When I entered the chapel, there was a crowd almost blocking the door — I thought it was someone checking our tickets, but then they seemed too gabby, so I figured it was maybe that ancient corn carving or something they were all excited about. Just as I was about to move on, the crowd dispersed, revealing at its heart an enormous cat. A tour guide lady stood next to it, smiling enthusiastically, as if willing us to ask questions. Another woman and I approached and we started quizzing her about the cat.
“Does it have a name?”
“Who takes care of it?”
“We feed him during the day. At night he catches rats.” She paused. “Outside. On the grounds.” She waved her hand to indicate the ever increasing distance between us and the rats.
“My cats would never tolerate being around so many people," I said.
"Mine neither." The other tourist pursed her lips and frowned, as if planning the lecture she was going to give her own cat that night. The tour guide said, “Oh, neither would mine!”
Then, she told a story. One day last winter, when the chapel was super crowded — someone was giving a talk — a woman came in late, saw what she thought was an empty spot between two men and sat down.
“I don’t think she could’ve sat all the way down,” and here she hinted at re-enacting the scene with, or rather, on, poor Tom there, so we could see what sitting all the way down would mean for him.
“But there was the most awful scream. You can’t believe how loud it was. And the cat went running over there,” she pointed at the Seven Sins, “and then over there,” she pointed at the Apprentice Column, “and out the door." She shook her head, still in seeming disbelief. “We didn’t see Tom for at least a couple days.”
“Did the woman enjoy the rest of her visit?” I asked.
“Oh, she was really upset.” The tour guide looked like it was only fitting, and perhaps not enough.
But then, maybe feeling guilty for her thoughts, she went on, “Of course, you can see how it happened. She just saw the space and never thought to look. Or maybe she thought he was a hat. Some people have actually said they thought he was a hat.” She pondered the cat. “He could even be a jacket.”
The other tourist touched the guide's arm and, in that sudden rush of relief-induced honesty one feels when hearing about someone doing something more stupid than you, said, “You know, when I first saw him, I thought he was a stuffed cat!”
The tour guide didn’t seem to like that comparison. She edged away, closer to Tom, and we made room for the next batch of tourists.
The rest of the chapel was kind of like looking at an obsessed person’s wall before they invented cork board. It was a bit hard to make out some of the sandstone carvings in the low light. Downstairs in the crypt there were some scratches on the wall and a mini flood-light directed at them and an explanatory plaque. It said something about what the scratches meant, but it wasn’t so interesting to me, so I went back upstairs, said bye to the cat and left.