There is a little girl who now frequents our desolate playground. She stops by and climbs and sways on the play structure. She runs in circles or straight lines around and under it. She doesn't come alone. She is accompanied by her mother, or sister, or her aunt or her baby sitter who doesn't tend to move around as much. Mostly she sits and looks at her phone while she waits for her young charge to run down her batteries. I witness this from a polite distance as I take my regular constitutionals around the yard. And each time I pass by, the little girl who is not more than three, she shouts out "Hi!"
Beneath my mask, I smile and wave or say a muffled "Hi" back. And if I pass by twice, she will do the same thing. If she is still there after I have made six circuits past the monkey bars, she will still greet me the same way. Sometimes she embellishes just a tiny bit by updating me on the activity she is currently pursuing. "I'm running." Or "I'm climbing." Just in case I hadn't noticed. Because these are strangers and because the nominal adults might not look on with favor if a gentleman of a certain age would stop and chat up their youngster for a whole bunch of different reasons.
But that doesn't stop the spark in the little girl. She will not be stopped from telling me "Hi."
Maybe it's my vague indifference that keeps her interest. I nod or wave or make a brief reply, but I keep going on my way. Maybe she imagines that I am a new person with each pass. But it made me think of the cat.
The cat named Fluffy who has been staying with us for the past few months. Fluffy is a reclamation project for our neighborhood. After living a nomadic life on the streets for several years, it became apparent to those who encountered him that something was wrong with Fluffy, and only an expensive surgery involving the removal of all his teeth would save him. A collection was taken up. Fluffy was defanged. He began his convalescence in the home of the local Cat Lady. When circumstances that may have included having one too many kitties to care for made it possible for us to foster Fluffy, my wife eagerly campaigned for the opportunity. I begrudgingly relented on my "not a cat guy" stance, and we welcomed Fluffy in.
As it turned out, I needn't have worried. Fluffy was, for the most part, just a rumor of a cat. He stayed in his carrier, huddled in a corner, or under the bed in our back room. When I did encounter him, I was rewarded with a hiss and an arched back. Confirming my belief system about the inherent evil of felines. Which did not hinder my wife's enthusiasm for Fluffy's rehabilitation. She cleaned and coaxed and prepared mush for him to consume, and after weeks of this consideration, she was rewarded with a brief cuddle and a purr.
This was a sign of what was to come. Since then, Fluffy has only become more and more interactive. Purely on his terms, of course. Sometimes he would hop up on top of the bed under which he had once hidden for days. He would allow me close enough for a scratch behind the ears. Me scratching him, to be clear. Mostly he seemed content but certainly not overjoyed. But as the weeks passed, he became more accustomed to us, and us to him. We started leaving the door to the back room open, no longer worried that he might end up under something without our notice.
And just the other night, just after three in the morning, he jumped up on our bed. I woke with the faintest start, but quickly understood whose feet were padding their way toward my head. Fluffy stopped once to curl up between my wife and I, so I reached out to give him that now customary scratch behind the ears. Which he seemed to appreciate. So much so that he meandered up a little closer to the top of the bed where he put his paws on my arm, sending the message that it was okay to continue.
Which I did for a few more minutes. Then it was time for me to return to sleep. After I paused, I got the faintest reminder that Fluffy was calling the shots and though his teeth had been removed, his claws had not. I did not get scratched, but he exerted just enough pressure with his dew claw to give me the notion that he could be more persuasive. If necessary.
Later, as my wife began to stir, she took over the need for Fluffy's petting. Through the haze of sleep, she mumbled, "It's a miracle."
I didn't say this. I just thought it: "It's inevitable." I thought about the terms necessary to this interaction, and became convinced that the little girl and Fluffy were spiritually linked.
Then I went back to sleep.