The Return of C'mell —Sort Of: A Piece for Cat-Lovers
January 30, 2001
She was a girlygirl and they were true men, the lords of
creation, but she pitted her wits against them and she won.
That's the C'mell you know, weaving her way through the CS
Before that C'mell, my father had a cat,
Melanie. Here's a 1956 snapshot of him with her on the
left and Griselda on the right. I have messed around in
Photoshop Elements to see if I could get any more detail
of Melanie but there is only so much you can do with
an all-black image in an old black and white photo.
Melanie was entirely black—hence the name—and very
sweet. By the time she came along, I was in my awkward early
teens. Being the child of Paul Linebarger did not exactly suit
me for the normal life at a suburnban junior high. With
Melanie, I could relax, momentarily free of the human
perplexities that were always cropping up.
A permanent fixture in the passageway between the living
room and the dining room was a dangling string, tied to a piece
of elastic, tied to more string, with a wadded-up piece of
cellophane (a Pall Mall cigarette box wrapper) attached at the
bottom, about a foot off the floor. I would stand there for
long stretches, playing with any cat who came by. They also
attacked it themselves.
It was an era when spaying cats was not so common, and
Melanie's irascible mother Arabella founded quite a dynasty. We
saw the miracle of birth a number of times, generally in the
upstairs bathroom, and the house gradually filled with cats.
I'm not sure what the largest full-time population was, well
over half a dozen. I remember my father singing along with his
yowling females in heat.
Years later, I was reading a library book when I fell into a
reverie about my father's house. Suddenly I realized that the
library book had been sprayed by a male cat. (My most Proustian
moment.) That scent was a fixture at Daddy's house, with his
tom banished to the screened-in back porch whenever a female
began her yowling. The male I remember was Erpillar, so my
father could say, "That's our cat...Erpillar." He threatened to
name a cat "Astrophe" along the same lines, but I don't think
he ever followed through. Anyway, Erpillar was adept at dashing
between our legs into the house, the moment anyone opened the
back door. Hence the dynasty. Before I was born, my father had
had a couple of Persians—were they really named Assault and
Battery, as I remember hearing?—but these were all regular
We had a running argument, my father and I, about the
relative merits of cats and dogs. "Dogs are fawning creatures,"
he would say. "Cats are independent, intelligent,
I thought dogs were nobler, and it was a great grief to me
that no adult in the family had ever believed that I would
truly do all the work to take care of one. Furthermore, I was
steeped in the Albert Payson Terhune dog stories—my father had
given me the whole set and I had read every book many times.
Once I could get a dog, as a adult, I did, and it has been
over thirty years since I have been without one, two, or
three dogs in my household.
I've had cats too, but none for the past few years. As I
started this website last summer, cats kept popping into my
mind: it took me a while to create the design at the top of the
page, which began as a photo of my own all-time favorite cat,
Julio, and thinking of my father inevitably meant thinking of
cats. In the fall, my husband and I decided to get a cat, and
soon the cat that I wanted came to us from a nearby ranch:
Moonlight was about eight months old at the time, male,
good-natured, cuddly, healthy, part Siamese and basically
But it immediately became clear that he was lonely. We have
two in-your-face dogs, and Moonlight was afraid to come into my
office, where Shiva and Sunbeam were usually hanging out with
me. The solution? Kelly and I agreed that we would get one of
Moonlight's litter mates, a little black female who had already
been offered to us. And so we did.
I thought at first that I would name her C'mell, but I
didn't want to put that much history on her. We ended up naming
her Midnight, which soon morphed into Midnight Star or just
Star, because of the white star on her chest. Once she came
home, Moonlight was much happier. We all were, with the
possible exception of one of the dogs, who was jealous.
Soon it was time to bundle the cats up into a carrier, drive
them an hour to the vet's, and leave them there in jail for 24
hours to be spayed and neutered. A large dog was barking
incessantly in a cage just below theirs when we left them. They
were not happy campers when we picked them up the next day.
Moonlight soon recovered.
Midnight Star didn't. She wouldn't eat much, and she would
I tried everything: talked to the veterinary clinic and
followed their advice, talked to my friends, hand-fed her
droppers of water, with penicillin or Bach flower remedies in
them. She got thinner and more listless. She hadn't purred
since coming back from the clinic. She had a fever, then it
cleared up but she still didn't eat. Kelly and I discussed
making the trek over the mountains to the vet's office with
her, but they said they'd want to keep her if we came, and I
wasn't sure her will to live would survive it.
One night I had a dream, where I was singing the old labor
song, "Which side are you on?" Okay...I was on the side of
doing what Midnight Star wanted. So I would have to talk with
Why hadn't I thought of that before? It had been almost a
week of this travail. About ten years before, Kelly had
produced a video called Telepathic Communication with Animals,
featuring Penelope Smith. Both of us had become more telepathic
with our pets as a result of that, but it still didn't really
come easily. Much as my father's stories were scattered with
telepathy with animals, it was not at all a part of my growing
Dutifully, I sat down at my computer. Star was lounging on
the window seat—I could just see her if I peered past my
printer. I began writing, asking her what she wanted me to
"I want you to remember," she said immediately. And just as
fast my body flinched.
"Do I have to?" I asked. "Can't we just talk about when you
are going to eat?"
"That is not important. Remember."
Turning my attention inward, I smelled smoke. It was a dark
night, and I was outside. As I gradually let the images in,
Star kept encouraging me.
I felt myself to be a witch, and I was about to be burned at
the stake. Star was my familiar and she told me that at the
very first moment of feeling the fire, I could use that pain to
journey out of my body.
Somehow I knew that she and I had done a lot of journeying,
and I trusted her, even as my fear and panic increased. A kind
priest came over and begged me to recant and be saved, but I
had to be true to my own way of worshipping. I felt sad that he
didn't realize the profundity of my sense of worship, my
connection with the Divine.
When the flames did come, Star jumped first, as she had told
me she would, and then it was my turn. I froze. "Jump, jump
now!" Star insisted.
I couldn't, and then I did.
I jumped into the Unknown, totally away from the pain, fear,
smoke, and fire.
Abruptly my awareness shifted back to my office. As I sat at
the computer, a little movement caught the corner of my eye.
Star had come over. I picked her up and she settled onto my
knees. "Oh Star," I said. "You saved me, thank you, you saved
me." I was crying as I stroked her gently. She purred. I
thought, if this cat knows all that, who am I to boss her about
what and when to eat?
Two hours later, she began eating, and she soon recovered.
She became much more affectionate with me than she was
I've mulled over this episode since then. Not for the first
time, I've thought about how my father's expanded sense of cats
and other animals infuses his stories. I do think that my own
fascination with animals—chiefly dogs, cats, and llamas—and my
love for them is part of my heritage from him.
But did he believe, as I have come to, that cats and other
animals, here and now and in the flesh, can communicate via
pictures and feelings with people? I didn't think so, until I
received this email from CS scholar/biographer Alan Elms:
"Well, his former grad student and textbook collaborator Ardath
Burks told me that at seminar meetings at the Linebarger DC
home, Paul would often conduct long and 'very profound'
conversations with his one-eyed cat Little Paul -- pausing
occasionally to let Little Paul respond telepathically before
Paul went ahead with his side of the conversation. Ardath said
some students remained 'off balance all the time' in the
seminars, and implied that Paul enjoyed keeping them that way
through techniques like the cat conversations. So maybe your
father didn't truly believe Little Paul was telepathic -- but I
suspect he did."
Do I think the scene I experienced with Star literally
happened? It might have, it might not have; I did inherit a bit
of an imagination. But I'm paying more attention to Star these
days when she jumps on my desk and blocks my view of the