If you like you can get the story here in Kindle format, that way you can read it on your device whenever you like. It’s about 3000 words.
The cat is black. It’s as dark as the night except for the eyes, its eyes are cerulean blue and if you stare into them long enough you feel a sense of vertigo, as if you’re spinning in circles. I feel like I am going round, round, into eternity. This state of mind could last forever, might even last forever or until someone calls your name, calls my name. I wonder if I’d notice.
What’s in a name? I ask myself, like Romeo used to ask himself, except my inquiry is a bit different from his. Or is it? Is our humanity, our soul, our essence, stored in our name? I have the habit of naming everything from teddy-bears to my phone. My phone’s name is Svalbard. I don’t know why I do this. It started when I was a child. I guess children like naming their dolls, their toys, and I never grew out of it. Naming things is a form of power. Choosing a name for someone forces you to think of character and essence, but maybe you are also forcing something upon the person with the name you give them?
What compelled my parents to choose my name? What was it that made them settle on it? What was it about me that made them think this name would fit? Or maybe there was nothing to it. Maybe I just grew into it.
These thoughts go through my mind as I stare into the eyes of a black cat. We’re sitting on the steps outside the house that’s now my house, and the wood feels cold to the touch, wet from the rain.
I woke up feeling refreshed and exhilarated. Sleeping on that particular couch has always rejuvenated me in the past, but I wasn’t expecting this feeling today. I was expecting a heavy head and a grouchy mood but instead I feel a sense of happiness. Feel the presence of a new beginning, almost as if it was a tangible thing or a human being even. It’s as if I’ve found the lost pieces of a puzzle.
Or maybe I’ve actually just lost the entire puzzle.
That has to be it since my mind is playing tricks on me.
You see, I can’t seem to remember my name.
The cat meows. It’s a low sound and it reminds me of a melody, a song. I try to hum it but it doesn’t come to me right away.
“We should go inside,” I tell the cat and it meows again but it doesn’t look away.
“You’re not like other cats, are you?” I ask it, but this time I get no answer.
I feel dizzy. I feel a cold dread entering my body and I’m wet from the never-ending drizzle. It never rains properly in this country, not like it rains in other countries. It just drizzles. The drops are smaller, closer together and they don’t seem to be as eager to fall as the rain elsewhere, as if there is something about this country that defies gravity just a little.
What happened to me? I haven’t forgotten anything but my name. I can remember my social security number and where I live. I remember my phone number and the names of my friends, the names of distant family members even but my own name seems to have vanished completely. I remember my father’s name, which means I can remember my last name but here in Iceland we introduce ourselves with our first names. We don’t use a family name at all. Introducing oneself by a surname might work in a bar in Toledo, but in Reykjavík people would just laugh. A person needs her name to function. She doesn’t have a proper identity without it and now as I sit here I feel as if there may be something more to the name as well. Something we’re mainly unaware of until we lose it.
Perhaps this was why it was said that children had to be christened to get into heaven, because something happens to you when you’re nameless? Or maybe something happens to you when you’ve been given a name?
The thought frightens me.
I try to recollect, tried before to remember what my name is without reading it on my driver’s license, but nothing entered my mind. It’s like a nasty, very selective blackout. It’s like sitting on a Sunday morning after a really wild night out trying to remember where you placed your keys or dropped your wallet, or you sit there slightly ashamed trying to remember the name of the guy in your bed.
Except, this is my name I’ve misplaced and not my keys. I really wish it was just my wallet.
How is it possible to forget one’s own name? How is it possible to forget only your name and nothing else? As far as I know I haven’t forgotten anything else.
“So cat? What’s your name?” I ask the cat and again it answers me with this melodic meow and suddenly I do remember the song. It’s an old Beatles tune.
“Mister Moonlight come again please, here I am on my knees begging if you please,” I sing to the cat, but it just continues to stare into my eyes. “Do you want something to drink, Mister Moonlight?” I ask the cat and stand up. I’ve lost the staring contest. Of course I have. I’d never win against this cat. It seems stupid to try.
I open the door of the house that used to belong to my grandmother. It’s a nice little house in the middle of the city. The houses surrounding it are bigger but this one is small and has seen better days.
The kitchen is old-fashioned. The fridge is from the first war, and the stove is an antique. The kitchen table is a small wooden one and has quite a few memories carved on the table top.
I pick out a small white bowl with faded red roses on it and fill it with milk. Mister Moonlight laps it up with obvious contentment.
I catch a can of Pepsi Max from the fridge and try to remember my name again but it still doesn’t come to me. I get my driver’s license out of my bag and stare at it. The letters on the card look perfectly normal, all except the ones that represent my name. They look foreign and strange. I could copy them, if I was writing it down. I can read the letters if I focus really hard but the word doesn’t sound like my name at all. It doesn’t even sound like a word I’ve ever heard before.
Whatever it is, it isn’t my name anymore. I can’t remember it, can hardly say it and I don’t recognize it. It’s just an odd word, could as well be Chinese.
“I have to renovate,” I tell the cat. It finishes the milk and sits down in front of me. Its silent, licking its paws with a satisfied smirk on its face.
“You seem like a cool cat,” I tell Mister Moonlight, “you can stay if you like. Do you belong to someone?”
But I don’t think this cat belongs to anyone, cats don’t belong to people they just choose to stay. I don’t know why I am so sure that this cat didn’t have somewhere to stay before though, but I’m as certain of that as I am of the fact that I’ve lost my name.
My name, my name, my kingdom for a name I think to myself and laugh.
“This is ridiculous,” I tell the cat. “Perhaps it’ll come when I’ve settled down and relaxed a bit? Things have been a little hectic lately. You see, my grandmother died.” I’ve hardly said the words when the tears start flowing.
I haven’t cried for her before, even though it’s been over a year. I wasn’t home for the funeral. I wasn’t home at all. I was abroad, went by a different name because people there thought mine was difficult to pronounce. Now I understand how they felt but I can’t recall the name they used to call me either.
I don’t know why I’m back here in this house, with this cat, nameless, bereft of something I used to have. Filled with feelings I didn’t use to have. It’s a sense of pleasure. It’s an intense feeling of being alive, one I can vaguely remember from my childhood. It’s like coming back to something, coming home, except you can’t ever go home again. It isn’t possible. I’ve seen that in the changes around me. Nothing is the way it used to be and yet everything seems to have stayed exactly the same. It’s a form of misplacement, though you can’t tell if you’re the one that’s misplaced or everything else.
I bet it’s me, the woman who can’t remember her name. A familiar feeling comes over me, except it’s from a long time ago. A sense of déjà-vous that of course I can’t recall anything about. It just lingers inside me, bringing up images in my head of someone I used to love. Someone I guess I will never seize to love, though it’s been such a long time since I saw him. God only knows who he is today. Do I still love him anyway? Or is the idea of strong love dying just too much to take? Or do we keep on loving people, even when they vanish from our lives, from our minds? Does it just stay with us anyway?
I sit down on the couch and the cat jumps into my lap. It starts to purr loudly as soon as I start scratching its neck. It doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, even though it was probably nameless a few minutes ago.
“Mister Moonlight, will you name me?”
“Meow,” the cat responds loudly, and continues purring. It’s hard to worry about anything when you’re sitting in an old leather couch with a happy cat in your lap. Almost impossible.
The phone rings and I stretch to answer it, disturbing the cat mildly. It stops purring and opens its eyes, looking at me as if to tell me that this is unacceptable, that I should be still and continue doing what I was doing.
“Hello?” I say into the phone. I used to answer the telephone like that long time ago, but abroad I learned to answer the phone with my name.
There is a short silence on the other end before a voice that’s hard to place as either male or female tells me that I should be expecting a delivery within 2 hours.
Before I can say anything the person hangs up the phone, without asking if I’ll be home or if whatever it is that’s being delivered is desired.
“Has the world always been this odd?” I ask the cat, but it doesn’t answer. Doesn’t even open its eyes. It must have fallen asleep, because it’s no longer purring.
So I sit still and use the time to contemplate. I don’t come to any conclusion though. Not about my name, nor about the mystery delivery that will be occurring at my door within 2 hours.
After what I deem long enough I put the cat on the couch beside me and stand up. I get myself a glass of red wine and I sit by the kitchen window reminiscing about my grandmother who always sat in this chair, sometimes with a cup of coffee, sometimes with her sowing gear. She wouldn’t have approved of the wine, but she would have had a theory about my name being missing and I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell her that I’d lost it either. I don’t think there’s a person living today that I can tell this secret.
I can almost hear her laughter echoing through the house, “You didn’t lose it,” I can hear her saying, “It was stolen from you. You have to choose to get it back.”
The wine is sweet and it goes straight to my head. I find myself wishing I had internet so I could look up old friends and find out what they’re doing now and what they look like. Instead I turn on the radio. A man is sternly speaking of the climate and I find myself hanging my head in shame as I listen to his vision of doom, which appears to be less of a vision these days and more like facts of the future.
I change the channel and that old Beatles song suddenly echoes through the kitchen. “Cause we love you Mister Moonlight,” he sings and for an instant I marvel at the fact that this band ever made it big. It seems out of rhythm with the world this song, and I wonder why he always sounds as if the world is about to end.
When my wine glass is half empty the doorbell rings. The cat is standing in front of the door when I come into the hall. It’s sitting there, neatly by the side of the door so I can open it without the cat having to move. I open and for a moment I expect the cat to dart out of the house and out of my life.
It doesn’t though. It stares at the man at the door. Another déjà-vous. He looks familiar, though I’m sure I’ve never met him before. He just looks very familiar.
“I have a package for you,” he says. I notice that he doesn’t say my name, any name, instead he hands me the package and waits. I’m not sure if he’s expecting me to tip him or if he’s waiting for me to open it so that he can see what’s in it.
The package is wrapped in brown paper. It’s square and when I unwrap it a small chest is revealed. The cat meows at the man, who crouches down to pat it.
I walk into the living room and find that both cat and delivery man follow me. I put the chest on the table. It’s small, made of some kind of wood. There’s a lock on the hatch but it’s not locked. I pull it off and slowly open the chest.
There appears to be nothing inside. The compartment is lined with red velvet but there is nothing there. I pull to see if there is something underneath but there is nothing to pull at, nothing can be pushed, pulled or lifted. It’s an empty chest.
“You have a choice,” the man informs me. “You can give the chest back to me or slowly fill it with new things,” he says.
I just look at him. Then I go into the kitchen and get my wine glass. I finish what little was left and place it on the table beside the chest. A tiny drop of wine is still left at the bottom of the glass. It seems in stark contrast with the fine red velvet in the chest.
“I will keep it,” I tell the man. He smiles and it’s such a familiar smile that I ask him: “Where have I seen that smile of yours before?”
He answers me quickly, without hesitation. “It’s in your future. This is the smile of your children.” Then he shrugs and grins vaguely and I can’t tell if he’s pulling my leg or if he’s being cryptic and meaningful in a way I thought men only where when they were on their third beer and trying to really impress someone.
“Will you stay for coffee?” I ask.
“Not today,” he says, “maybe tomorrow”. And with that he pats the cat one last time and heads out the door. “I’ll see you then,” he says and exits the house, my grandmother’s house. My house.
The cat is black.
It’s black as the night, except for its eyes that are cerulean blue and I can’t help but to stare into them. It’s a beautiful cat with a fitting name. “Mister Moonlight come again please, here I am on my knees begging if you please,” I sing to myself.
“Please,” I whisper but I have no energy to keep on singing. The wine whispers comforting thoughts to me and the warmth of the cat in my lap gives me the notion that everything is and will be just fine, just fine, “cause we love you Mister Moonlight,” the song echoes in my head. The cat stares into my eyes. Never before have I met such a stubborn cat. Never before have I stared so intensely into the eyes of a cat. They always look away, don’t they? But not this cat and it doesn’t do it to claim superiority. This cat is different, it’s here to protect me from the dangers of namelessness. It’s here to make sure I will survive the darkness ahead. Who needs a name, anyway?
I don’t know what it is about this cat, but at least looking into its eyes doesn’t give me vertigo anymore. I guess I’ve landed in the right place, but maybe I left a little bit of myself behind where I used to be. That’s fine though. Maybe I’m a blank page now, maybe this really is a new beginning and I can become whatever I want to be, be whoever I want to be. Love whoever I want to love.
The cat is black but its eyes are cerulean blue like the sky is cerulean blue in springtime and it has a name, this cat, unlike me.