Smooshie is the first cat I love but do not own. I’m eight or ten or so, and my favorite sticker from the Lisa Frank collection is the bubbly-bordered black and white cat. I have a color-your-own button with this cat on it – the Lisa Frank version, not the neighborhood cat. I fill its outline with my undoubtedly subpar quality markers, and place it in my jewelry box. The jewelry box changes from the velvet-lined variety to my dad’s repurposed tacklebox plastered with Scotch tape and photocopied punk show flyers, but I still have the button. In addition to collecting neighborhood felines, I collect many forms of nostalgia and tokens of unearned sentimentality: my dad's college ring, my deceased grandma's plastic earrings, shiny coins issued in my birth year, beloved erasers in animal shapes which I think have souls. I have a pang for the past which is impressive given I’ve been alive for only a decade.
This cat lives in a house across the street from my childhood home, our houses teeth in a Phoenix cul-de-sac smile. Smooshie gets her name because she plops down in the path of my dad's car as he pulls into the driveway after work.
“I'll smoosh you!” he says to the cat.
He won’t. But Smooshie naps in the middle of the asphalt on our suburban street. Outdoor cats are abundant here despite the threat of coyotes in the nearby desert, when there is still desert. Smooshie has a home but wanders far and wide. She turns out to be a male cat, and at some point, I discover from a neighbor that her name is Damien. Damien! Who names a cat Damien? Smooshie is gigantic with long tresses tipped in desert dust.
My family starts the process of moving further north, burrowing deeper into the suburban sprawl of the west, so I know my days with Smooshie are numbered. I sneak up on his ample body one day and carry him into the house, into my bedroom, where I hold a clandestine photoshoot with my Kodak camera. The camera is a plastic brick, the kind with the bar-shaped film cassette so that I don’t need to know how to load film. I’m an avid photographer of my stuffed animals. My little sister is another photographic subject. A staged photo from this time has her in a beach chair, poolside, tropical drink in hand. My little sister, the five-year-old vacationing aunt.
My mom knows about my proclivity to sneak cats indoors, but it won't be the only time I hide a cat in my room or the only time I try to keep a cat I know belongs to someone else because I feel my overwhelming love for the fluffy friend grants me access or ownership. I put Smooshie back outside after our photoshoot, setting him under the mesquite tree so he is free to trot back to his life. My family moves north, and after that, I never see him again. I still have the photographs of a cat who wasn’t mine, though he looks like he must belong to me by how I grasp him.
Suzy Eynon is from the desert and lives in Seattle where she works in college admissions. Her fiction and poetry are published in Versification, Iris Literary Journal, The Nonconformist, Airplane Reading, and WORK Literary Magazine. Twitter: @SuzyEynon