She sat at the door of the vintage shop, her coat a shiny slick of black with slits of gleaming amber eyes. Blinking dully up at us, she did not scurry away from our peddling feet, nor flinch, rather seemed to permit our entrance into her domain.
Inside, amidst treasures and trinkets of many eras past, I momentarily forgot the feline as my fingers tapped away on an old typewriter. I watched as each key jumped its symbol to the center, then back, like fists pounding on screaming chests.
Upstairs in a low-ceilinged attic, a silhouette of a man gazed down at me, pausing his work from the typewriter he was fixing. His face was blocked by a blast of sunshine pouring in from the windows behind him. The brilliant rays lit up the dark wood interior of the shop, and even the floor we walked on that sighed its gentle creaks.
“How much is this?” my ruca asked the salesman. She was in awe over a 1968 Life Magazine of Martin Luther King Jr.—it was the week he’d been assassinated.
“Price should be on the back,” the guy answered, fiddling with some records. “But I think it’s twenty.”
The ruca hooked pleading eyes with me. Twenty bucks seemed a reasonable mark-up from the 35 cents it had sold for back in ’68.
In the middle of the shop were two large phone booths, the kind you’d only see now in old black and white movies with lovers trapped inside them. I was admiring them when suddenly, the air exploded with a burst of melody; a man had started playing the piano. There were no petals at the bottom of the instrument, but he tapped his feet grandly on the floor anyway, keeping beat to his tune. I tapped along myself, feeling like I should be in an old Western saloon, with feisty cowboys drinking whiskey and cleavage busting broads swinging from chandeliers. I watched the pianist, fascinated that the sheets of random scribbles and symbols, like pensive cursive, held the secret to the harmonious sounds that painted the air. I let the music fill me up. A tip in the cup and a helpless jig of my feet and I was back to the front of the store, where the ruca was still running her fingers across the soft creases of the magazine.
The cat was gone.
“Do you want it?” she asked, though obviously wanting it herself.
“Sure,” I nodded, understanding her tie with the King himself; her Capricorn birthday always falls the same week as the notorious leader. Plus, when you’re not born in the most incredible decade of the Civil Rights Movement, such rare tokens are priceless.
We paid for the magazine when the music stopped, and that was when the cat came out again. Her gentle stroll revealed an astute, regal air of pride. Although her body was petite, a tiny paunch on her belly dragged slightly, almost sweeping the floor that the pads of her paws stepped soundlessly upon. I guessed her age to be about a decade old—I’d been around enough cats all my life to know.
“What’s her name?” I asked, nodding towards the door. A black whip of a tail pointed back at us.
“Sasha,” said the man, placing the magazine delicately in a paper bag.
“Does she ever run away?”
A smile spread his lips open, his knowing eyes filled with stories. “Every now and then, she thinks about it. She’ll stretch her paws across the line of the door and you can see her debating, contemplating. It’s like she’s thinking ‘oh freedom! Oh sweet, terrible freedom!’ And then…she changes her mind, comes back inside.”
I could picture her now: contemplating a nomadic life amongst a sea of traffic-filled hipsters in skinny jeans and Converse on Valencia Street, hunting rats out by the dumpsters and fighting feral cats for a warm place to sleep. But here, in her very own castle of polished rustic gems, she is probably fed kibble and canned tuna everyday with fresh changed water, and gets an affectionate pet when in need of cariño. But still—to know the unknown! To journey out onto ventures far beyond the confines of the shop! What escapades she could live—what adventures she’d dare find!
We looked over at her. At her shiny black coat with her ears slightly flat, knowing she was the subject of our conversation. Her tail swooshed softly at attention.
“Wow,” I exhaled, not realizing I’d been holding my breath, or why.
With the iconic King wrapped carefully in the paper bag, we exited the shop, clicking our tongues and cooing our goodbyes at the majestic black creature who sat statuesque at the entrance. Out on Valencia Street, we walked upon the concrete of our own freedom—sweet, terrible freedom—as Sasha gazed silently back at us.
© Sarah C. Jiménez 2011, All Rights Reserved