We’re approaching Halloween…All Hallows…Samhain. So I am re-posting the tale of my lost, beloved little black cat, gone since last December. For you see, Bella is central to the first of two true cat-related ghost stories that I am going to narrate. On Thursday, August 3, when she had been gone for eight months, I stood downstairs in my kitchen, all three of my living cats within sight…yet heard Bella, my lost little Bella, upstairs, crying out her distinctive, hoarse little cry “Gak-gow!”. All three of my living cats looked upward, hearing her, too; then, unconcerned, went back to doing catly things….
On a wall of my upstairs hallway hangs a framed poster from the 57th Annual Halloween Festival in Irvington, Indiana.
Irvington is a most unusual place. Named for writer Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the entire town is one large historical district. Among its many claims to fame are the home where Sojourner Truth once spent a week as a guest; the building that housed a pharmacy which John Dillinger robbed; a stop along the route of the Lincoln Ghost Train; and the house where America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, dismembered and buried a 10-year-old child.
With these and a dozen other tales of ghosts and fame and antiquities, Irvington, with some justification, goes a little bit nuts at Halloween. Even during pandemic, Irvington’s famed Ghost Walks were held—somewhat subdued, but ending, as always, at the Lincoln Ghost Train corner. And each year the festival sponsors a contest for artists to design the official Halloween poster.
Before it, regrettably, became a banal chain pancake house, I’d eaten at Dufours, the Dillinger-robbed-pharmacy-turned-café, and seen these Halloween posters adorning the walls. All were marvelous, but my unquestioned favorite was the almost-photographic likeness of a black cat peering out from a background of orange-red sky and leafless black trees. It caught my attention because my own cat, Belladonna Night Moon, might have modeled for the painting, so much did she resemble the cat in the poster. I yearned to own it, but the Halloween poster prints were always of a very limited run, expensive and rarely available.
But one spring my sister-in-law declared her preference for a birthday afternoon spent combing the fascinating small shops of Irvington. In the midst of that expedition, I came across one of the last framed posters of the black cat. With some trepidation, I asked the price. Forty dollars. Forty dollars?! How could I justify spending that much money? I didn’t even have a place to hang it! But…it looked just like Bella. My precious Bella, my best cat ever. And the poster was a collector’s item. How could I not buy it? Fighting a swiftly-losing battle with the remnants of my common sense, I slapped down my credit card.
Hauling my prize home, I discovered the perfect space waiting in my upstairs hallway, and proudly hung what I now thought of as Bella’s portrait.
The real Belladonna Night Moon had come to me as a porch rescue: a half-starved, lost kitten found by a friend one cold November night. After some minimal arm-twisting, I agreed to take the kitten. It was a decision I would never regret. Although not the brightest bulb in the shed (“The only thing she knows is, My name is Bella,” my daughter joked), Bella brimmed with good nature and sweetness…unless she was angry with me. Then she would jump up on her back feet, and, displaying ‘jazz hands’, smack me on either side of my knee and run like hell.
She was a cat who came when called; who saw me to the door in the mornings and met me there when I came home at night. When I could not sleep, she would lay stretched out beside me, my hand gently stroking her fat little tummy, until we both drifted off to dreams. Despite her lack of brainpower, she ruled my other three cats as alpha, and they all but bowed to her.
But as time went on, it was obvious my little black cat wasn’t completely well. Repeated bouts of respiratory infection and pneumonia robbed her of her meow; “Gak!” was the best she could manage. Eye infections followed, and anorexia. At last I received a diagnosis: FHV. Feline herpes virus. A disease which would flare any time the animal was stressed. A disease for which there was no treatment, and no cure.
But I was not about to give up on my best baby cat, not without a fight. Nursing her through repeated bouts of the virus, tempting her with exotic foods for the anorexia, we struggled on together for close to 18 years. But thyroid disease and renal failure compounded her ailments. Time after time in the final two years of her existence, I was sure that I had lost her. Each time, valiant, determined, she rallied to experience months, then weeks, and finally days, of seeming wellness. But at last, her strength failing, I knew it was time to give my sweet little friend rest.
I knelt beside her as, at the hands of an experienced and kind veterinarian, Bella went ever so gently across the Bridge. To the Ancient Egyptian afterworld of Amenti, I whispered to her, stroking her mink-soft fur; to the great Golden City of the Cats, Bubastis, where she would rest at the feet of the Goddess Bastet.
The next morning, heartbroken, I stood before my familiar Irvington Halloween poster and, perhaps for the first time, noted the date at the bottom of the print. October 25, 2003. Fifteen days before a starving kitten struggled onto a friend’s porch, and so into my life. Perhaps the very day that she became lost—or went in search of me.
For any animal lover, there is always that one special pet who holds our heart cupped within their little paws. On my wall, then, painted by the hand of an artist who never knew her, hangs a portrait of my little soul-mate cat, Bella. Belladonna Night Moon, who sits at the feet of Goddess Bastet in the everlasting grainfields of Amenti.
Belladonna Night Moon
2003 – 2020
I invite everyone to tell me in the Comments section
about their own contact with beloved pets on the Other Side. And read next week’s post for the second of my True Ghost Stories.