Cat and Prostitute, 1969

by

01/31/2004

W 112th St & Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

It was 1969 and cats were everywhere in Morningside Heights. Multitudes of feral alley prowlers, storefront dozers, and the gray cat who was allowed to sit in the open, unscreened window of the fourth floor apartment across the street. He was always reaching toward pigeons with a wistful paw, even though the pigeons were never anywhere close.

Whenever I returned home I looked for the cat and it was nearly always there, balanced on the windowsill. A pretty gray cat. One day I looked down at the street below and saw the prostitute in the black-and-white coat staring up at the cat.

“What’s she doing here?” I said to Dan, my boyfriend. “I don’t think she’s getting any business.”

Dan shrugged.

We lived on 112th Street, an unpretty street but with Saint John the Divine at the end of it, across Amsterdam. It is a pleasant thing to exit a dilapidated building in the morning and find yourself face to face with the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It makes up for the street and for the building with its mix of students, assorted neighborhood types, and prostitutes.

The prostitute was pretty, about my age–twenty–with a round face, thick blond bangs. She always wore a short vinyl raincoat, white with huge black polka-dots, her pale legs ending in boots, white, black, sometimes red.

“Maybe she’d not a prostitute,” I’d said when I first saw her. I didn’t want her to be.

“She is. I’ve been told,” said Dan.

“Who told you?”

“Someone who knows.”

“Someone who’s–used her?”

He wouldn’t say. He twisted around to look out the window. “When’s that raincoat going to fall apart?” he said.

“She’s looking at the cat,” I said, peering over his shoulder.

She was looking at the gray cat, balancing nonchalantly, tilting at pigeons.

Returning from classes, I passed the raincoated girl–staring up at the gray cat again–and said hello. In the past when I said hello she had seemed not to hear.

This time she looked at me, green eyes rimmed in black liner under those thick, yellow bangs, and said, “I think he’s trapped.”

“The cat?” I asked.

“You know. He wants to get away from that window. “

She wasn’t really looking at me after all, not making eye contact exactly. Just gazing somewhere in the vicinity of my eyes.

I said, “I think he just likes to look at the pigeons.”

“No, that not it.” She shook her head, and then she turned her back and walked away. She was wearing black boots that day.

The next day she was back again, staring up at the gray cat. Looking down at her, it occurred to me for the first time that her very blond hair was natural, with the untouched, silken look of a child’s. She was calling to the cat.

The cat ignored her, stretched a paw in the general direction of the pigeon.

What she did then was to raise both her arms above her head and toward the cat. She stood there like that. “Kitty!” she shouted. A strange voice, soft and harsh.

The gray cat turned away from the pigeon and looked down at her.

After a long moment, the cat turned back to the pigeon. The pigeon fluttered a window closer. The cat switched its tail.

“KITTY!” the girl yelled. The cat looked at her, at the pigeon, reached toward the pigeon, wobbled.

She stretched her arms toward the cat, perched four stories up. The cat looked from the pigeon to her, back again.

Once, I’d seen hands grasp and raise that window. Where was he? She? The protector of this cat? The cat moved as far as it could along the sill in the direction of the pigeon, again stretched out toward it, yearning.

“KITTY, HERE!”

I was up and out of the apartment, on my way downstairs. Her blond hair gleaming in spring sunshine, the white raincoat with those obscene black dots, the bruise on her leg, her upstretched arm-I saw it all as I came through the front door.

“KITTY!”

The pigeon lifted off, fluttered toward the street. The cat lurched at it, soared. For a fractured second, I was entirely certain that it was flying. It fell.

She caught the cat. Neat, arcing claw marks, slightly bloody, ornamented one of her cheeks.

She cradled the cat, who struggled, searching for the pigeon, then was quiet, looking intently into her face. A gray cat with spring-green eyes. She rubbed its ears.

“Your cheek,” I said.

She reached up to touch it. “He didn’t mean it. Had to find something to hold on to.”

She looked at me, straight at me–her eyes almost the same green as the cat’s–then turned and began to walk away.

“Its owner,” I said. “The cat’s owner–“

She kept walking, turned her head, looked back at me, said–not with words–He belongs to me.

Just as she was about to turn the corner, the cat’s head appeared above her shoulder, and then he disappeared under her yellow hair.

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§ One Response to “Cat and Prostitute, 1969”

  • P. Hadley Price says:

    Cat and Prostitute, 1969, is my story. I haven’t checked here in a couple years, but I’d intended to tell you that it was never listed (I see that it is now), but appeared on the map (and, yes, still there), and, as well, that it is listed in Harlem, but takes place in Morningside Heights on Broadway and 112th, a short distance from St. John the Divine. Yes, it’s correct on the map.

    Change this for accuracy?

    Thanks.

    Hadley Price

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