Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The cat that came back

We used to have a black and white cat called Popper. It belonged to my sister, and used to stay in her room, though we also let it go outside. One day it disappeared, and we didn't see it for a long time, a lot of years.

It came back one day, though, when it was old. It was skinny and wanted to be fed a lot, but it always stayed skinny. My sister was living somewhere else now, a house nearby. My mother brought the cat into our house and kept it there. Even on those few occasions when it got out, it was happy to come back in. My mother really liked it now, and talked about how it had come back after all these years. The cat would sit on the couch beside her, and sometimes climb into her lap, especially when it wanted more food. She would stroke it and talk to it, and say, "Isn't this a beautiful cat, Stephen? Isn't he beautiful?"

Eventually it came to be that I was the one that usually fed it. We had various flavors of Friskies cat food for it, and I would get a can and walk through the living room to where it had its dish. The cat was frequently on the couch or my mother's lap, but sometimes it was wandering around meowing. I made sure it saw that I had the can of cat food. When it realized that, its eyes would get big and lock onto it, and it would soon start moving toward me as I went toward the food dish.

As the months passed, it began to eat less at a time, and then start wanting food a little later, seeming to forget that it still had a lot left. I would get a can and put a little more down, and the cat would eat some more for a while before wandering off.

We also have two little dogs, an old Pekingese and a young chihuahua mix, which stay in the kitchen, kept there by gates, when they're not out in the back yard. Sometimes the cat would go in the kitchen when they were in the back yard, and drink their water, and lay where they laid, apparently its way of saying that this, too, belongs to me. If the dogs got back in, it would quickly run to one of the gates and leap up on it, then over it.

One time I was fixing food for the dogs, before I let them back in. We feed them both dry and canned food, and I was putting down some canned beef Mighty Dog into one of the dishes, when the cat went over and started eating it. It ate and ate, really happy, and I couldn't convince it to stop. I finally let the dogs in, which caused the cat to leave the kitchen, and I gave the dogs a little cat food to make up for what was eaten. I figured it evened things out.

Thursday, November 4, 2010, my mother went into the hospital for what turned out to be the last time. Though she improved for a couple of days, her health then rapidly declined, and she died late on Monday, November 8, 2010.

I tried to explain to Popper that she died and wouldn't be back, and said I was sorry, and that she loved him. He seemed to understand somehow. He stayed away from the couch, though, and as far as I know never got back on it. He spent a lot of time in other rooms mostly, hiding, though sometimes he hid in areas of the living room. He still liked to get in the kitchen where the dogs were kept, sometimes drinking their water. One time the chihuahua mix got back in while the cat was still drinking the water, and the dog stared at the cat in disbelief, going from one side to the other, sometimes barking. Popper ignored the dog, and kept on drinking.

Popper ate much less though, and eventually stopped eating altogether, even when I held an open can of cat food in front of him. He got skinnier and skinnier. Sometimes I could hear him cry out, though usually he was quiet. When I talked to him, he would turn his head toward me and look at me. He seemed to have a permanent expression of amusement on his face, but that may have been in part because he was so skinny now, drawing his face into a smile.

One day he lay down with the upper half of his body across a towel that my mother had briefly used to warm her legs with, shortly before she went into the hospital. It had gotten on the floor and I hadn't really felt like picking it up yet. Popper stayed there for hours. One time I accidentally bumped him, and he lifted his head and looked at me, frowning a bit, looking worried. Then he lay back down, gradually resuming his expression of amusement.

He didn't move after that. As the day progressed, I suspected that he had at some point died, drifted slowly off into death. Late in the afternoon I talked to my sister on the phone. She came over and looked at him, and when she touched him she found he was cold, and when she lifted him a bit he was already stiff. It was Friday, November 19, 2010, a little over two weeks since my mother had gone into the hospital, and eleven days after she died.

My sister wrapped him up in the towel and took him away, to be cremated. At the door she paused and we talked for a while. She started crying and talked about how there had been so much death, and she hoped this was the end of it. Besides my mother and the cat, an old Boston terrier had died earlier that year. The chihuahua had been a replacement for it.

There's still a dish on the floor with some Cat Chow in it. Popper ate mostly canned food, in a separate dish that was just a paper plate, but sometimes ate some dry food, particularly if we were slow with the canned food. Whatever canned food was left there, the chihuahua ate at least part of it when it got out into the living room, and if any remained I gave it to the cats outside.

The chihuahua still sometimes gets into the living room, still looking for the canned cat food. It's not there now, but the dish of Cat Chow still is. It's off a ways from where the canned food was, and the dog apparently hasn't noticed it. The food is old and dusty now, and someday I'll throw it out, but I can't bring myself to do it yet.

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Blogger Argent said...

Stephen, i'm not sure why a post of yours dated March has suddenly shown up in my reading list, but i'm always keen to read your thoughts.

This post of yours really moved me. Your language is so simple and yet so effective, so unsentimental yet the more powerful for all that.

I'm sorry to hear about your losses and I do hope the passage of the months since then have gone some way towards allowing you some peace.

2:14 PM, September 19, 2011  
Blogger Stephen said...

Thank you, Argent.

5:27 AM, October 08, 2011  

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