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It all began with the Flooding of the Seine.

“Parisian woman with her cat in her cannabis garden, 1910”

Sharp inhale, slow exhale. I can feel the smoke wind its way down my throat into my lungs, before exiting back through my lips. A small cough. I’m still getting used to this, and the story of how cannabis found me is quite an unusual one.  

It all began with the Seine flooding. Before the flood, I took my two cats, Pepe and Aveline, on a stroll every day at dusk. I was aware that walking two cats on a dual leash in Paris was quite strange, but I never really cared what others thought of me. I did everything with them. I took them with me to Patisserie Stohrer, where a bottle of milk and two sugar-dusted almond croissants were always waiting on the counter for us. They accompanied me to the salon to get my hair styled and to the atelier to pick up new fabrics and ribbons. From our second-story balcony, we admired the street fashion. Satin, taffeta, chiffon. Brow-raising hats and delicate strings of pearls.

When the water started swallowing the streets, I panicked, since I lived alone. I had never cared to find a husband, the whole idea of marriage seemed rather senseless and complicated to me. But the flooding made me worry about getting stuck in the house and no one being able to find me. The water seemed endless, swelling for days on end and even reaching the Gare Saint-Lazare. I emptied the basement and barricaded the doors with flour-filled burlap sacks before the water could reach us. Every night, it seemed the water rose another inch. Pepe, Aveline, and I sat on the balcony, watching rescuers in dark uniforms shout up to second-story windows instead of watching the usual Parisians flaunting their Sunday best. I kept the cats on their leash outside—they had a bad habit of jumping off the balcony when they saw the rats scurrying away with crumbs on the ground level. 

One night, a rowdy and reckless group of young men came paddling down the street. They were drunk, singing incoherently and howling with laughter. Pepe and Aveline began meowing at the loud ruckus. I politely asked the young men to quiet down, as it was fairly late. To my horror, the men did not take well to my request, and threw an empty wine bottle at the balcony. The bottle flew right over my head into the kitchen. I jumped up, dropping the cats’ leash to go see the damage done. I quickly brushed aside the large pieces of glass and ran back out to the balcony to give the men a few choice words. But the men were already gone, and so were Pepe and Aveline. 

It’s been almost two months since the incident, and I haven’t seen Pepe and Aveline since. I guess I’ll never truly know what happened to them. My hope is that they jumped straight into the men’s boat, wreaking havoc, and causing the men to topple over in a drunken stupor. But what I do know is that a surprise showed up at my doorstep once the floodwater began to lower, and it caused quite the local stir. 

I heard meowing one afternoon, and rushed out onto the balcony in hopes that Pepe and Aveline would be waiting for me. Shockingly, I saw a different cat. In a boat. Alone. With what looked like a cannabis plant. I knew that I had to take the cat in—at least to give it some food. But this cat made itself at home instantly, and I knew it would be more than a temporary stay. I named her Sylvie. 

A few days after she arrived, the streets opened again. I put Sylvie’s cannabis plant in a petite flower pot, and slowly but surely began to cultivate a little patio paradise. My story spread like wildfire among the neighbors, and was so outlandish and unbelievable that I made it onto the front page of the newspaper. When I received the issue, I took Sylvie into our garden paradise to read it. Below my story, I read a headline that caught my eye—“Police Catch Infamous Men Terrorizing Paris With Wine Bottles.” It was fate. 

Cara Hutto is a writer and advertising creative in Brooklyn, New York. She spends her free time listening to true crime podcasts, sketching fashion designs from her dreams, and dabbling in food writing and photography.

Read more stories from the MNC Storyteller Challenge here.