Get Off The Couch, Ann Landers

Connecticut Review

Out of the corner of my eye, while I am reading, I see Ann Landers creeping alongside the living room wall. Move a bit—stop, move a bit—stop. She glances my way, and my gaze locks on her green eyes. She freezes in place, staring back. Finally, tired of the game, she turns her head and continues on—on behind the couch, where she stays for a few minutes, before springing up and curling herself into a ball on the throw pillow resting on the couch seat.

About six months after my mother died, Ann Landers, my calico cat, took on her persona. Mother is tiny with large patches of brown and black over her white body. Her tail is all white except for a black spot right at the bend, midway.

"Get off the couch, Ann Landers!"

Mother doesn't move.

When she was only Ann Landers she'd have leapt off the couch before I finished the sentence, but now that she's part calico and part Ida Moscowitz, she does as she pleases. And that includes no longer using the litter box when I'm in the same room. She will face it and wait patiently until I leave the mud room where it is kept, before doing her business. Now she needs privacy.

She wants to go outside; there's no doubt about it. Mother has tried several times to make a quick turn to get out when an open screen door has presented itself. Ann Landers was an inside cat from day one, and this new phase is unnerving.

My name is Brian Moscowitz, and I am not crazy—my world is. I am thirty-eight years old and a conductor on Amtrak's Boston to Washington run. I am divorced and live in my own house in a New Haven suburb. My mother never approved of my working for the railroad. She wanted me to go into the family business, but I had no desire to work in a factory all day long churning out baster bulbs. I've loved trains my whole life, and even while I was going to college studying business administration, I knew that after graduation I'd become a railroad man.

When I put on my uniform to go to work, Mother hisses at me and then turns her back and saunters away. B.M. (before mother), Ann Landers would see me taking my conductor's hat and coat from the closet and she'd sit and watch until I'd picked her up and rubbed her belly. She purred her goodbyes knowing that I'd be gone for two days, and she purred me welcome home on my return.

I don't tell people that Ann Landers is now inhabited by Mother. I know what they would think. I'd be no different if someone told me the story—how it happened one night while eating dinner in my kitchen. I watched Ann Landers sitting on a chair at the table. Then I felt Mother's presence and saw her face in Ann's little hairy one. Not her whole face, that would indeed be bizarre, but Ann Landers had taken on aspects of Mother's looks and facial expressions. I opened a package of Twinkies for dessert and placed them on the same plate my meat loaf had been on. I used my knife and fork to cut the Twinkies and savor the small pieces. Mother looked at me with her look. There were other signs. Ann Landers now hissed when I picked my nose or farted. She had never done that before. And she made me feel perverted if I picked her up and rubbed her belly.

I never had any such experience when my father died five years ago. I mourned. I still miss him, but I don't see him in my cat or anywhere else. This is different. My relationship with Mother was always strained, unlike her feelings towards my sisters, who married well and gave her grandchildren. Why she chose me and not them to end up with is a mystery. Could she have been thinking rehabilitation?

I had a cook-out and invited my sisters and their families. They came, and no matter how many times I asked them about Ann Landers's behavior or looks, they kept telling me it was the same old cat they always knew.

"Have you noticed that Ann Landers has taken on some human expressions?" I asked. They laughed and teased me. My nieces and nephews played with Ann Landers off and on during the visit and acted as if she were just any old cat and not their grandmother.

I am hypersensitive to things that other people probably would not feel. My grandfather was a house painter, and he would take me with him when I was little to be his helper. I was in the service when he died and couldn't come home for his funeral. I got home just as the family was cleaning out his house for the new owners. "Take what you want, Brian," they said. "Any memento of Gramps you want is okay with us." They had picked the house clean, but in the garage I found a six-foot wooden step ladder splattered with paint. I wanted that ladder. To my wife's dismay, I kept it open in the living room using the steps and the fold-down paint can holder to hold plants. I did this to disguise the real reason.

I felt my grandfather's presence in this piece of wood that had been part of his life for so long. He was there, amongst the dripped paint and splintered wood, and I often talked to him while resting my foot on one of his rungs.

When I was still married, I had the family over for a birthday party. I left to go to the store, and while I was gone, one of the kids' helium balloons broke loose from her grip and floated up to the ceiling. My brother-in-law took the plants off the ladder and climbed it to retrieve the balloon for his crying daughter. As soon as he got hold of the string, the ladder leg broke, and he landed hard, but still held on to the balloon. He was okay; the ladder wasn't. My wife had them toss the pieces into the garbage can, and when I came home, my niece told me about her balloon, and I ran to the living room and then to the garbage can and pulled out the ladder. I hugged the broken ladder pieces, sniffed the paint and the wood, but I no longer felt my grandfather's presence. I put it back together, but left it unused in the garage after that.

My mother made her escape from the house. Ann Landers would never have considered it. I looked for hours, but to no avail. I had a rough night sleeping, worrying about a house cat suddenly out in the wilds of suburbia. Mother or no mother, Ann Landers was not ready for this. While shaving, I heard the screeching of brakes and looked out the window in time to see Ann Landers running for all she was worth into the neighbor's yard across the street. I went outside and ran up to the woman who was behind the wheel, visibly shaken. She was an older, white-haired woman, a sweet grandmother type. "What happened?" I asked.

"I almost killed a cat. It ran right in front of my car, and I was barely able to stop."

"Probably mine," I said. "My calico's been missing."

I smiled my thanks, and she said, "I should have run it over just to teach you a lesson. People like you shouldn't have pets." She drove off.

I did a yard-by-yard search and finally found Ann Landers a few houses away on a neighbor's back deck. She lay curled and contentlooking with the morning sun beating down on her. I climbed the stairs, and she let me pick her up and carry her home. On the walk, Ann Landers rolled over in my arms and purred, exposing her belly for me to rub. Mom wouldn't have done that.

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