About a decade ago, I made a deal with the universe. I figured that if I could have a cat, then I would become a writer. Not just any cat – a black cat. A black cat called Ink. With pen, paper, and Ink, what else could I need?
The Monday after I struck this bargain, one of my friends came to work and asked if anyone wanted a cat. She and her boyfriend had found a cat, she explained, and as they had a “no pets” clause in their lease (along with 4 cats, 2 ferrets, and a miniature dachshund), they really felt they could not take in this stray. “Male or female?” I asked. Male. “What does he look like?” Black. Black, with a splash of cream on his chest. I took him home. Ink had arrived.
Clearly, he was an advance payment from the cosmos on my writing career. And like the most seasoned of authors, on receiving an advance, I proceeded not to write. I did other things. I worked for a non-profit and had a stint at saving the world. I played cello. I taught. I decided I desperately needed to finish a graduate degree in physics that I started long ago. Ink would stay up late with me, listening to Chopin as I wrote out solutions to physics problems. “Electrodynamics is all well and good,” he seemed to say as he cast a sceptical swish of his tail on my papers, “but when are you going to write?” I told him I was preparing my back story, gathering material. I went west and crossed the Continental Divide. I went east and crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I had kids. Ink came along on these adventures. “Happy to traverse the globe for you and entertain the children,” he purred as he jumped in my lap every evening, “but when are you going to write?” My debt of one cat for one writer’s life was growing. He eyed my notebooks with increasing interest. I would soon be in arrears on this account.
At first, like my writing intentions, I kept Ink inside. His existence was known only by our immediate family and a few close friends. What if he ran away? What if he got lost? What if he had to fight for territory? What if he was crushed by oncoming traffic that was too busy to notice the magic of a small black cat in the periphery? Several months after we moved to a small village, my friend Sophie came by. “Are you still buttering that cat’s paws?” she asked, amused by my worries. She knew cats. Feeling a bit sheepish, on a glorious English summer day, I let him out. Without a backwards glance, he sauntered through the open door, across the garden, over the grass, and rolled in the dirt. He came in when he was hungry. I should have known he’s here to stay.
It turns out he’s a pretty good hunter. He protects our writing grounds. He keeps the mice of insecurity from gnawing at my confidence. The sound of their scrabbling feet makes him playful, puts him on the prowl. Where I might be frightened by their scurrying, he merely bats at them until they give up the ghost. He is an especially adept birder. When he is around, the chatter of public opinion takes flight. His favourite prey is the shitbird.
“I’m writing now!” I tell him as I finish a short piece while he lounges on the futon behind me. “Hey, Ink! I’m writing!” Like the best of muses, he opens one sleepy eye and looks at me, duly unimpressed, and snores softly on.