Her eyes got weepy over our meal of duck and pickled chicken feet salad. Actually, mine did, too. A favorite student was leaving China.

“Did you pack everything?” I ask.

Stupid question.

The best things about China are things you can’t bubble wrap. The smells of mushroom hot pot. The cacophony of sounds from the Bird and Flower Market. The view of XiShan mountains. The faultline of what’s ancient and what’s new.

And, uh, her cat.

She slurps her bubble tea and shrugs. “My grandma is supposed to take it, but, I fear she will eat it.”

Rightfully so, as it is an acceptable cultural practice in small rural Asian villages.

She looks at me, with the same big eyes that confused testicles with antennas in a poem about pickles, a blunder I still don’t understand. She leans over the remnants of our dinner. “Will you take my cat?”

I scratch my head. Pause. Pick around the duck head on the platter. I hadn’t had a pet since a kid and the last thing I owned was a husband. He never listened, left a mess everywhere, and thought he was superior. I guess I do have what it takes to have a cat.

The cat, Mushroom, a stray, is blind in one eye, with the endearing stare of Clarence the Cross Eyed Lion. Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965) – IMDb. And no, Mushroom doesn’t really need glasses, but neither do half my students who wear them anyway. When he stares? I think the green glow is almost a sixth sense. But he’s thinking, “Hmm, can I eat her?”

Things have come a long way since the neighborhood cat had a litter under a staircase. Mushroom came with a vaccination passport, vitamins, antibiotics, food, wheat grass for hairballs, and a coupon to get neutered by a Chinese veterinarian named Elf. Now that will be an adventure and a half.

Mushroom didn’t come out of his new home for a while. I searched all the usual places. Behind the TV. Under the desk. Between the space between my headboard and wall. Then I saw his eye, staring at me intensely, from my bottom dresser drawer, curled on a pile of Miao People embroidery — pronounced MEOW–a minority ethnic group in Yunnan.

Ha!

How fitting.

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