I called him Schrödinger.
The first winter storm had hit early in October the year I discovered Schrödinger. He was in a damp cardboard box, one of a pile I was transferring from my deck to the recycling bin. There was a flattened mat of black hair smeared across the bottom of the box, and a nauseating smell. I gagged, scrunched over the top of the box, sealed it tightly, held it at arm’s length, and dropped it into the depths of the bin. The box mewled.
I know about mewls. Kittens mewled throughout my childhood. Kittens born in drawers, under beds, in my father’s coldframes in the garden, and under piles of wood in the woodshed. When we were young, my sister and I hunted out cats’ nests the way other country children hunted out birds’ nests. We hunted those too, but kittens were our great love: blind, big-headed, squirming, mewling kittens.
I held my breath and stretched my arm as far as it would go toward the bottom of the bin, all the while recalling that news item about a man who came home to find his wife’s legs sticking out of the top of their recycling bin. It had not been a good outcome for the wife. I withdrew my head, took a deep breath, noticed how cool and damp the air was, and said “thank you” to the sky for one more day of life. It was already getting dark. Gently, I tipped the bin on its side and shook the box onto the ground.
Schrödinger was a very sick kitten. He was starved. His eyes were stuck shut with hard yellow pus. His smoky black fur was falling out. It was no wonder I had initially identified him as a dead rat. I found him a dry box and spent two weeks wiping his eyes with saline solution. I fed him warm milk from an eyedropper every hour and replaced his hot water bottle, which I wrapped in a reassuring towel. I lived to the sound of my cell phone alarm: discreet for the office; loud for the night. I thought I would never sleep through the night again, or see the world except through the dizzy haze of exhaustion. All this time Schrödinger stayed in his box. Then, after two weeks were over, he opened his eyes: one milky blue kitten’s eye and one cloudy, white, and opaque. Schrödinger was going to live, but he was blind in one eye.
A mother cat licks her kittens. A hot water bottle can’t do that. I had washed Schrödinger’s eyes using a cotton bud, but for grooming I was stuck for an idea. Inspiration hit while I was warming my own food in the microwave. I left my dinner, drove to the drugstore, and bought one of those terrycloth washing mitts. Back home I dampened it, microwaved it, cooled it to blood heat, and, using one only finger, ran it over Schrödinger’s sorry apology of a body. A week later, Schrödinger’s fur was staying stuck on. I rearranged the box so it stood on its side and he could stagger out.
Schrödinger has lived up to his name. He is the epitome of the wave particle duality. Two black cats face off in my driveway, their backs arched in perfect mirror images. Not sure which cat is Schrödinger, I stop the car and chase them both out of the way. When I walk into the kitchen, there is Schrödinger, fast asleep in his box.
If I’m not looking for the Schrödinger Cat, he’s not there. But if I want him, he’s right under my feet, as solid as life and just as hungry. The exception is bedtime: when he disappears despite all my looking. He knows I am about to exile him to the outside world. He resents not having a place on my bed. Sorry, Schrödinger, I am averse to cat fleas in my bedding. You only get to be on my bed when I’m flattened under the smear of depression. When I suffer my own duality.