You spot the flyer while jogging in place at the red light on the corner of 7th and Mabel, a thick square of posterboard drilled into the power pole by a hundred tiny staples. It’s a lost cat this time, as generic as they all look until they become lost, at which point their specific features become highlighted beneath grainy headshots: Three-quarter orange calico with coal-black mittens, 16-pound Seal-Point Siamese; Surly Shorthair Abyssinian; Gunsmoke Gray Tabby with Lazy Left Eye. As if anyone would ever get that close.
You’re not a cat person, contrary to popular belief.
A dozen vertically-Sharpie’d phone numbers hang like fringe from the flyer for you to take and call, should you spot “Matzo,” a sleek American shorthair the color of cinnamon toast.
Matzo, which makes you think first of the soup and then the Italian word pazzo, how it’s part of the only phrase you remember from your semester abroad spent studying Renaissance Art at a repurposed all-girls convent in Florence—“Cento per cento pazzo”—how it meant one hundred percent crazy, how you’d repeated it over and over to your friend Mari, both of you wine-drunk in the rose garden, how you swore you’d get the phrase printed on t-shirts back home, how she was the only girl you may have fallen in love with, just a little, wishing even then it had been just a little more.
You think of Matzo later that night, while scrubbing your run-sweat off in the shower, how toasty-white his fur, how soft, how sad his family must be. We’re lost without him, the flyer read in italics, which makes you think someone in his family is a witty MarCom specialist, the word LOST also written prominently in kid’s scrawl across the top of the flyer. Or maybe it’s a font, designed to pull on heartstrings. You wonder how many kids live with Matzo, if he has a favorite, sleeps only in one of their bunkbeds, answers only to one of their calls, if cats even answer to calls.
You think of Matzo while you’re eating your Salisbury Steak frozen dinner the next night, then again, days later, while taking your old dog on a walk, the air now shifting; sharpening into late autumn spears. How could a domesticated shorthair the color of toast possibly survive this first freeze, you think, passing the poster again and shivering as you try to coax a pee out of your thickly-sweatered poodle. You peer up alleys, stand on wobbly tiptoes to poke your head over yard fences, whispering: Matzo, Matzo. You start leaving your dog at home on evening walks despite his whiny protests, so you can take advantage of well-lit interiors, sneak up walkways to peek inside homes far larger than yours to make sure he hasn’t been stolen. It’s not unheard of in this neighborhood. You fill your coat pockets with tuna-flavored cat treats, keep a carton of fresh milk in your fridge.
Matzo shows up in your dreams, brushing his warm dream-body against your bare calves as you pace around your dream-kitchen, fully equipped with chef-quality brushed steel appliances—Miele, Viking, Thermador—bristling his crinkly spine upward at your slightest touch, like the inhale portion of your morning vinyasa’s modified cat-cow. Your yoga knees are for shit these days.
You can’t get the cat out of your head as you step into the snow-globe landscape of your tiny side-yard after the year’s first blizzard, the steam rising from both your coffee and your dog’s urine as he paints portraits in fresh snow. This many weeks later, and still you search the untarnished snow for tiny pawprints in the deep white, wanting so hard to be the one to find him. Sheltered dry beneath your deck, trembling but alive. Perched high on a bare magnolia branch, soaked through and frightened, but breathing. Surprise! You’d say to the family, after offering him warmed milk, nursing him back to health.
They say cats tend to run off to die, which makes the most sense, and it’s been so long now since that sign was hung, and continues to hang, its colors washed away now by rain, then snow, then rain again. You pass it every day, often more than three times. Seven, if you take the extra late-night walk. There must be a resolution by now, your logic-brain says, but still you find no closure. Not for Matzo, not for his family, not for yourself. You can’t think of anything else. You forget to eat, set reminders to hydrate, skip taking your meds despite the constant CVS refill reminder texts. You need to know what happened, for better or worse. You’re no longer a person who can deal in loose ends, long lost loves, or other people’s missing pets. Your logic-brain knows what you have to do, begs of you late at night, over and over, why haven’t you done it yet?
You find the small square of paper you’d torn from the flyer and secured to your bulletin board with a ladybug pushpin months ago. You dial the number written in black sharpie, inhale slow and steady to calm your leaping heart.
“Hello?” someone answers.
You freeze, your words lost for a moment.
“Who is this?” they ask once, and then, hearing you breathe, ask again, but this time more demanding, “Who is this?”
“Matzo,” you say. “It’s Matzo.”
KELLE SCHILLACI CLARKE — Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a left-coast writer whose stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Superstition Review, Pidgeonholes, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Cease, Cows, Gone Lawn, and other journals. She currently lives in Seattle, where “Lost Pet” signs are most effective when laminated or posted online. She can be found on Twitter @kelle224.
Art by LINDA HAWKINS — Linda is primarily a watercolor artist, but she also loves photography. She recently retired and moved to the central coast of California with her husband, and is now able to focus her attention on her passion for creating visual art. Her artwork has appeared in the literary magazines Flash Frog and The Jupiter Review. You can find her photography forthcoming in an issue of Wrongdoing Magazine and as the cover art for Pithead Chapel. Linda can be found on Twitter – @lindamayhawkins and her website – lindamayhawkins.com.