At times like this, having blundered so, the last thing I wanted was to stick around and lock eyes with Osan or such. Thinking to call on Mikeko for a change of pace, I slipped out of the kitchen and into the backyard. Mikeko, whose mistress teaches the two-stringed koto, lives just across the lane and is renowned in the these parts as the local beauty. I may be a cat, but when it comes to feelings I'm aptly astute. When the master throws me a sour look, or when Osan levels me with a scolding and I'm feeling down, I always seek out this female companion for solace. Before I know it, my spirit is refreshed, my trials and travails are forgotten, and I'm feeling like a new cat. The feminine touch is truly wondrous. I looked out through a gap in the red cedar hedge, wondering if she was out. She was seated properly on the veranda, sporting a new collar for the New Year. The rounded slope of her back was beauty incarnate. Never has a curve carried itself so grandly. The wrap of her tail, the fold of her feet, the ears that shifted dreamily from time to time, all left me speechless. Basking in the warm sun, she was elegance at rest, a fluid motion restrained. At the same time her smooth fur, which could easily pass for velvet, caught the rays of the New Year's sun and quivered in response, as though stirred by a phantom breeze. I watched her spellbound for a moment and then, finally coming back to myself, called her name in a low voice and beckoned with my front paw. "Ah, Sensei." She dropped off the veranda. The bell on her red collar tinkled. They'd attached a bell for New Year's. As I admired its fine sound, she approached. "Sensei, Happy New Year!" she greeted me with a leftward sweep of her tail. When we cats greet each other, we straighten our tails, raise them high, and sweep them around to the left. Mikeko was the only cat in the neighborhood to address me as Sensei. As I've mentioned before, I haven't been given a name. Respecting the fact that I live in a teacher's house, though, Mikeko is kind enough to always call me Sensei. One could certainly be called worse, so I happily to answer to Sensei. "Happy New Year! You're adorned to a tee." "The teacher bought this for me late last year. Nice, isn't it." She shook the bell to hear it tinkle. "It's a lovely sound. I've never in my life seen anything so fine." "Oh stop now! Everybody has one." She shook it again. "It is a nice sound. I'm ever so pleased with it." She shook it again and again. "Your teacher must really adore you." I was thinking of my own situation, and betrayed a tinge of jealousy with my words. Mikeko was an innocent thing. "She really does. Like one of her own children," she answered with an unaffected laugh. It shouldn't be presumed that cats don't laugh. Humans think they're the only creatures who laugh, but they're mistaken. When I laugh, I form my nostils into triangles and vibrate my Adam's apple. It's no wonder humans miss it. "Tell me, who is this mistress of yours?" "Mistress sounds odd. She's a teacher. She teaches the two-string koto." "I know that, but what's her story? Going back, she must be of noble birth." "That she is."