Autumn farewells: Montreal seasons and neighbourhood animals

CBC/QWF writer-in-residence K.B. Thors isn't ready for a pet yet, but she's been bonding with the neighbour's cat.

The pandemic has seen new bonds form between people and animals

Writer-in-residence K.B. Thors has become entangled with the neighbour's cat. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

If I lean forward and glance down, I'll see black and white fur on the other side of a windowpane. Perhaps a tail. The tail was moving a moment ago.

Over our mostly-stay-at-home summer, I became involved in a little neighbourhood drama.

By neighbourhood, I mean the world of the tree-covered alley behind my apartment, experienced from a small second-story terrasse. From the table that hosts morning coffee, work, dinner and cribbage, I can see the balconies across the way and down into a couple neighboring yards.

Even before the pandemic, it was nice for a petless person like myself to be able to watch the neighbour's dog cavorting around her patch of ground.

Now, as fall arrives and Montrealers move inside, I'm saying 'see you later' to the animals that aren't my pets, but with whom I hung out through this weird, socially isolated year.

For stay-at-homers without pets, neighbourhood animals are a welcome sight. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

Of course, the dog is friendly. The cat — the black and white furball in the window — exists beyond the friend zone. Our entanglement began last year.

Soon after I moved, a summer of Tolstoy-esque flirtation began, suspense heightened by the fact that while the dog was allowed outside, the cat was not. We met through glass, catching eyes as she sat on her windowsill. Every once in a while, she'd roll in front of her kitchen window and either stare at me or look anywhere else.

Then, betrayal. She found her way outside, up the spiral staircase, and onto my deck, where she greeted my housesitting friend. All that rolling and ear flicking and she visited for the first time when I was provinces away.

It hurt that she'd made this bold move in my absence, but not as much as you might expect. This was part of the game. I returned and we continued window glancing as summer wound down.

An open door, a chance meeting

On warm nights, the door to our deck would be open to the breeze.

One particularly relaxed evening complete with incense and almost-leisure reading, the neighbour cat waltzed right into my living room. The bass next door suggested that her humans were in a party mood, so it made sense that she'd decided to explore. Alice Coltrane's "Journey in Satchidananda" was playing, so I began referring to her as Alice. She seemed to approve.

One night last fall, she stayed over after seemingly getting locked outside. It was pouring — the kind of rain that was a rainstorm from the beginning. She came in, dripping wet, when I went out to grab the compost. Before long she was curled up on my calves and I was feeling ridiculous, sipping my tea in slow motion so as not to disturb her.

She left early the next morning, walking to the deck door as I got up. Then winter came, and every now and then I wondered how Alice was doing.

From one roof top to another, the relationship has developed slowly. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

Early 2020, I was already curious about whether I'd see Alice again when the snow melted. Then came lockdown, and as spring warmed up I found myself taking video calls on that back deck as Alice watched from her windowsill. She seemed a little miffed, like "there are people all the time now."

Adoptions are up, but I'm not ready to become a pet owner, so I appreciate these neighbourly interactions even more during pandemic times. I'm not looking to steal anyone's girl, but I will let her visit.

Alice occasionally leaves her home to visit certain neighbours. (K.B. Thors/CBC)

When her humans got rowdy and doors were left open, Alice again found her way up to my deck, extending her living quarters. It was nice to see her, but our visits weren't the same. Less curling up and purring, more circling the area and leaving, perhaps after confirming she wouldn't get alone time in this house, either. Romance requires personal space.

As summer wore on, Alice's window displays became more erratic. Do heat waves make cats clumsy, or was the lack of privacy just too much? This week, as I start preparing the deck for winter, Alice has found a new angle—her roof.

For days in a row, she's stationed herself across from me and meowed non-stop. She's not stuck (her upper window's now clear of the air conditioner that once plugged it). It feels like that urgency that comes with autumn, the impulse to get outside as much as possible while the air doesn't hurt your face. Sure, she was standoffish before, but now that she senses our descent into hibernation season, she wants to hang out. I can relate.


K.B. Thors

2020 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence

K.B. Thors is the 2020 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence. She is a poet, educator and translator from rural Alberta. Her debut book of poems, Vulgar Mechanics, is out now, from Coach House Books. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @kbthors


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