The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2011

All Issues
MAY 2011 Issue

Gray Cat

On View
Bushwick Avenue And Kosciuszko
March 21, 2011
New York

Walking home on Bushwick Avenue this evening, I crossed paths with a gray cat. I was walking east when he emerged from behind some garbage cans five paces up. I saw from his lean musculature and dingy fur that he was stray. From the look in his eye and the tension coiling in his body, I could see that he was preparing to cross the avenue.

Where I live, Bushwick Avenue is four lanes across. Vehicles build up considerable speed along the straightaways. There is no shoulder. Leave the sidewalk and you are in the road. Vehicles whip around each other in the outer lanes to get ahead. It is a dangerous stretch, across which I’ve seen the remains of many animals, including large dogs. Nearby, on the corner of Gates, there is a white-painted, garlanded bicycle strapped to a street sign to commemorate its rider’s death.

I knew that the gray cat would not make it across. But he was going to make the trip. I almost yelled at him but stopped, fearing I’d throw off his timing and scare him into the road before he was ready. So I just repeated three times, in an urgent, low voice (as though he’d understand): “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”

He went. And found an open spot across the near two lanes.

Coming on fast in lane number three was a large, black S.U.V.— an Escalade maybe, something popular and high off the ground. The cat saw, as did I, that he would not beat the S.U.V. across that lane. Rather than stop and turn back, he kept going full tilt, but changed his trajectory to angle away from the oncoming vehicle as he continued across.

From my perspective on the opposite side of the street, standing at the cat’s departure point, I had a perfect side view of the S.U.V., and I proceeded to have one of those moments, peculiar to visual perception, in which the mind cannot fully compensate for the speed with which the eye records.

Here is what I think I saw: beneath the S.U.V., in that twelve inches of airspace, the gray cat was lifted off his feet, spun 360 degrees, not vertically but horizontally, like a top, and shot out between the passenger-side wheels, front and back.

To my amazement, and what I can only assume must have been his exhilaration, the gray cat landed squarely on his feet and continued his journey, physically unharmed, to the opposite curb and whatever lay beyond. I wonder if he understood the stakes as he moved off the curb. I guess it’s not in a cat’s constitution to contemplate his own non-existence. Or, perhaps, a cat always knows just how close he is to oblivion.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2011

All Issues