THE CAT WHO WOULD BE A WOMAN
by Olivia Diamond

          I’m curled up on the closet floor among all my mistress’s sneakers, pointed high heels and smart pumps. My cheek rests against her fuzzy slippers – my favorite. Her crisp blouses waft a faint aroma of scented laundry detergent into my delicate nostrils. The hems of party dresses hover a few feet above my head. The chiffon baby blue one is my particular favorite, although the velvet green also merits some praise. My mistress has fine taste, but then again, so do I. Didn’t I choose her? I come and go just as I please. That’s what I like about my circumstances. The smells of her closet are irresistible, but so are those of the linen closet. If she leaves the door slightly ajar, I slip inside to nap on top of the fresh towels.
            When she primps for work in the morning before her makeup mirror, I slither between the cologne bottles and hair spray cans. If it smells good or it feels soft, you can bet I’ll be there. Out of the corner of my eye, as I tiptoe across the dresser, I can glimpse my shapely body and think, not a bad-looking gal for being ten years old. My hips are still supple, my feet dainty. My thick, smoky gray coat shines as lustrous as ever. When she is in a hurry, my mistress often leaves her lingerie drawer ajar. That’s my lucky day. As soon as I hear her car start, I’m in it.
            I was contented with my life as a cat. Far be it from me to wish to trade my feline existence for any other. Lately, though, it has become almost unbearable. During my waking hours, granted they are few, all I think about is becoming a woman. Until recently, it has pleased me just to be a voyeur in the world of my mistress. Now I am consumed, tormented by the desire to walk erect, to clothe my bare flesh in fabrics of various textures, to daub my lips and rouge my cheeks. I think I will die if I cannot be a woman. Yes, I am obsessed, driven to distraction.
            My discontent began a year ago. Steadily, my desire grew, ballooned into an urge that threatens to send me over the edge. It happened when my mistress, of all things, decided to marry. I had never lived with a man before. I don’t believe in that kind of arrangement nor does my mistress. We both require commitment. When I chose her, I knew it was an irrevocable decision. I was just a kitten but one with strong preferences, and I liked her and her accommodations very much. I fit right into the house. I never thought I could want anything else.
            Granted I was wary when this big guy moved in. He promptly started rearranging furniture and building things, like shelves and counters. He put me on a diet, saying I was too fat. That didn’t bother me much, because I knew if I whined enough that my mistress would fill my bowl. More unsettling was sharing the bed with him. I had been used to my place at the foot of the bed and he required a good deal of space. Now there were four feet to contend with at night. Despite this irritation, I managed to make myself comfortable. Sometimes the thrashing was a bit much. I wanted to join in. Often I was ignored when I rubbed against one of their faces to indicate my presence. That’s my method to acknowledge a human and to demonstrate my receptivity to any overtures of affection they may proffer me. If there is one thing I abhor, it is being ignored. I believe in studying a human’s character for a while before passing judgment. My mistress’s husband occupied a lot of valuable space, but I liked him. You know why? Because he paid attention to me. He roughhoused with me. The more he did it, the more I liked it. I found it strangely erotic.
            As time passed, I realized the man was paying me more attention than my mistress ever had. Perhaps she had taken me for granted all along. Once in a blue moon she would pet me, but I could always depend on the master giving me a gentle cuff when I slunk across the bed or arched my body around his leg. Then the fun would begin. I rolled on my back; he would poke me on my belly, my back, behind my ear. I loved it. I parried with my paw if I could, but he usually escaped my clutch before I nabbed him. The truth is I would not hurt him for the world. Besides, I was declawed.
            Men are so much more fun than the female of the species. What a revelation after all these years of living with one woman. Not that I didn’t love and admire my mistress anymore. Far be it from me. No, I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be a woman, not just a cat who received the few crumbs of affection left from the man. My daytime naps were filled with dreams of wearing my mistress’s clothes, silk scarves, and high heel shoes, of combing my hair like hers, of painting my face with everything in her cosmetics bag, of dousing a lithe, shining body with every bottle of cologne on her dresser. I had discovered man and my life could never be the same.
            The days are tolerable because I spend them napping in a cozy place like this, which somewhat lessens that gnawing discontent. At night, I am increasingly obsessed with the desire to be a woman. What I wouldn’t do for just one hour, one day as a woman! I’d give up the eight lives remaining to me if I could spend a day as a human woman--tall, svelte and stripped of this furry coat that suited me well for so many years. Then, I consider I must count my blessings. I inhabit a snug home with lots of ideal nooks and crannies. I have a daily ration of food. I’m never put out in the cold to wander the streets. I am felix domesticus, tame and freed of the necessity to prey upon filthy mice and other vermin. I am a lady of quality, of royal lineage, said to be descended on my mother’s side from the pharaoh’s litter of temple felines.
            I have dawdled here long enough ruminating on my discontent. Time to get up, stretch my limbs and meander downstairs. My internal clock tells me, they’ll soon be coming upstairs to work in their study. The light is dimming in the bedroom. As is my custom, I’ll pad into the den and curl up by the master’s feet under his desk. They’ve finished supper and I hear them shuffling papers in the den. It’s an opportune time to overhear their conversation. That’s when they exchange the news of the day. I receive advance warning whether they are planning to have company or go out for an evening. Sometimes the drivel they talk puts me to sleep. Stock market, computers, best-selling books, business trips. My master travels a lot.
            “Honey, I have a two-day training seminar to attend. It’s an overnighter in Chicago.” My whiskers twitched at this. That was my mistress’s voice imparting the news. She never traveled. What a switch!
            “Can you take care of yourself while I’m gone?” Honestly, why sure, he can take care of himself. He’s a big man, I thought. I refrained from evincing my pleasure at her absence, stifling the purr, which threatened to arise from my throat. Alone with the master. No one else with whom to share his affection. Two whole days and a night! Whoopee!
            “I’ll miss you but I’ll manage to fend for myself.” He pulls her down into his lap. My lap! The place where I like to park. When I do, I receive his undivided attention and the games follow. Now they’re starting that kissy-pooh stuff. So what do I care? The kicking and poking around, the games I play with him are just as much fun. But ah! Doubt riddles my soul. If I were a woman, would I have more fun? The thought of it sends me into paroxysms of envy. I strive to curb my headlong spin into jealousy. Such emotion does not become me. I know it. It is beneath my dignity, my noble ancestry. But what can I do about it, but just ooze with longing the rest of my lives? I wish I were a woman. If only I were a woman, what a woman would I be!
            I must get control of myself. It’s souring my stomach, ruining my digestion. My hairballs are increasing. I’ve spent an excessive amount of time preening myself. Having to regurgitate a hairball, which I haven’t done since my pubescent years, disgusts me. I’m finicky about such matters. I hold my personal hygiene in high regard. I am also a cat who has a similar regard for the carpet and furnishings of my mistress. I do not wish to sully them in any way. Although I don’t show it, I’m grieved when these physiological eruptions occur in my system.
            Oh, good, they’re done with that foolery! He’s settled down in front of his computer and she’s playing her flute. I do love her music. It soothes my distemper. I’ll walk over to his chair, vault atop the monitor and voilá, in a flick of my tail, he’ll notice me.
            “Gretchen, what the heck are you doing up there?” Ever so slightly I deftly lift, the tip of my tail in reply; otherwise motionless, staring him down.
            He swats my tail. I switch it right back at his forefinger. Then the fun begins. He grabs me by the nape of the neck, lowers me onto my back on the rug and pokes his toe into my belly. My forepaw shoots out to grab his foot, but before I can touch him, his other toe pokes my flank. Round and round we spar, me rolling from side to side and he feinting and parrying my every move. He tires of the game before I do and swivels in his chair to resume his work. I wait for a few seconds before padding over to the divan.
            I doze off for a few hours after the tussle. The click of the light switch awakens me. I sense that the room darkens before I open my eyes. They are on their way to bed. I will wait until they are sound asleep before I follow them into the four-poster and find my spot on the quilt close to their feet. I hear the sound of their voices talking in bed, it seems, for an unusually long time tonight. I almost drift back to sleep when my finely tuned ears pick up a scratch at the windowpane. I turn my head toward the sound. At first, I perceive nothing against the glass. My sixth sense tells me something is amiss. An intruder, the neighbor’s orange tabby – I hate that color – she is such a bushy, pushy cat – with that long matted mane of hers. She thinks she’s queen of the block, strutting around through our flowerbeds when and where she wants to. If I had claws on my forepaws, I’d scratch out her eyes. As for myself I rarely slip outside, and then, only to sniff a few herbs and lick a few leaves. I prefer not to roll in the dirt like that stuck-up Jezebel next door. If that’s her caterwauling around here, I’ll give her a what-for right now.
            In a thrice I’m on my haunches, at attention, ready to leap at the slightest indication of movement at the window. I stand poised for any eventuality, any peeping tom at my window. The effrontery of some of the animals in my neighborhood knows no bounds. I myself have better breeding, acquainted as I am with the niceties of civilization.
            “What are you staring at?” A refined stream of purrs executed in Semitic cadences catches my ear. I swivel around toward the source of the sound. A silver-haired, sleek cat with black stripes along breast and legs, and the spots of a leopard on its back, minces at me from the top of the computer monitor. The black stripes line the face and continue to the top of the head where it forms an M-shape between the ears. This cross between a tabby cat and a leopard stands no taller than I am. Never in my life had I seen such a hybrid creature. From its neck dangles a gold chain with an ankh of Coptic design. Its eyes are jade green. If my vision does not deceive me, in the center of those intense orbs are tiny white pinpoints from which rays project, as if emitted from some kind of optometrist’s instrument for peering into my own eyeballs for cataracts.
          “How did you get in here?”
          “You summoned me.”
          “I did no such thing. If you want to leave with that pretty fur coat intact, you’d best scat now.”
          “That’s not the customary reception for a fairy cat godmother.”
          “A fairy cat godmother?”
          “Yes, after all, you summoned me. You were wishing your little heart out. I’m here to grant your greatest wish.”
          “How can you do that?” I inch a few feet closer and study the ankh encrusted with rubies and turquoise.
          “I am Nabila, queen of the Nile temple cats, guardian of Nefertiti’s tomb. The ladies of the dynasty allowed me freedom to roam their chambers as I pleased. They loved me so, that I accompanied them to the underworld.” She raises herself from her haunches upon four feet, arches her back and then resettles herself on her belly with her front paws tucked under her chest. “Isn’t it your desire to be a woman? I can grant you that boon.”
          I can’t stifle my credulity. I desire to be a woman too much to disbelieve her claim. Cats are conversant with the occult and I can no more deny that old black magic than I can deny that I was a cat.
          “Oh, fairy cat godmother, if that’s really who you are, I want that more than anything else in the world. If I could be a woman, I’d give up my eight remaining lives.”
          “That won’t be necessary,” she chortled. “I am your fairy cat godmother and it is my job to see that you get what you want.”
          A trace of skepticism checks my enthusiasm, which races wildly through every nerve of my body.
          “What’s the catch? You must require something in return.”
          “The cautious cat in you asks that. Don’t you know that fairy cat godmothers grant wishes out of love? Rest assured there is no catch. No cat and mouse game. I have only the power to make you a woman for one day.”
          “A woman for a day is all I ask. That would be world and time enough for me.”
          “As good as done.” Nabila smacks her lips.
          “Well, do it. Do it, right now. Wave your magic wand or ankh. I can’t wait.”
          “You impetuous cat. No, it can’t be. Think a moment. Two women in the same house? That won’t do. We must wait until your mistress departs. Remember I am a fairy cat godmother and I’ve appeared for a reason. Your mistress leaves tomorrow?”
          “That’s right!” I exclaim. “Exactly so. How did you know?”
          “Fairy cat godmothers have ways of knowing. We must proceed in the proper manner. If you are to become a woman, you must assume your mistress’s place while she is gone.”
          “Look like her?”
          “Yes. With my potion, you will appear as your mistress so that you can take her place without your master being the wiser. That is the only way I will be able to grant your wish to be a woman for a day. Do you think your master would dally with another woman?”
          “Absolutely not!”
          “So, then it must be.
          ”I can not dispute Nabila’s argument. She has the wisdom of the ages behind her. I defer to her experience in such matters. The fact that she appears to a humble American domestic cat serves to increase my sense of awe and humility in the presence of one of the matriarch’s of my species. I want to lick her paws in utter gratitude for the favor of her visit.
          “Tomorrow evening I’ll return with the potion. Be ready.” With that she rises from her languid position atop the monitor and archly steps through the glass of the windowpane and melts into the leafy shadows of the elms beyond as if floating upon the night air.
          As I expect, early the next morning, my mistress tramps downstairs with a suitcase and shoulder bag, heads out the door to the car for her overnight trip to the big city. She wears the charcoal gray suit with stripes so much like my own coat and the red silk blouse I adore. From the living room window, I watch her climb in the car and back out of the driveway. She is in too much of a hurry to notice me between the lace curtains. I am in a dither the rest of the day, wondering when Nabila will return to effect my metamorphosis. I fidget, meander from room to room, unable to get comfortable in sofa or bed, under the chair or in the closet, thinking about my impending transformation. Evening arrives and still no Nabila. Preferring not to cook supper himself, my master goes to a restaurant for dinner. I sit in the gloaming and press my nose to the windowpane where I first sensed Nabila. Was it all a pipe dream? Her fortuitous appearance yesterday just the workings of my supercharged obsession to experience being a female of the human species rather than being satisfied with the simple joys of felix domesticus? I wish I had claws to gnaw upon while I wait. Was my fairy cat godmother going to return or not?
          Suddenly, I hear a ping as if an icicle had fallen from the eave – a highly improbable occurrence since it was early October – but that’s what the sound brings to mind. Then I hear the accents of an oriental cat and twist my neck in surprise. There she perches on the back of the divan.
          “So, you were doubting my return? Faith, my dear, you must have more faith. I need full cooperation in this undertaking. A woman I promised you would be, and a woman you shall be for one enchanted night.”
          “When do we begin?”
          “Right now. Your master will be returning soon. You must be ready and waiting for him. Close your eyes tightly.”
          Determined to cooperate to the fullest in this endeavor, I close them. My fears dissipate as my excitement mounts with the fulfillment of my fondest dream. I smell Nabila approach, her thick mist of ambrosia almost sending me into paroxysms of delight.
          “Lick my ankh, but don’t open your eyes, Gretchen, my dear,” she purrs.
          I do as she bids. What I taste on my tongue sends more ripples of pleasure through my body. It is anise, the licorice spice that flavors ouzo and other Middle Eastern brews. Then she meows a string of bizarre incantations.
          “Akrazar-Akrazam-Shakar-Arram-Arrim-Meow-Arrum, you are a woman.
          ” I feel my body expand, a fullness comes over me, a swelling of all my limbs, a lifting of my spine as if I am strung from a tree. I am about to open my eyes when Nabila warns, “Don’t open your eyes. Not yet. The process is not complete. I want you to count down from 100. When you get to zero you may open your eyes.”
          I obey her directions, hardly able to contain my joy. I rush the numbers, anxious to be finished like a priest pronouncing Mass. I burst open my eyes after the glorious zero. They are level with spines of the books on the shelf above the computer monitor. I turn around, searching the room for Nabila, but she has disappeared without a word of farewell. I pull open drawers, thrilled with my newfound manual dexterity. I twist the doorknob, open and close the door several times. I promenade around the room upright on two feet, skip and hop, exploring the potentialities of my leg muscles. I spread my arms to test my reach and am satisfied with my ability to switch the lights off and on and to draw and close the curtains. I run my palms across my new body shorn of fur, and love the texture. Peering down my torso, I discover my skimpy garb, unlike any I have seen upon my mistress. I wear a flimsy black lace chemise top trimmed with ruffles at the bust and at the hem, which falls just above my hip, revealing a pair of lace-frilled bikini panties from which garters extend, holding up black net stockings with scarab beetles set at regular intervals along their leg. My feet are shod in open-toed, backless high-heeled shoes.
          “Gadzooks!” I swear. He’ll never believe I am Priscilla (that’s my mistress’s name -- I apologize; I forgot to inform you). She’s much too proper for a get-up like this! Whatever am I to do? I scamper to the full-length mirror in the master bedroom to assure myself that my eyes do not deceive. My reflection verifies the awful truth. The body, the face, the hair are surely those of my mistress, but the outfit bears no resemblance to any in her wardrobe. This is not the customary dress of Miss Pris, but rather that of a model straight out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. But that is not all! I gasp in horror at the further effects of my miscreation. No way can I, by any stretch of the imagination, be pawned off as a reasonable facsimile of Priscilla. Between my legs I see a vestigial tail, long, smooth and black, as flexible as its original model, which proudly flares at the rear of my former body. I rotate to fully absorb a rear view. There my figure is as curvaceous as previously, although a longer version. My fairy cat godmother has botched the job! Not enough ambrosia? Too little anise? Incorrect incantation? The cooking time wrong? Who knows? My distress heightens as I distinctly hear the rumble of a car engine turning into the driveway, then the garage door open and its subsequent descent. Think fast, you idiot! My mind races. I can’t just hide in a corner, curl up in the closet now. No coward at heart, I must concoct an explanation quickly or ruin my chance forever. I am rewarded with inspiration just as I hear my master’s footsteps ascending the stairs. I bite my lip and pray I can pull it off.
          I hide behind the den door, knowing he will head straight there. My instincts are right. He enters and just as he eases himself into his desk chair, I pop out from behind the door and shout, “Surprise, honey, I’m home!”
          He takes one look at me and bursts out laughing. Finally, gaining control of himself, he asks, “And to what do I owe this little surprise?”
          “The training seminar was rudimentary. I wheedled my way out of tomorrow’s session. How do you like my outfit?”
          “Where did you get it? At Victoria’s Secret?”
          “How did you guess?”
          “It wasn’t easy,” he laughed. “Come here, you vixen.” He pulls me down into his lap. No sooner am I comfortably seated than he exclaims, “What’s this?” He tugs at my tail.
          “It’s part of my costume. A new seductive touch the Victoria’s Secret designers have added to their list. Do you like it?”
          “You betcha . . .” He leaps up. He grabs me so tightly that he knocks the breath out of me for a second. His rough cheek against mine does not feel so pleasant and when he smacks his lips against mine, I think, this is enough! His whiskers rub me the wrong way. I squirm out of his hold, pushing him backwards. The leer in his eye alerts me that I am in for more than I bargained for. As he bolts towards me, I evade his grasp, stooping and sliding out from under his arms. I race out the door and down the hall with my master in pursuit. He thinks it is all a game, but not me. I want out of here as fast as my legs can carry me. I make tracks out the den. I round a corner and duck behind a rubber plant just in time to let him pass. Then I retrace my path, running in the opposite direction and down the stairs. He stubs his toe on the base of a pedestal and halts his progress to curse long enough for me to scoot into the laundry room and cower in a corner. I cringe there, hoping he will abandon the play, and crying aloud, “Why, did I ever covet the life of a woman? A cat’s life was perfect. Who wants to be a woman and suffer these indignities day in and day out? Not me!”
          “So you want to be a cat again? Couldn’t last twenty-four hours as a human female?” It was Nabila. She sits on her haunches on top of the clothes dryer. “Recognition of your innate independence dawns, does it? There’s only so much unsolicited attention felines can tolerate. I’m willing to reverse the operation.” Nabila smirks atop her perch while I crouch in the space between the washing machine and the wall, my knees up to my chin. What an ungainly, indecorous position. I wish with all my might for my supple hindquarters and flexible spine.
          Chastened, I confess, “Okay, so I’m a scaredy cat. I chickened out of being a woman.
          ” The ankh’s bright jewels sparkle around her neck. Nabila’s green eyes fasten upon my scantily clad form, their white rays boring into my shame and humiliation. She pads closer, the ambrosia filling my nostrils.
          “Lick the ankh,” she commands.
          I bend my head down and extend my tongue. I close my eyes without her directing me to do so. The licorice-flavor inundates my taste buds.
          “Arrum-Meow-Arrim-Arram-Shakar-Akrazam-Akrazar,” she pronounces in mellifluous purrs. “Be ever mindful that you are descended from the Egyptian Mau, temple cat, companion of kings and queens.
          ” I feel my body implode, a constriction of mass, then a prickling sensation, which extends the length and breadth of the surface of my body. I watch follicles unfold, quickly multiplying into a mass of thick fur. My spine bows, my tail shrinks, and I regain the compactness of form that suits my nature exactly. I feel at home in my body. Just as I was about to open my eyes and bound forward, Nabila says. “Not yet. Keep your eyes closed and count forward from one to a hundred . . . slowly . . . leisurely . . . I must caution you . . . as if you were licking your fur with rolling tongue. After you reach one hundred, you may open your eyes.”
          “Thank you, oh, thank you, fairy cat godmother,” I reply.
          I deliberately pronounce each number and the more I count, the more the numbers recede into throaty purrs, the vestiges of human speech fading the closer I approach the magic number. Reaching one hundred, I open my eyes. I can no longer see over the top of the washing machine. I fit comfortably into the space between the wall and the washer. Anxious to try out my cat limbs, I leap to the top of the machine. No sooner do I safely land, when I catch the sound of my master shouting, “Priscilla, Priscilla, where are you? Come out wherever you are. ”
          I jump off the washer and pad out the laundry room door. Nonchalantly, I walk in from of him, where he circles the kitchen, a bewildered look on his face.
          “Where on earth could she have gone?” he is saying. He notices me as I head quietly up the stairs, but does not immediately acknowledge my presence.
          He scratches his head. “That beats all.” Abruptly, he turns towards me to observe me as I ascend the stairs. “Gretchen, am I hallucinating? I could have sworn Priscilla was here, but in a get-up totally out of character.” (Humans like to talk to us whenever there are no other humans with whom to vocalize. Far be it from us to purr to ourselves.) He shakes his head. “I give up. If she really is here anywhere, she’ll come out when she’s good and ready.” He drops his arms in a gesture of resignation to his side and follows me up to the den.
          Needless to say, my mistress does not reappear until the following evening. When she returns, I am curled at my master’s feet. His face is glued to the computer monitor as usual. He doesn’t hear her tiptoe up the stairs, but I do. I play as if I’m asleep, but am all ears. His back is toward the door as she stealthily approaches from the rear. She reaches his desk chair and flings her arms around his neck.
          “I’m home!”
          He swivels in his chair and then that awful kissy-pooh stuff starts again. Ho-hum – I try to ignore it and catch a few more winks of sleep. After a few minutes, she starts blathering about her training session a mile a minute. My master listens attentively, adding a comment occasionally in her stream of narration. Eventually, she runs out of steam and there is a short break of silence, then my mistress asks. “Did you miss me?”
          My master clears his throat before he replies, “Did I!” He pauses a few seconds before continuing, a more serious tone rising in his voice. “The strangest thing happened while you were gone. I could have sworn you were here last night as real as life. Did you make a quick appearance as some kind of practical joke?”
          “Joke? Why, no! How could I rush here and rush back to Chicago?”
          “That’s what I would like to know. Stranger than that was the lingerie you were wearing?”
          “Lingerie?”
          “Yeah, you should do that more often. Seductive lace baby dolls with garter belt, hose and five-inch heels.”
          “You’ve got to be out of your mind!”
          “Maybe . . . a dream or temporary derangement I don’t know . . . but you were a scream!”
          “Overactive imagination, I’d say,” she said. I detect a sour note in her words.
          “Aw, don’t be mad. You had the cutest cat tail attached to your behind.”
          This time she laughs and carries on a considerable time without any abatement in her amusement. Finally, her cackles subside, and flushed with her merriment, she says, “I can’t think of an animal I’d rather be!”