Portia and the Definition of Black


The cat had been missing for eight hours. She was elderly and ailing; she required a lot of medicine every day, and for this reason my in-laws were naturally very worried. Portia is both an indoor and outdoor cat, but she’d never been gone for so long before and as the hours ticked by, my in-laws became more upset. My husband received a text about the cat at 10:30pm and we, of course, immediately drove over to their house to help look for the cat. We began to walk the neighborhood, gently calling to the cat and searching her out in the thin beams of our flashlights. The neighborhood was different, mysterious at night. As we walked, I thought of my night walks in places like Houston and Washington D.C., the way those lonely walks seemed more conducive to thinking than daytime walks. Also, the stars were clear and dazzling.

We lapsed into companionable silence, seeking out the cat in hedges and down narrow lanes. Several cats ran across our beams but none were Portia.

Returning to the house, we found his parents even more distraught. I myself was distraught; Portia is a sweet cat with the most strikingly dramatic eyes and a charming, delicate ballerina walk. The emptiness of the house was ominous and sad. We decided to walk one more time to try and find the cat. Outside, my husband pointed to a dark, narrow trail leading into an even darker wood. The darkness was intimidating. Almost immediately the world closed behind us. The darkness was terrifyingly alive though: birds called softly, bats swooped overhead in the dense canopy, and small unseen animals dashed in the brush. “Turn left up here,” my husband said softly. My light searching the ground found the trail. My flashlight then suddenly turned off. Battery dead.

My husband’s light was much less bright. He took the lead, and held my hand. “Hold on,” I whispered.

He paused.

“Turn off the light.”

The light clicked off.

The darkness was so complete I felt like I had died. I had literally never experienced such darkness. It was as if the world had been turned inside out. I felt a little dizzy, strangely disoriented.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I whispered back. His hand found mine in the darkness again.

“What are you doing?”

“Memorizing it.”

“The …woods?”

“The darkness.”

Looking up, I could not see the stars; I could not even see the sky. It was covered over with black leaves. Yet I could feel it around me, glistening and heavy. We stood there for five solid minutes, then slowly continued, trying to find the cat in the woods.

When we emerged, she still had not been found. We reluctantly returned to the car and drove around looking for her. As soon as we got home, my husband’s phone buzzed with a text. The cat had been found. A happy ending all around, we agreed.

Later, in bed, as I was falling asleep, he turned to me. “You were so fascinated with the woods.”

“The darkness.”


I waited for a long time before I reached under the covers and grabbed his hand. “Because it was foreign to me. I no longer relate to it.”

The canopy in daylight.

The canopy in daylight.

The woods in daylight.

The woods in daylight.


  1. jonathan birchley says:

    eerie, even scary!

  2. Gorgeous.


  1. […] A beautiful post from my good friend Cara Ellison (RTG, to those who remember the good old days). She’s in […]

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