, and realized it no longer seemed to mean anything to her. It didn't even look like the home she remembered which itself was home to all her best memories of her previous life.
A cool breeze swept through the grass and with the moisture of the oil in her fur, she felt a chill that brought her quickly back to reality. A sudden bout of what could only be described as homesickness washed over her, and she instinctively turned down the hill, toward the main road, toward Shelterwood Drive.
Greg was packing his tools into his truck at the opportune moment that she returned to the garden just in time to follow quickly on his heels back into the house. It seemed as though no one had noticed her relatively brief absence, the dog asleep in the living room, her grumpy step-brother staring longingly at the birds out the window.
Lula took up her place on the bed, and began the arduous task of finishing cleaning herself, maintaining her incredibly soft fur was much more time consuming than any human could imagine. Come bedtime as she lay there with a full tummy and warm in Mom's embrace, the smell of Dad's deodorant next to them, and sound of the dog snoring in her bed, Lula could not have been more content. Everything she ever needed was here within these four walls, how could any kitten ever get to be so lucky? As she dozed off, her dreams were filled with visions of careening red Nissan Altimas, and a screaming Phylis, and everything felt right with the world.