Crepuscular Creatures

I am a crepuscular creature. I am most likely to be found prowling the streets at dawn or dusk. When the sunlight caramelizes on the rooftops and the shadows drip long and sticky, I emerge. I walk through vineyards drizzled in butterscotch sunshine. A sprinkle of pollen provides the Midas touch. From the crest of the hill that one of my students calls the Mountain, I can see all the way to Frankfurt, where silver towers warp the horizon like a mirage.

In a narrow graveyard, a stooped old man rakes dirt over a new grave. A whitehaired woman and a man-tall boy watch from the grave’s edge. The boy has his pale arms crossed behind his back. I stand in the margin of their story, trying to read the words. But I am too far away. They are just a silhouette of tragedy, a blotted paragraph.

At the end of the lane, I follow a flight of stairs down an alley older than automobiles. I meet a cat who seems to have been waiting for me all day. She looks as if she has been patched together from many cats: brindled, tabby, tortoiseshell, tiger, ginger, peppermint stripe. Her cream-tea tail and her sable dappling belong to two entirely different creatures. After months of suffering from feline-deficiency-syndrome, I have finally found my cure, and this patched-together stray needs me as much as I need her. We comfort each other for a quarter hour, cuddling there on the steps.

A little girl with long, dark braids and eyes smoke-green as seaglass steps outside and asks if the cat in my arms is mine. If only. She informs me that her family has been feeding it and that she wanted to call it Hello Kitty but her father named it Lili. She spits out the name like a lemon rind. The girl’s mother and grandmother follow her out and sit on the front stoop, smoking and gossiping in racing Italian. I feel as if I am back at my Italian cousins’ home in Basel. Two Italians can talk enough for a whole clan.

I hold Lili until my arms ache. All the while, the girl with glass-green eyes catches me up on her life: a friend’s kittens, a tender math teacher, her brother, his dog, who was once her dog, and so, and then, and that’s why. She speaks to me in German, punctuated with Italian interjections for her mother’s ears. When mother’s second cigarette has burnt down to a nub, the woman takes her daughter by the hand and totes her away down the lane.

I thank Lili the patchwork cat. I have played an extra in the lives of many neighbors this evening—hunting the last spill of sunshine, I prowled through their stories like a stray cat. Lili and I are both crepuscular creatures. I will come looking for her again when sunset caramelizes the west.

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