Magical Cat

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 disappear.

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 after that.

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. Tolkien)

"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