Children huddle underneath a blanket when the ghost cat comes at night. “Meow.” Quietly. “Meow.” More emphatic, plaintive. “We should give it ghost cat food,” one child whispers. (sounds of opening an imaginary can, the tinkle of a little spoon, the sound of imaginary cat food landing in a bowl) (cat licks, tongue sounds, maybe a purr while eating) Suddenly it is completely silent again. “The cat went away!” yes, it had. Blanket thrown off, laughter. When the ghost cat comes, you must feed it ghost cat food. Then it will go away until the next night. The average of a stray cat is two years. In Indonesia, staying overnight on the top floor of a house, cats began to howl at midnight. From a window that looked down over most rooftops, I could see scores of cats leaping from roof to roof, caterwauling in the heat, fighting, mating in droves on the terracotta. They were tired by morning, when the call to worship began from the mosques. In Taiwan is a village for old soldiers who have now all passed away, which has been taken over by cats. Some kindly types consider it a holy place, and come daily to feed the ever growing community of felines.
While studying music composition in college, I kept a small white mouse as a pet for company. Composition classes were going well. Composition students were eventually required to compose a piece of music for a small orchestra, to be performed in class. I had a few days to complete the assignment, but by the night before, I was still uninspired. I looked at the music paper on my table, and then I looked at my mouse. And then I had an idea. I found a bottle of India ink and poured some into a saucer. Then I took my mouse out of his cage, wet his feet in the ink, and let him run around on my tabletop covered with music paper. After a little jaunt, I cleaned off his feet and put him back in his cage. I easily transcribed and arranged the ink spots for eight instruments. The composition went over very well in class. There was a deep discussion of the content, and the form. I didn’t mention the mouse. A work of some genius the teacher said. Subsequent compositions with my mouse were well and even better received. I was a promising new composer, it was said. On a national day, I traveled with my mouse to visit my family. At some time during the activities that day, the family cat managed to sneak its way into the room unnoticed and snatch my mouse from his cage. The same had happened as a child, with my beloved parrot. After a complete search of the house, a single tiny bone and a spot of blood was all I found of my mouse.
I tried to repeat my compositional inventions, but there was no repeating the chemistry my mouse and I had. In my mind, the family cat had destroyed the future of western music. Long gone now, does this cat still wander the earth, the ghost of the destroyer of future human music?
Our children still play the “ghost cat” game of hiding in bed under a blanket and feeding a ghost cat ghost cat food. I wonder too, what their ghost cat has done to be so cursed.