Maybe I shouldn't be writing this. It's 12:50 a.m. on a cool January morning,
and my husband is sleeping - he has to get up early, but the children and I, on
vacation this week, are still (unbelievably) awake. The little ones are supposed
to be asleep, but I can hear them, tiny one saying "To Infinity and Beyond!" as
he flies his cup around the room. The other is older and is quietly turning over
her not so quiet tape hoping to fall asleep ("How about the Paper Bag Princess"
Robert Munsch has asked for the third time tonight).
The why of it is my fellow, head leaning against my left leg as I write, it's
barely all he can do now. My amazing, Olympic jumping champion of cats is an
old, old man and is slipping away enough that I wonder if he'll still be with me
when I wake up. So I can't go to bed now; he can barely stand up and needs me to
help him to the litter box and water dish; yet still, somehow, he walked down
the stairs a couple of hours ago, he missed me and wanted a hug. Though he's as
light as a fart in a mitten (so my husband says), he is still beautiful with his
long black tail as much as a quill as it was when he was a kitten. And what a
kitten he was.
He is still with us, my magician of cats, so I speak to this page and to you
in the present tense. The future isn't here yet.
In the spring of 1982 I was 20, in my third apartment, about to go to my
fourth. I had a full-time job with the Federal Government in Ottawa and in those
pre-recession times (but it was breathing down our necks, we could almost touch
it then) my clerical salary was a pretty decent wage for a single girl, hell, I
even had money in the bank. Go figure.
One day my former best friend (there are stories in stories in this page I
see, perhaps someday, but not today) came to me with a tale of woe from one of
her customers - there was a litter of barn cats, four or five I think that were
going to be drowned if they didn't have a home right away! My friend took one,
another friend another, but there were two - a black puffy ball and a white
puffy ball that still had homes to be found. Recently unengaged and dating a
computer (that's what I called him anyway - that's okay I doubt he remembers my
name) I needed the company so I said, bring them over, I'll see. Maybe one.
They were so tiny, too young to be from their mother really, they fit in the
palm of each hand. Black fellow purred and nibbled my earlobe, white meowed with
a passion so they stayed, even though cats weren't allowed and I had no dishes
or food. When my friend left black cat promptly ran into the four inch space
between the wall and the refrigerator, causing me to discover how really hard it
is to move a fridge straight out and how much harder it is to catch a cat.
My two long haired babies, one a silver tabby, with golden eyes and the most
beautiful purr - she sounded like she was singing. She was a shameless flirt,
any man who came by would have her perched on his lap, those almond eyes staring
straight at him, purring and meowing to him. To this day she is still the most
lovely cat I've ever known. Very outgoing, as much as my buddy was quiet. He
would hide when people came around, if you looked you would see a black statue
on top of the transom, green eyes glowing and should you say a word, flash. He'd
Jasmine liked to preen and pose; my boy would slink then hug and purr; he
would listen raptly when I sang or played music, he's stay by my side while I
read. When I had tonsillitis he curled up on my throat; when I had my wisdom
teeth removed he slept up against my cheek. That's just the kind of guy he is. I
named him after a wizard in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, though his fur isn't
white, his heart is and he is a magical cat. In his prime he could leap to the
top of eight foot high bookshelves in a single bound, at 15 he was jumping from
the top of stairway down to the bottom with never a hair out of place. And to my
recollection, he has never been sick.
There is a price to be paid for that boundless health and energy though; as
you get older, those around you start to go. And so it is with him. He had an
early start. Jasmine, his sister and alter-ego, passed away at age 3 from a
pulmonary embolism. The vet said it wasn't hereditary. I'd have to say he was
right. He's 17 going on 18 now. But for weeks after she died, he would prowl
around the apartment crying, looking in corners, trying hard to understand. We
consoled each other during those dark days.
He came into himself after that, for he always would give centre stage to
Jasmine. I think he missed her purr - his own, quiet before, became loud. And he
learned to mimic speech patterns so it sounded like he was having a
conversation. Later, when Bo, husband, and children arrived, he stopped doing
that but he started again after Bo was gone, much to my daughter's delight.
We were us two for three years until the inevitable happened. I got married.
So then there was first the move to my husband's apartment and the
reintroduction of Bo, who had once stayed with me for a couple of weeks when he
was small. Now Bo was the Hindenburg of cats - a twenty-five pounder, long white
haired and loud. He was a character, very smart, sure he was human, and dominant
so my guy took his former role of second in command, one in which he lived for
another eleven years, content to be the smaller brother.
At first though, things were not great; they hissed, they fought, we left on
our honeymoon and when we got back they were partners in crime; as we walked in
the door, Bo was happily munching on frozen meat from the freezer that his
accomplice, now straddling the top of the fridge, door wide open, was fishing
out from the freezer with his paw. They had only the usual amount of arguments
He went through two more moves after that; one to Toronto, and one to our
present house. And in between that time he has endured two babies and countless
overnight visitors, yearly two week long vacations with friends popping in to
feed him, and perhaps toughest of all, another cat.
When my father died in '95, he had an old cat named Cybil. She was a short
hair, white and small, part siamese I think, based on her howl and her
cantankerous personality. We tried to find a home for her in Ottawa but at 17,
and knowing what she was like, there were no takers. So we packed her up in the
car, not even sure she would live through the drive home, but she did and then
lived two more years after that, the first in the basement, her last upstairs
with us. Her biggest complaint was with Bo; they never did really like each
other and hissed and fought whenever one looked at the other the wrong way.
Cybil was an elderly cat though, and for the last few months she gradually lost
weight, slept most of the time, then barely ate or drank. On the last day of my
daughter's kindergarten school year we walked in to find she was gone. Bo took
the loss the hardest I think; he cried for many nights and looking back, it
seems he lost a bit of his spark.
My husband's grandmother passed away the spring after, of old age. Not too
long after that, Bo's arthritis started making him uncomfortable. He became a
little less formidable over time, gradually losing weight until he was the
normal weight for a cat. For a while things remained that way; and then last
summer it became obvious he was becoming frail.
Like Cybil, he too slept most of the time until movement became difficult.
Those last few days his buddy stayed curled up by his side, only moving when he
had to. Bo passed away in the evening so we bundled him up in the towel he was
born on, and the next morning took him to the vets for cremation. He was 17 and
the date was Sept.13th.
My buddy has never gotten over that. At first he was in shock, wandering around looking for Bo, then stopping, remembering, and going to the spot where he died to sniff and then sit, staring. For the next two months he has wandered the house doing his typical contortionist haunts - I found him lodged behind boxes, the washer, the stereo, the toilet, the living room chairs; able to get out but not wanting to. And how he cried. Mournful and lonely he'd wake me up and I'd bring him back up to the bed. He'd stay for a while, happy, but then he'd be off again.
Lots of hugs and special attention later, by December we knew that we could
no longer ignore the obvious. My most physical of cats is simply an old man, and
time has caught up with him, as it must. As I mushed up his food and made his
dishes easier to reach, I quietly told him, stick around for a while. Won't you
be my millenium cat? He is.
And now he is tired, sipping drinks from a dish held under his nose, eating
purréd food from a spoon. But still, late at night after I went to sleep (as
perhaps you have guessed, it's tomorrow), he crept his way from beside my bed
downstairs to greet us in the morning.
And now it's the next day, and I write as I hold him on my lap. He still
likes to help me write and to hear my voice. And as I hold him (as I have done
all day - it's late, and I can only write in snatches these days), he holds his
head proudly all intelligence watching the world with eyes as bright as when he
first nuzzled my neck.
I haven't spoken his name to these pages. I dare not. I am Irish by decent
mostly, and I grew up with a deep sense of mystery and superstition as is our
lot. Shall I whisper the name to the spirits who wait or shall I make them wait
just a little bit longer? I leave it to my friend to speak it.
So friend, we've have a wonderful time, haven't we?
© Catherine M. Harris Davies, Jan. 6, 2000. All rights reserved.
He said his name, so then, do I:
"When evening in the Shire was grey/his footsteps on the Hill were heard;/before the dawn he went away/on journey long without a word."
Frodo's Lament for Gandalf. (Lord of the Rings, vol. 1, J.R.
"Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil."
Gandalf, saying goodbye to Frodo, Mary and Pippin. (Lord of the Rings, vol. 3, J.R. Tolkien).
Jan. 7, 1999 - Goodbye Gandalf. You were the best of friends