By Kevin McIlvoy
Sam must have thought his cat was a traveler when
lost, because only two days after Mr. Cabbage went
missing, Sam and I put up fliers in all the nearest
neighborhoods and ones as far as half a mile from his
house. He must have believed a major campaign was our
best strategy, since we stapled and taped up hundreds of
Mr. Cabbage portraits, face shots endearing because, I
have to be honest, the face was more or less a
whiskered cabbage with lips and nose and eyes.
We started our posting at sunrise and worked
until sunset. 260 fliers – laminated because this was
ice storm season – large posters because of love –
because of awe, providing few words: HAVE LOST
MR. CABBAGE CALL SAM SIERRA – and it gave his
address and phone and email. When he is in
distress or absolute delight or is tapping his walking
cane on places in-between, I am Sam’s assistant since I
live close and am longer lost and more irrecoverable than
most lost folks. And since Sam links me to his luck, he
calls me whenever good fortune has come already
or the same kind has again– you don’t have to ask
him about the origins – he impulsively tells
everyone, and in every telling his newest miracle
reminds him of his first, in which he had An Angel –
that would be me – who confirmed for him “we all
have one.” For the record, I will state that I have never said,
“Sam, let me remind you I am your Angel.” I can
remember only one instance in which I did something
commendable for him – years ago – for twelve seconds.
On our search, I found out that an ice storm striking
pavement and cars and hedges and bare branches
can sound like a creature following you, invisible,
crying out. I found that angry people will come
growling from their homes in the worst possible
weather to make you pull down your flier from
anything they believe (usually falsely) is
their property. I found you can put them out: say,
“Look at that face,” and point; say, “What if that was
your cat?” and take off your warm gloves and offer a
handshake; say, “Don’t make me staple your mouth
shut, you jerk,” standing close, loaded staple gun in
hand. I found that in every neighborhood at least
one person has a lengthy lost cat story that no
one until you has listened to all the sad way through.
Some few will tear down a flier like Sam’s. More than a
few will check to make sure the flier stays.
Sam and I had not seen each other except for sandwiches
together when we met up, hands empty, our fliers having
constructed a far-reaching culture of Mr. Cabbages in the
dark everywhere around us. On our walk home Sam related
miracles he felt I should know about: how his younger
sister, in her late seventies now, had celebrated her fortieth
wedding anniversary by divorcing her abuser, and how her
abuser, who had once been our steel mill foreman, had
apologized to the wrong person – that is, to Sam – for
ruining Samantha’s life, and asked what he could do,
and beat Sam up to show him how it’s done, which Sam
considered fortunate because until that time he could
only picture her hellish days and hours and minutes as
abstraction. And did I hear that she had remarried? Did
I know that used canes are cheap? I had not, did not. Sam
said that Goodwill has a full bin of them, his face alight, his
stride more confident than mine over the black ice.
What did I think Sam thought when we got to his house
and Mr. Cabbage sat there full of himself on Sam’s
doorstep? He must have thought what he said: “Mr. B has
saved us again,” and held in his arms every pure hope a
human can hold, and petted it, and, eyes full of tears, said,
“Thank you.” “No – thank you,” I said to the prodigal cat.
Okay. There’s more to tell that I don’t need
to tell, since Sam will for sure. He will – he will.
The next day Sam walked among the vast populations
of Mr. Cabbages all afternoon and past sunset – the worst
of the ice storm sheeted him in gold and gray and the sky’s
darkening green. He fell, skewing his ankle. His cane
skidded away. He retrieved it. Continued. With a black
grease pencil he wrote on every face: FOUND.
I know this. I know this because I, his
shadow, followed, almost hidden, caring, silent.
Kevin McIlvoy’s poems appear in Consequence, Willow Springs, Olney, Barzakh, River Heron Review, LEON, and other magazines. His novel One Kind Favor (2021, WTAW Press) is his eighth published book.
He has published five novels, A Waltz, The Fifth Station, Little Peg, Hyssop, At the Gate of All Wonder, and a short story collection, The Complete History of New Mexico.
His short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Southern Review, Ploughshares, Missouri Review, and other literary magazines. A collection of his prose poems and short-short stories, 57 Octaves Below Middle C, has been published by Four Way Books.
For twenty-seven years he was fiction editor and editor-in-chief of the national literary magazine, Puerto del Sol. He taught in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program in Creative Writing from 1987 to 2019; he taught as a Regents Professor of Creative Writing in the New Mexico State University MFA Program from 1981 to 2008.