Carthage / A Novel

An excerpt from Zohar Kohavi's debut novel, translated by Daniella Zamir.



When asked about Old Cato and his death, I said: “He was 21, lived in three continents, was a majestic cat and died with his head held high.” When I say this, I feel as though I am reciting a private Kaddish. For a moment – not a brief one – I don’t understand the words coming out of my mouth, why I am saying them and to what end. He burst into my life at full tilt, a targeted strike that at a different age I could have considered incidental. Back when I didn’t know what it meant not to be young. I am being imprecise. Or too precise. Because the threads of thought are tenuous, and their ends loose. The distortion is actually the explanation. The understanding should settle within the fragments of this love story, which like all stories, belongs to itself and implodes in on itself.





From between the filaments of wakefulness I heard you meowing. The same limp meow that says “I know you’re awake, there’s no need for me to exert myself.” You ask to be fed. You are eating again, mostly meat. You kept asking to be fed. It was impossible to hang around the house or even lie in bed without you asking to be fed. And you ate, but not much, and yet still asked for another serving. To the food you have been served and not finished, you won’t go back. You wanted new, fresh food – food that still gave off a whiff of life. It was tiring, exhausting really, and it also stank. And you strutted on your scrawny legs, almost teetered, and were for a fraction of a moment satisfied with merely having been served food, and afterwards with the mere licking of the meat. And somehow, even though you kept on eating, or pretending to eat, you dwindled. An old cat, almost 21.


Early morning. I woke up. I had almost gotten up a few times already, but was trying to suppress the urge to urinate. Your meowing reached me, but I told myself that I would get up when I was good and ready, not when you were, because I had unfinished business with the skein of sleep and myself and the world. And because you had wet food and dry food, and water too, and it seemed as though you were more interested in me feeding you than in the food itself. But it didn’t matter one bit, because you wanted, and when you wanted you wanted, and I knew that in the end I would get up, not because I wanted to but because you wanted me to, and I was already amused by the idea, but also annoyed at you at that moment, and loved and adored you. Your fur had already matted, but your eyes were penetrating, hypnotizing me with their appraisal. And I did your bidding. And when I woke up because you wanted me to and not because I wanted to, taking advantage of the opportunity to write, I forgot to turn off the alarm. And when I stopped mid-sentence to turn it off, you rose from your resting spot and asked for food. The sheer amount of energy you invested in soliciting food, the sheer amount of energy I summoned and spent to abide this behavior calmly – those days it was mostly a feigned calm. And you recognized it for what it was, and you saw that I saw, and I took a deep breath and became so tender towards you. And you allowed me to be, but also knew it was a different sort of tenderness. The trite philosophy book that had been on my nightstand for some time defined an event of this nature as psycho-physiological, an event in which something physical affects the mind and vice versa. But it was a personal-cosmological event, otherworldly and inane, human and animalistic, survivalist and defensive, repressive, resistant, thunderous, evasive, a chessboard in the jungle, mourning before the fact, angry, jolting. It was one hell of an event. In this event, I, an animal of the human variety, howled, a powerful howl, followed by a limp howl. Because you drove me crazy, but I knew that before long I was going to miss you so much.



Common Sensibility


In hindsight I recognized his power the moment we found each other. Spotting me, he, still nameless, instantly padded towards me with the demand: “Take care of me.” And I did. The vet said: “He’s two and a half, maybe three weeks old.” He demanded action. We intersected then and there, in a moment that perhaps, while tempting to believe otherwise, lacked the “maybe I’ll help him” forethought. And really, he didn’t demand, more laid out the path going forward, leaving me with no choice: supposedly there was no causality here, there was logic. I said: “I’m taking him.” I knew, beyond a doubt, that something must be done, that it was the right thing to do. “What are you going to do with him?” I was asked. “I don’t know,” I replied, “but I’m taking him with me.” I had a life before Cato, I had a life with Cato, and now I live without Cato.





When sitting by Old Cato’s side, I would pet and look at him, and say to myself: you’re in a relationship with another life form. On the one hand we have completely different needs, but in the nuts and bolts – we are alike, want the same things. We give each other attention, there is intimacy between us, warmth, understanding, misunderstanding, even quarrels. We give each other space, but also know how to set boundaries. And we do and experience all this despite being organisms of different species. Which happens a lot to a lot of us, but as with many supposedly trivial matters, without it being self-evident.

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