She didn't come home for dinner.
I stood on the front porch in the heat of the evening and clicked my spoon against my empty bowl but she never ran up to me. I ended up putting it in the sink, with its coating of melted ice cream intact.
By my bedtime she still hadn't come back.
The next morning was a Saturday, and I went looking first thing. I would've gone looking if it'd been a school day. Because she hadn't come home and that could only mean something was awfully wrong. She never went far, never beyond where we neighborhood kids played our running games or had our Big Wheel drag races down one driveway, across the street and zooming down the second drive, spinning to a halt in a spray of gravel and shredded skinned feet. I searched the wash behind the apartments, what used to be an arroyo but was now a concretized, channelized drainage ditch.
I looked in the street gutters and under cars. Thank God I never saw her there. I then began combing the apartment lots one by one, methodically. I walked down the length of the lot with the American Legion, front to back, along the wash, then up the far fence toward the street. The cops used to chase us out of there. Sometimes we would drop firecrackers inside glass bottles holding black widow spiders we sometimes found near the trash cans.
As I walked along the fence I thought I heard meowing. I paced the fence, listening hard. Meowing as faint as a spider's curse. I grabbed the rough wood and pulled myself up; at least I was wearing shoes. The next lot over had an apartment complex, with kids we didn't play with. At the back of the building, on the other side of the fence, was the apartment's laundry room. I pulled myself up higher and looked up and down the walkway, then hopped the fence. She was in the laundry room, yelling at me behind the closed window.
Reunited and in our own apartment, I watched as she ate, gobbling her Friskies, half-chewed food spewing from her mouth as she purred and meowed at the same time. She had quite a story to tell. I loved hearing every word of it.