By David Glenn Cox

Dedicated to M.J. Ostrander

On quiet footpads of the night, down a dark hallway designed to look more like a home than a hospital, she treads silently. Her tail pointing defiantly towards the North star. Entering the first room, she stops to rub her face against the door frame, marking it as one of her own. Cats are like that, marking territories claiming them. She stops at the foot of the bed, listening to the quiet, rhythmic breathing. Preparing herself, making certain of the situation in its totality, before springing onto the bed covers. She sniffs of the fabric, before ascending to the head of the bed. Tentative, cautious, checking three times. Treading lightly, along the edge of the bed rail.

The elderly woman, coughs, rolling on to her side. Unconsciously, she plumps her pillow, as the cat sits before her. Her tail, winding around her own perimeter, graciously coming to rest. With feline patience, she waits, before letting out a slight “Burr.” The woman blinks, before taking in the world. “Francis!” She says, surprised, “I haven’t seen you in such a long, long time? Oh, where have you been, little kitten of mine?”

Frances, answers nuzzling the bed covers and purring. “I do so love it, when you come to see me.” She strokes the cat lovingly in the dark and Frances’s tail stands a mast of pleasure. “What have you come to tell me tonight, my old friend? Do you remember Francis? When my sister Susan and I dressed you up in doll clothes? You were such a good sport about it back then. Mom said, she’d never seen the like.”

Frances stares and grooms herself. “You would always wake us for school, what a good friend you were, what was it now…fifty? No, sixty, years ago!”

The splashed black and white cat stood, arching her back. Creeping slowly forward, Frances, touches noses with the woman, before darting from the bed.  Walking to the door, her tail catching the door frame as a she exits.

She pads down the hall stealthily, her dark coat blending with the darkness. Entering the next room, she navigates between the machines and devices humming and hissing around the bed. Leaping in a single bound she walks the headboard over the elderly man stepping down on the other side. He wakes as Frances navigates the maze of wires and tubes. She walks the railing to the foot of the bed then descends into the covers. She walks back between his legs as he smiles. The old man coughs a dry cough and weakly says, “Oh, Mike, it’s so good to see you again. I’m all alone here and I’m afraid it’s the end for me.” He struggles to lift his hand as Francis nuzzles against it marking him as one of her own. She walks following his arm touching her nose to his and then bounds away.

Back in the hallway, she follows the wall along the corridor. Entering the next room, she leaps to the foot of the bed. Disturbed by the motion the elderly woman looks up. “Lucy, my Lucy! Where have you been my dear friend? It’s been so long, and I have loved you oh these so many years!” Francis purrs loudly her tail erect prancing carefully through the ridges of the bed covers. Laying down playfully she rolls as the old women gently scratches at her chest. “Oh Lucy, Lucy, where have you been all these years?” The old woman sighs as tears leak out from the corner of her eyes. “I’ve seen so much and done so much and lived my life, but I have never forgotten you. It’s nice to know that you haven’t forgotten me.” Francis sits up and climbs on the woman’s chest laying down and wrapping her tail tightly around her frame and purrs loudly touching her nose to the woman’s. The old woman drifts off to sleep as Francis purrs and closes her eyes for a moment. She then softly steps back to the sheets before bounding on to the floor making her exit.

Marge Hemphill was filling out her nightly reports at the nurse’s station. She reached for her coffee mug and from the corner of her eye saw a black cat meandering down the hallway on the monitor. Putting the mug down, she looked again and saw nothing. She rubs her eyes and looks at her watch dismissing what she had seen as an aberration.

Meandering with purpose Francis finds all of the doors which are welcoming and waiting. It has been said by the unknowing that cats aren’t affectionate when the opposite is true, a cat’s love is eternal.

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