On Precipices

A few days ago I woke up to the sound of a cat crying and didn't think anything of it, really.

There are a lot of scruffy street cats in my neighborhood; one of them in particular I am quite fond of, a little grey cat with white paws that almost seems friendly until you get too close, and then it scampers off. It started showing up on my street a few months ago and I like to think it recognizes me now when I say hello to it, although this is probably delusion on my part. I sat down at my desk to work on a freelance job and the cat's crying continued; I got up a few times to look down at the street, but didn't see anything. And then after a few hours I looked up from my desk instead, and saw it: my favorite street cat had somehow got stuck on the roof of the apartment building adjacent to mine, seven stories up, and was howling disconsolately into the void from the very edge, framed neatly by the window over my desk. There was no escaping the hopelessness of its situation, or its desperate cries, and there was nothing I could do to get it down--I could see it, but I had no way of reaching it. "Oh," I said. "Oh, no." I am, appearances to the contrary, rather soft-hearted, and I did not want to watch my favorite street cat die.

More than one well-intentioned person appeared on the roof throughout the morning and into the afternoon and made some attempt at rescue, but the cat was having none of it, and all of them eventually gave up. I went out on my fire escape with a container of food, which I rattled ineffectively while the cat, forty feet and a yawning abyss away, stared at me, no doubt rolling its eyes. I did not want to call 311--the near-mystical New York hotline one dials for every manner of difficulty ranging from My Apartment Has No Heat And Is Full Of Rats And My Landlord Merely Cackles When I Complain to I Cannot Imagine Which Tourist Attraction I Should Like To Visit Today Have You Got Any Advice (I always imagine it being staffed by, like, sprites)--because the best they could do would be to call Animal Control, and that did not seem like a solution (impoundment, euthanasia) that would end so well for the cat. I had mad visions of a Youtube-style rescue--firetruck, sirens blaring, pulling up outside the building--ladder extending--photogenic, strapping fireman, arms outreached, seizing the cat from its precipice and gazing nobly into the camera as citizenry cheers below--but no such miracle materialized. As the day wore on the little cat exhausted itself and quieted, hunched miserably at the very edge of the roof, looking--I swear to god--directly at me. At some point in the afternoon, it began to snow.

Someone did call Animal Control and they showed up around four-thirty, as the color was beginning to leach out of the sky and head toward early twilight. My heart lurched in despair as the ominous figures clambered over the roof, blue-jumpsuited, butterfly nets aloft. Some people had gathered below to watch the cat's capture and I could hear them gasp--as did I--as the cat backed itself to the absolute edge of the building--one paw slipped off the ledge--I thought, with absolute certainty, that I was going to watch it tumble to its death--and then, defying all laws of physics and reason, it rappelled itself down the sheer brick face of the building to a narrow windowsill on the fifth story while the cats' law enforcement stared down at it in astonishment. The cat had disappeared from my view but its predicament now seemed even worse--where could it possibly go, from where it had got itself? It was still far too high up to survive a jump, and the windowsill was barely six inches wide. I watched, breathless, as the Animal Control officers went down the fire escape, another of their number poised below on the sidewalk, net at the ready, as if he could somehow catch the cat if it fell. As soon as the other officers reached the cat's level it reappeared in my line of sight, catapulted off the windowsill, skidded down the face of the building again, and then slipped. A woman below screamed. The waiting Animal Control officer held out his net. And that cat--it happened so fast I still don't understand it, but I'm telling you, that cat launched itself into the air and fucking flew. It landed on the Animal Control officer's shoulder, went sailing into the street, hit the ground running, and made its escape. Several people cheered.

Reader, I cried.

The cat has not experienced any improvement in its fortunes; it is still a scrawny little half-starved stray scraping by on the streets of Brooklyn. To be honest, I don't know that that cat is long for this world; it's a hard-knock life out there for a little street cat. But it has survived thus far this long, brutal, relentless winter; it's gotten by, somehow, against the odds; and it escaped the clutch of the authorities to resume life on its own terms and under its own auspices. Sometimes the metaphors that show up in your life are extremely literal: you never know, for example, what you're capable of until you are at the very edge and the cops show up. I mean, you know what I mean. There's no way out but through.

Last night I came home to find the cat sitting in the sidewalk in front of my building with a battered and disreputable-looking new tabby friend (one eye crusted shut, notched ear, horrifically dirty). My favorite street cat did not seem any the worse for its harrowing adventure. "Hey cat," I said, "live free or die, right?" It eyeballed me, seeming almost to consider my overture, and then it scurried under a parked car. This week I'm going to remember to start carrying cat food with me when I leave the house. Just in case.