People are scared of black cats.
I, however, am not.
Pupil moved into the flat upstairs with their family. A family that I don’t really remember accepting but didn’t particularly have a problem with. My wife took care of the formalities. She was always talking about letting the flat out. I felt it was too soon. Oh well. It’s always Ellen’s way, really.
We had a few disagreements about the flat, in fact. I felt that our daughter’s death made me want to hold onto the flat even longer. Ellen wanted to let it out as soon as possible, perhaps to help her cope with Emily’s passing. She also insisted on painting over the wallpaper and removing Alexa’s various boy bands and motivational posters which, interestingly enough, featured cats. I wanted to keep some of the posters for a while. The thing that we had the biggest row about of course was the erasure of the murals that Alexa painted into the walls herself. I understand that my wife needed to remove all traces of Alexa. But I didn’t want to.
After a tense few days, Ellen finally woke up cheery one morning and prepared a brilliant brunch with a mushroom soup to boot. My favourite, by far! Sadly, I fell terribly ill after the soup but Ellen tended to me the whole day. That night, I sobbed into my pillow over the loss of Alexa. I sobbed until I felt the pillow replace my sobs with peaceful slumber.
After that day, things settled between the two of us after a fashion. Ellen went about sanitizing the flat and getting it ready for the tenants. I figured maybe it was time for the flat to be let out. It wasn’t exactly like Ellen would hear me out if I were to object.
As a matter of fact, Ellen seemed to be ignoring me since the day she made the soup. I was left to sitting in my study and writing out my stories while she busied herself around the house.
The morning Pupil moved in with his family, I peered out through the window in my study to look at them. Three kids, two parents and a fat, black cat. Pupil was the only one who noticed me in the window. The others were busy talking to Ellen and moving things upstairs. I learned Pupil’s name after a few minutes of their having moved in because the kids kept shouting it. The youngest daughter seemed to be the most attached to the cat.
A few weeks passed and Pupil still seemed to be the only one who took any notice of me. Pupil spent a lot of evenings on the outside of my study’s window, contentedly lying on the ledge and napping after cleaning their paws. I tried to call Pupil’s attention every now and then by rapping against the window. This was met by some acknowledgement from the cat. Or Pupil would look right at me with those piercing yellow eyes, pupil dilated. It was easily to see why the name stuck.
One day when Pupil was lying on the ledge, Ellen walked into my study to dust the desk I sat at. I disliked when she just did this while I was still sat in the chair but she took no notice of my protesting. Pupil, however, noticed my frantic waving and looked right at me. This seemed to unsettle Ellen. She had scarcely gotten a reaction out of the cat in the weeks since the family moved in. In fact, her eyes widened in horror as she stared at the cat looking right at me with fixed eyes. I thought it was a bit of an overreaction to Pupil’s reaction to me and chuckled to myself. Pupil then looked down and fell asleep, ignoring Ellen entirely.
Over the next few days, I noticed Ellen came into the study more often. Each time, she’d try to catch Pupil staring at me and then freak out when they did. I found this rather odd of course. I mean, I didn’t get to interact with the other family members as much as I did with Pupil. If you could call it spending time, really.
Ellen was more intrigued by Pupil’s interest in me in any case.
It seemed to baffle her to no end. I found it rather insulting, if I’m to be honest.
On one evening, when the family pulled into the driveway in their SUV, Ellen ran out to meet them. She seemed to be asking them for something to do with Pupil.
The next thing I knew, she entered the house with the youngest daughter, who held Pupil in her hands. The three of them entered my study and stood around awkwardly once they crossed the doorway.
The girl put Pupil on the ground and stood idly.
Pupil looked right at me and cocked their head to the right.
The girl didn’t seem to notice me, looking around instead at the things in my room.
This was the room in which Alexa would tell me all about her passions and obsessions over the years. The last time I spoke to her was in this room. She was so cheerful about having made it into a University that allowed her to explore Linguistics, her all-time favourite subject. The last conversation I had with Alexa…
Ellen stared at the cat and tried to look at where they were looking as if the cat was looking at something behind me.
I cleared my throat to tell her I found it mildly offensive for her to think that the cat would be looking in my direction but not at me. However, as I cleared my throat, the cat sat up straight and then after a second walked over to me.
“Pupil?” the little girl seemed to question her cat’s movement.
I felt Pupil rub against my leg and I felt oddly moved by this.
It was the first contact I had in weeks.
I sobbed a little as I thought about how lonely this made me feel.
The girl walked up silently to Pupil and picked him up wordlessly. She smiled at Ellen as she walked out the door and went back to join her family upstairs. Ellen said nothing to me.
The next morning, Pupil sat at the window but was trying to scratch at it. As if to call me. I walked to the door and saw Pupil sitting there, purring loudly. Ellen had been missing all morning.
I opened the door for what felt like the first time in a month. Pupil came to rub against my legs again and this reassured me considerably. Then, Pupil turned to the staircase and ran up a few steps and looked back at me.
I followed Pupil up the stairs to the landing. Pupil stopped there and looked at the door to the closet where we found Alexa.
Alexa, the genius who loved so much but felt unloved.
Alexa, the delight of Ellen’s and my life.
Alexa, our sweet daughter who hanged herself.
Pupil walked up to the door and scratched at it.
I understood this to mean I had to open the door.
As I turned the door handle, I half expected to see her body hanging from the ceiling of the closet. Just as I had found her over two months ago now.
Tears gathered in my eyes as I slowly opened the door to the closet.
The tears must have been quite thick because I seemed to see Alexa standing in front of me.
“I think you know, dad,” she smiled as she looked at me then at Pupil.
She knelt down to pet the little black cat.
“Does that-” I stammered.
“Yes,” she said, still looking at the cat who now lay on their back, enjoying Alexa’s touch.
She always had a way with animals.
“I wrote it down in the note, dad,” Alexa said, her eyes now actively avoiding mine.
“But. But you know that your mother and I loved you very much! We wish you had just spoken to us.”
“It wasn’t like I didn’t know that, dad. Sometimes it just got so overwhelming. I lost sight of some things and some things seemed more daunting,” she looked at me with the most pained eyes and I felt her hurt.
“I don’t blame you or mum. It’s just how I felt.”
“I-I’m sorry, Alexa,” I sobbed loudly.
She walked up to me and hugged me. Pupil also moved closer to rub their head against our legs affectionately.
“It’s okay, dad,” she then looked at the cat and repeated, “It’s just how I felt,” her voice sounded heavy as she said this.
“Since the cat showed up…” she answered, knowing what I asked. “Just like you, I guess.”
She looked at me and a peculiar smile curved her lips. Like when I asked her about some TV show she spent many days and many more delving into.
“Both of us, dad.”
“Ellen?” I felt my whole world turn on its head. “What about your mother?”
“She’s right there,” said Alexa and pointed at the doorway.
Ellen stood still, looking at us. Or in our direction.
She kept looking at Pupil for reference.
“Alexa?” she called, her voice soft.
Alexa smiled and walked to her mother. She placed the back of her right palm against Ellen’s right cheek.
Ellen gasped suddenly and started crying.
“I miss you so much, Alexa,” she said between sobs.
Alexa called me with her left hand to move closer to Ellen to console her.
I walked closer and saw tears well up in Alexa’s eyes.
“I wish we could have helped you,” then she corrected herself, “I wish… I could have helped you.”
I reached out to touch Ellen’s left cheek with the palm of my right hand.
Pupil moved towards the doorway.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t listening to you.”
“It’s okay, mum,” said Alexa. “You’re listening now. That’s what matters.”
I looked at Alexa, my hands falling to my sides.
“Was there anything we could have done?”
“No, it was my journey. I felt overwhelmed,” then, she repeated, “It was just how I felt,” the words made her wince, but it sounded less heavy.
“Did we shut you out? Or make you feel unwanted in anyway?” I felt the tears stream down my cheek. “You were the joy of our lives.”
“No, but I felt isolated. It was just how I felt,” she said and as she said it this time, she sounded lighter.
Pupil purred against her leg.
Alexa looked down at the cat and said with a smile, “Let mum know that she can let go of the guilt, yeah, Pupil?”
She turned to face me and said, “Bye, dad. Thanks for always listening to me,” she chuckled to herself and added, “Even in the afterlife! You always did the best you could and I love that.” She hugged me and kissed me on my forehead.
With that, Alexa walked out of the closet and that was the last I saw of her.
I then looked at Ellen at whose feet Pupil was mewing their lungs out, as if to tell Ellen what Alexa instructed them to do.
Ellen stood crying, with this cat mewing loudly.
I looked at her and tried to comfort her.
Pupil stopped, as if to acknowledge my desire to speak.
“I’m sorry I left you, Ellen.”
As if to answer me, Ellen started speaking.
“I’m sorry it seemed like I wanted to erase the memory of our daughter, Phil.”
I was silenced.
“I just couldn’t bear to think that we’d let her down. I’m sorry I didn’t let you feel the grief in the way you wanted. It was just my way of processing her loss.”
“It’s okay, Ellen. We have our own ways of processing grief. You don’t need guilt on top of that,” I tried to sound as reassuring as I could.
Pupil purred against Ellen’s leg.
“I guess there’s nothing I accomplish with guilt, is there?”
“No,” I said.
Pupil mewed in response.
“Well, I guess I just have to go on living.”
“Goodbye, Alexa and Phil. I love you both and will always remember you both,” she wiped away the last of her tears. I kissed her cheek one last time. She got to tidying up the closet and looking through some boxes that belonged to Alexa.
That was the last I saw of Ellen.
Pupil led me out of the closet and back downstairs.
I looked at the door, knowing that once in the cat wouldn’t be able to make it out.
I looked at Pupil and their eyes met mine.
They purred in response and sat down contentedly and started licking their front-right paw studiously.
That was the last I saw of Pupil.