Back in January, Shaun was out-of-state for 3 weeks of Army training. While he was gone, I was alone in our duplex, with no company but our three cats–Juniper, Ginger and Bagheera. There were not even renters living in the other half of the house. Walls of ice and snow surrounded the house on all sides, so that you could barely see the neighbors’ right next door and across the street. It was pretty isolating.
I don’t like being alone at night. I do not like going to sleep by myself, in the dark, particularly in a big, empty house. But, when Shaun is away for any length of time, I eventually get used to it. The first few nights I am paranoid and don’t sleep well, and then, after a few nights without waking up to find an axe murderer standing over my bed, I settle in and sleep much better.
I was about a week into Shaun’s absence, and we had just entered a period when we would not be able to communicate, by any means, because he was in the field. The lack of connection even by text message made things more lonely, but I was determined to power through it. The cats like to sleep on our bed at night, and their presence was a comfort that helped me sleep more easily.
Until, that is, Juniper pulled a shelf down from the wall at 3:00 A.M.
I don’t remember hearing the crash, except very dimly. All I remember is waking up screaming. Screaming as I have never before screamed in my life (and hopefully never will again). Screaming, as they say, “bloody murder.” My only, incoherent, sleep-addled thought was that someone was entering the house through my bedroom window.
(Which, I realized only much later, was actually impossible, or at least difficult, because there was a huge icicle blocking the window at the time.)
If someone had been living in the other half of the house, no doubt the police would have been knocking on my door a few minutes later.
When I truly woke up and stopped screaming, I looked around wildly for the source of the noise. There was a glaring, empty space on the wall where once had hung a fairly large, wooden shelf. Shaking and sweating, I stumbled out of bed and found the wreckage. The shelf, to the credit of whomever built it, was still completely intact. This was particularly amazing, since it had not only fallen several feet but had also hit a metal radiator on the way down. In fact, the only thing that was broken was (unfortunately) the Willow Tree cake topper from our wedding. The figures had essentially been decapitated.
I picked up the poor figurine and started crying. “No, no, no,” I moaned. Then, a thought came to me. My knees weakened and I felt sick to my stomach. This was an omen. I was sure of it. Like something right out of a movie. Something was going to happen to Shaun and I. What else could it mean? We were going to die. At this point, the rational part of my brain gave up trying to restore order, and I sank to the floor and held the headless cake topper in shaking hands. Shaun was going to die in a training accident, and I was going to be murdered in this lonely house, with only the cats for witnesses. I could almost hear the sweep of Death’s cloak on the landing.
This was when it occurred to me that the cats, the only witnesses to my impending death, were no where to be seen, and the realization brought me back to my senses. It was a good thing that none of them had been lying on the radiator (as Ginger liked to do) when the shelf came down. I called to them, and began picking up the items strewn around the shelf, still trembling.
Bagheera was the first to appear. He slid cautiously out from underneath the bed, and gave the crash site a wide berth as he hastily exited the room. A few minutes later Ginger appeared from the spare bedroom and trotted in to see what had happened. Juniper did not reappear until long after I had cleaned up the shelf and its contents, crawled back into bed, texted Shaun (a futile measure, but it did wonders for my morale), considered calling my parents, and wondered if I would ever stop shaking. Eventually, I heard the bell on Juniper’s collar jingling as she cautiously mounted the stairs and slunk into the room. She had fled the farthest, taking refuge downstairs. I watched, amused and sympathetic, as she carefully toured the room to make sure all was in order, and finally, warily, settled herself on the bed. Somehow, we both managed to fall asleep again.
Later that day I examined the shelf to see if it had been damaged by its fall. There was a large chip in one side, and the mounting hardware on the back seemed to have given way, but otherwise it was unmarred. Of course, I thought, it would hang on the wall just fine for two whole years, and then give way in the dead of night when I’m all by myself in the house for three weeks!
And then, I saw them.
Two sets of claw marks, scored deep and ragged into the wood.
It was all clear in that instant.
Ginger and Juniper were the most likely of the three to cause mischief. Which cat had fled the farthest? Juniper. Therefore, it was likely that she was the most terrified. And why?
Because she had decided to jump onto a large, fully laden shelf, which was NOT built to ALSO withstand having an 11-pound cat dangling off of it AT THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.
For a moment, I was angry. Juniper had broken a wedding memento. She could have caused worse damage. She could have seriously injured herself. She had certainly given me one of the worst frights of my life. My throat was still raw, and the least noise was causing me to jump a mile and my heart to give a painful stutter.
But I couldn’t help it. I started giggling. I laughed so hard that my knees went weak and I sank to the ground and leaned on that incredibly sturdy shelf for support. And Juniper (who was also jumping a mile at the least noise that morning) had no idea why, every time I saw her for the rest of that day, I scratched her on the head and chuckled a little.
I slept with the bedside lamp on that night.