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The cat is extremely thin, as are all stray cats surviving in this sizzling Aegean climate, with a matte grey fur and oversized ears. Mother of three kittens, she is, for all I can tell, slightly deranged. She has a peculiar way of meowing in a fragile, pleading undertone in one moment, and of hissing diabolically in the immediate next, with bared fangs and bristling whiskers, undiluted ire in her pale green eyes. Then back again to the sweet meow, and then the hiss again. No empty threats, either. She bit my sister Selin’s ankle — gently though — for no fault other than coming a bit too close to where the kittens were resting, under a robust bougainvillea bush. And mind you, Selin had been feeding the cat two rich meals a day all through the previous week.
I’ve been having better luck with the cat, mostly because when I bring out the leftovers, I have the patience to take one wide step at a time, slowly, letting the cat wrap itself around one leg and then the other, back and forth, leisurely, until we reach the designated feeding spot. I think the cat favours this serpentine pattern as she knows she is free to love or, should I misbehave, shred my unprotected legs to pieces. Meow. Hiss.
Another offering of breakfast ends without violence, and I return to the jasmine-scented kitchen porch to meet my dad’s deeply approving gaze. Whenever we forget or delay too long to feed the cat, he’ll be sure to remind us. Not only does he have a soft spot for all mothers and the very institution of motherhood in nature as much as in human society, but in the last two years he has also turned into a protector of stray cats around our family home in Istanbul. Every time I go to visit him there, I can expect to be greeted by at least four cats hunting, playing or just chilling in the garden. There is always dry cat food for them in the pantry, and a fat hunk of chicken salami in the fridge. He takes an appreciative sip from the morning coffee I make for him as his whole being, not just his face, beams at me in that particular way he reserves only for his daughters. I remember how, years ago, a friend who had lost her dad at a young age called our home and our dad answered, mistaking the girl’s voice for that of Melis, my eldest sister. For a moment there, he spoke to her so tenderly that the poor girl was stricken with longing. I hadn’t understood a thing back then, of course. Anyway, that way.
I’ve been calling him “that tubby grifter” for a while — but only when speaking to my sisters, naturally, and mostly to get them laughing, which is the best way to remember that he is, after all, our dad. That was the standard — the resigned, the infinitely wise and mocking — conclusion to all of our mom’s rants about Dad’s crippling jealousy fits, legendary stinginess and hypertension-inducing obstinacy. A lifetime of these offences has been ingrained in our memory, and now that Mom is gone, we keep the tradition alive, reciting the stories over strong coffee and foaming fits of laughter.
Melis, who’s been hit the hardest by the recent revelation, doesn’t use any specific epithets like I do, but nowadays each habitual “dear” that comes out of her mouth while talking to him has a razor edge that he either misses or ignores, and that cuts right into me. For I know how gently, with how much unsayable, frail-winged love she had been uttering the word in the last two years, after Mom’s passing. The word would land on him with a crystal tingle each time, like a protective charm. But now it’s “Here’s your tea, dear,” or “I put in a slice of lemon, dear,” and, dear me, it’s a bloody bloodbath.
Selin’s reaction, on the other hand, has been surprisingly restrained for someone so quick-tempered, who also was clearly Mom’s favourite, I admit through oceans of jealousy. Those two vibrated at the same frequency and understood one another at a level beyond the ordinary rituals of affection. They actually used to fight a lot, but without ever leaving scars, and time and again I saw nothing troubled my headstrong and carefree fox of a mother the way Selin’s occasional, drawn-out silent treatments did. I realize this portrayal is neither complete nor fair, by the way; truth is, she loved us all. She kept us inside and poured life into us all, glittering, limpid life, and now that she’s gone, we stand plucked and torn under this glaring sun, blinking stupidly, finding every word inadequate. Sitting together, looking at each other’s motherless faces, we still experience chain implosions of echoing, amplified grief — and feel thankful that it still happens. When things are so, shouldn’t not just Selin, but all three of us hurtle at Dad’s throat for daring to bring that woman to our summer home? But we don’t, we don’t.