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facts & arguments

Jonny Ruzzo/The Globe and Mail

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

I have been having an affair.

I'd seen her before, padding through the garden, following some route through the neighbourhood. Didn't think much about it. I am a dog person, you see. Always have been.

Then she began to visit my backyard, curling up on the cool glass table under the shade of its umbrella.

One day, I took a break to sit in the sun and sip a cold drink. I left the back door open. An invitation. She leapt down to the straw-like grass, approached the door, took a few tentative steps inside and up the stairs, cautiously meowing to announce her arrival. Bemused, I followed.

She is soft black with white mittens and bib, a notch in one ear. Long whiskers, stray white hairs on her back, oddly-angled elbows and hips. She flops on her side suddenly, but gingerly, to scratch an itch – it's clear she is an older cat. Been around the block, one might say.

It happened swiftly. The house is hot in summer, so I leave the back door open. The cooler air whooshes in, and so did she.

I was working from home, and she curled up under my desk. When I realized she had been with me for seven hours, I did what any caring human would: run some cool tap water in a little glass bowl and set it down. She drank, a tiny pink tongue taking tender laps. Her tail flicked. Her tongue delighted me.

The days went by and she visited often. Daily. She entered confidently now, greeting me with a cheerful meow. I was smitten.

Always, I made sure to leave the back door open. She could go at any time. I couldn't be accused of being a cat-napper.

She wore a red collar with a phone number on the tag. I did a reverse look-up – what reasonable person wouldn't? It led to a man's name and address; a doctor living one house over. A doctor who most certainly worked long hours. Aha! He was absent, she was lonely. But a sudden fear: What if he was a retired, elderly man … who had collapsed on his living room floor? What if – God forbid – he had passed away?

This warranted an investigation. Phoning was out of the question. I didn't want to reveal myself. That evening, my partner and I skulked about the doctor's house. Through the windows we could clearly see a person moving about: a healthy, neglectful person.

Next day, at the grocery store, my cart wheeled into the pet aisle. We'd avoided it for seven years, since our hearts were broken. A surprise to find the little tins so inexpensive. And the varieties! I bought two. And a tiny packet of treats.

Yes, I'd slid down a slippery slope. I began to feed her. I put a tablespoon of the fragrant pâté on a pink ceramic plate. She ate delicately, little tastes then tiny bites. Licking the plate. A long drink of water. A meow of thanks. It gave me pleasure.

That was it. We were besotted. She spent long afternoons curled up on the kitchen floor or following me from room to room. When I had errands to run, I carried her gently in my arms to the backyard, and locked the back door. Our furtive eyes met through the windowpane.

Anxious to be reunited, she'd be waiting at the threshold when I returned. At bedtime, I'd put her out again, regretfully. No doubt she wanted to spend the night curled up on my pillow, purring. No. That would be crossing a line.

In the black night she was a dark shape, her tiny face looking up at me longingly. I worried: Was she pining for me? Spending the cold night unsheltered?

She appeared one morning with a blue collar, looking slightly less dishevelled. Bathed, perhaps, most certainly brushed. He was sending me a message – he knew of our affair. He was showing me he could attend to her needs.

I felt guilty, but still greedy for her company. There were few hours we were apart. She would slink up the stairs quickly and smoothly. She seemed more youthful. Stood in front of the fridge, looking me deep in the eyes. A demanding meow assured me of what she wanted. Whom.

My partner asked a friend with experience. He said if I was feeding her it would never end. But most affairs do end. I wasn't sure how, but I could guess when: when the rain came and the patio table was stored away and the backyard was mucky. When the days were cooler and the night air no longer a welcome relief, the back door closed.

I didn't want to imagine that far ahead. Until then, she could stay stretched on the kitchen floor, her plate and bowl nearby, the back door ajar. She chose to be with me. I told her I am not a cat person. She didn't believe me.

A month later, when the heat of summer still lingered, a handsome young man knocked. He brought news – a twist to the tale. The unexpected ending. She had been to the vet and was dying of leukemia. He kindly asked if he could spend more time with her as she neared her end.

Of course. Of course. I had been selfish. It was, then, an abrupt breakup. She was not mine to love. The door closed, and with a flick of a tail it was over. And then the rains came.

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