20. April 2005 · Comments Off on Night Visitor · Categories: Domestic, General

Out of a number of things you do not want to be waked out of sound sleep by—say, projectile vomiting in the adjacent bathroom, an intruder breaking in downstairs— tops in my personal experience was the sound of several things, all at once: a violently slamming door, a child screaming, and a great deal of feline hissing and snarling. But this all did happen one late summer night in Athens, in the apartment where my daughter and I were living in Ano Glyphada, a couple of blocks up the hill from the taxi-stand at the bakery by the five-point intersection. The neighborhood is very much changed now, since the Olympics, but it was then an assortment of two or three story apartment blocks, with gardens, mixed in with small houses and empty lots. Our balcony, which ran along two sides of the building had a view of Aegina and the Saronic Gulf, and if you got on tiptoes at the end of it over the front door, where a huge bougainvillea vine went all the way up to the top of the building, you could just barely see ships anchored in the port of Piraeus.

Athens House

(Our place in Athens, c. 1984— the second floor. First floor, to Europeans)

We rented the second floor apartment from Kyrie Panayioti, who lived on the ground floor with his wife, Kyria Venetia and their two sons. Kyria Venetia’s sister, Kyria Yiota and her husband and their two children lived on the third floor. Each apartment took up the whole of the floor, and had windows all the way around, so as to get the full benefit of the breeze from the ocean. The ground floor garden, lovingly tended by Kyria Venetia, was shaded with small lemon and olive trees. Even I, with only my narrow walkway of a balcony, had pots of herbs and a small pine tree in a pot. The balconies were shaded by fine striped canvas awnings, installed at great expense by Kyrie Panayioti, and the interior rooms by a peculiar sort of slatted wooden shutter that could be raised or lowered by a fabric strap, or positioned at a half-way point with the slats separated to allow in a certain amount of air and light.

It was not just Blondie and I, on the second floor; she was just coming up to the age of three and a half, the right age to want pets. We had adopted a pair of kittens we had found, abandoned on a building site in the spring. Patchie was a tortoise-shell colored female, who looked like her coat had been stitched together from odd colored brown and caramel and black scraps left over from other cats; her presumed litter-mate Bagheera was solid black all over. They had grown into a fine looking, lively pair of young cats, who adored my daughter and slept on her bed for choice. They had the run of the apartment and balcony, and never seemed to want to go farther, although Patchie had fallen off the balcony railing one day, rolled down the first-floor awning and bounced off the end into Kyria Venetia’s patch of squash vines, from whence she sat and wailed for rescue.

At night, I lowered the shutters to the bottom of the window, but left them in the half-way position, all but the shutters in the kitchen, which I left open at the bottom for about ten inches, so Patchie and Bagheera could go in and out. I felt very secure with this arrangement, since we were on the second floor with no way for a human intruder to scale up twenty feet of sheer wall, but on that one night, we did have an interloper. The first I knew of it was the almost simultaneous scream from my daughter and the door to her bedroom slamming shut. I bolted out of bed in the pitch dark; fell over my slippers and out of my bedroom doorway into the hall. No matter— your child screaming for Mommy, you will crawl over broken glass to get to them. I wrenched open her bedroom door, and something furry brushed my ankles, as it exited in haste. Snapped on the light switch, I see my daughter sitting upright in a tangle of bedcovers, Patchie and Bagheera snarling and spitting as they dive for the door, small, fur-covered thunderbolts streaking past.

“It was another cat, Mommy,” said my daughter, as the sounds of bad cat-language diminish along the balcony outside. The bougainvillea rustled violently, one last frustrated snarl as our two feline guardians saw the intruder off, out the way he came. “It woke up Patchie and Bagheera, and they knocked the door shut. They were fighting and it woke me up.”
“Lovely, “I said, “Other people have watchdogs… we have watch-cats. Go back to sleep, sweetie.”
“Good, “Said my daughter,” They’ll keep everything bad away, won’t they.”
“We can only hope,” I said.

(And they did: Bagheera died at a relatively young age, after surgery for cystitis, but Patchie lived a long and adventurous life in three countries, and is buried in my garden in Texas, surviving just long enough to see Blondie come home from basic training. We were remembering this incident the other day, and Blondie wanted me to write something funny and cheerful about it.)

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