THE CHOPPING BLOCK: Mirror cat
I’m being watched. But only my cat seems to notice.
Bean, the younger of my two black cats, has been diligently clawing and meowing at the mirrors throughout my apartment for the past month. I find his pale little pawprints all over the reflective surfaces. But I’m not sure whether he’s keeping the looking glass voyeur at bay or welcoming it into this physical realm.
It started one night around 7:30 p.m., after I cleaned up the dirty dishes from dinner and hit the couch to read, when he visited the circular mirror in the kitchen. It’s the largest one I own. He stood on his hind legs and rested his front paws on the bamboo frame. With his head cocked to one side, he began cawing as if experiencing an intense pain. I peeked up from my place on the couch to witness this odd conversation.
“Bean! What’re you doing?”
He paused to glance back at me, but quickly returned to the reflective orifice in front of him. He slowly pushed his right paw forward. I expected him to plunge through the silver surface and disappear forever. But in that moment, he seemed to become self-aware, like a child seeing their facial features for the first time and realizing the three-dimensional makeup of the world in which they exist. He jumped down and ran into the living area where I was relaxing. He continued to scream, then climbed onto the armchair in the corner of the room. Again, he stood on his hind legs and placed his paws on the wall below a smaller mirror just above him. Also a circle, this one is nearly flush with the surface on which it hangs. Bean reached for it and nearly knocked it off the delicate framing nail that holds it in place.
“Bean!” I shouted, before lunging toward him, snapping my fingers. “Get down!”
He fled and hid under the bed. Something so inconsequential typically wouldn’t need to be written down and explained here, but Bean’s pattern of behavior since then is certainly noteworthy.
The following morning, he greeted me at the bathroom sink, as he does every morning. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I turned on the faucet so he can lap at the running water, one of his favorite activities, but instead he turned and stood against the mirror in front of us. I caught his eyes in the reflection. He seemed to wink.
Shaking such an apparition from my haunted head wasn’t hard. My other, more aloof, black cat, Ripley, remains blissfully unaware of his brother’s strange new fascination. But I worry. Bean’s repeated the strange ritual ever since.
It’s said that mirrors are portals to dimensions between the dead and dying. Unfortunate souls become trapped in a quicksand-like grip once they cross the threshold. Some more malevolent spirits use them as doorways, dipping in and out of an endless web of mirrors in search of a suitable host to stay in our world permanently, including skinwalkers. The monsters of Navajo legend lure animals into their grasp before eating them and overtaking their physical form. The beasts look normal to the untrained eye, but something’s always off.
Bean watches a small tornado of dead leaves dance on the front porch. Just below, a garter snake no more than six inches in length slithers toward him. Bean doesn’t move behind the protection of the window. I go outside, pick it up and release it in the nearby grass.
I notice the candle in my jack-o-lantern has burned out. With its face falling in on itself, the rotting gourd won’t see Thanksgiving. I almost step on a small shard of glass near the door. I kick it away without seeing where it lands.
Bean’s neon green eyes almost give off a glow. His triangular ears look like horns in the evening’s shadows.
Curled up on the concrete floor like a cobra waiting to strike at the leaves outside, the coils of the serpent unwind when Bean stretches. His tail bends itself into a question mark.
It’s election night and a lunar eclipse is set to paint the moon red while America slumbers. It’ll be the last one for three years. Lunar eclipses typically set off some type of weirdness. During one such occultation on May 10, 1994, serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed via lethal injection, while cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer was cleansed of his sins during a baptism in prison. There are mirrors on the moon, too.
Now entranced by a burning black candle atop a stack of paperback books, Bean glares back at me from the armchair. He’s in front of the mirror again. I choke on a chicken tender. He slowly blinks, as if satisfied. I lose my appetite.
That night, he sits on the edge of my bed and watches me sleep. I have nightmares of blackened creatures falling from my mirrors. They flood my psyche like endless puddles. Bean hisses.
Tired and uneasy, I skip my trip to the bathroom and head outside for some fresh air once awake. The fading moon is still visible against the pale blue sky.
I avoid catching my reflection, collect myself and sit down to write. Bean looks tired, too. He threw up a nice sized hairball overnight that I don’t care to clean up right away.
I push play on my playlist. He Is Legend’s “Alley Cat” comes on.
“You cannot be the only one
You can't swallow your sadness
Until you swallow the sun”
It’s a catchy song, even if a little serendipitous.
The song ends: “If you swallow the sun you've gotta deal with the moon.”
The Chopping Block is Rev. Justin Criado's monthly column for the Telluride Daily Planet newspaper. It also appears in the monthly Four Corners Free Press print edition. This piece was originally published on Thursday, Nov. 17.