Sightings in the dining room have become the equivalent of counting coup. None of us is sure where it lives, perhaps inside the wainscoting panel on the wall.
We know the mouse lives on food dropped from tables, and we know the exquisite timing of its forays — the moment of food dropped and the vacuuming of the floors. Traps are put out by the staff but unspoken among us residents here is the wish that the mouse eludes them. We don’t want it to be caught.
I saw it the other day. I threw it a small piece of pie crust, which was almost bigger than the mouse. In an instant crust and mouse had disappeared into the wainscoting panel. The mouse’s name? Chumley.
Tango and Pinky vie for possession of my lap. While Tango is occupying the space, Pinky trots up and stares at her. I move Tango to the table, whereupon Pinky jumps up and lies on her back so I may perform my duties, scratching her belly and her cheeks and chin. Tango edges over, leans down and begins chewing on Pinky, who swats her. I break up the interaction before it becomes serious. During the next hour, one or the other takes turns occupying my lap. This inspires some new words for the song “This Land is My Land:”
This lap is my lap
This is not your lap
This lap is not for you but me
My room is full of cats. Au Au is walking the windowsill at the back of my bed, Tango prowls the room. Moon Cake has been in and out. Even Pinky is sitting up on my feet, alert. I can see all this because moonlight is pouring into the room. A strangled yowling sets up outside. At once, all the cats, even Pinky, heads for the door.
Is that Moon Cake calling? Big doings are on tonight. When Pinky comes home at
dawn, flying upon my bed as always in greeting, I stroke her serenely. I hope the other girls are safe, but at least I know Pinky is.
Dr. Yang takes her away to run a series of tests. After a while, he returns with her hanging limply from his arm. Pinky is composed, resigned to her fate.
She is in good shape, he says. Shall we give her the shots?
He gives her half the doses, the second to be administered in three weeks. This dismays me. We have to go through this at home again! But I learn three things I have been dying to know. She is about three years old, no more than five, weighs eight pounds, and she has been spayed. Sorrow stabs my heart. No one ever asks a cat, dog, or horse for permission to stunt their lives. Yet – and there is a terrible human necessity in this – I would have asked the vet to perform the procedure. At the same time, I am giddy because she is so young, and I will have her a long time.
For the fun of it, he and I converse in Spanish. Renato and I lived fifteen years in Brazil, with intermittent trips to Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, and we developed a language when traveling there that everyone else who lives in those countries calls Portuñol, for Portuguese-Español.
He asks why this tortoiseshell cat is named Pinky. I show him her one pink toe.
Lógico, he says, smiling.
She is mostly quiet on our way home. For all she knows, she is going to another place to be murdered. At home, as soon as she is free of the carrier, she walks around the house, the patio, the yard, as though to make sure nothing has changed. She stays close to me the rest of the day.
I watched a NatGeoWild program called Kitten Impossible that made me laugh. There were cats who solved puzzles, beat up a dog that was attacking a child, scared off a bear, and made an alligator retreat. One little kitten no more than six weeks old confronted a big dog, bristling and arched.
I also teared up a bit.
I purchase a carrier, make an appointment with the vet, and set myself, not without a deal of anxiety, to get Pinky into the carrier. The two attempts to place her in it are harrowing failures. After the first try I do not know when, if ever, she will return home after her flight. After the second struggle, she runs only as far as the patio where she sits under the railing overlooking the lemon tree. I show her my bleeding finger. Gently, she licks the blood away and rubs her cheek against the wound. I forgive her at once. Again, I call the vet to cancel. The receptionist is understanding. An appointment with a cat guardian is contingent upon availability of cat.
On another day I call the vet’s again. To my bemusement, the different receptionist asks how to spell Pinky. I am pleased, though, that Pinky is being taken seriously.
I manage to get Pinky into the carrier, not without a tussle. Her orange fish I have placed inside the carrier does not calm her fears. In the car, she lets go with despairing yowls. The power and volume of her voice surprise me. She is sure she is going to be killed. One green eye peers at me through a vent hole.
The vet is a Chinese man from Peru. Pinky had been quiet since we left the car. The form I have filled out, except for my own information, is blank except for her name. He looks at me. I explain. I have no idea of her age or if she has had her shots and I don’t intend to inquire around the neighborhood if someone knows. I have a skulking feeling she came from next door. The point is, she wants to be with me and no one else.
I attended a guitar-cavaquinho-flute-pandeiro concert last week that absolutely charmed me. The guitarist, a Brazilian man, and the other Brazilian on the cavaquinho (a mandolin equivalent), did some fantastic finger work. A pandeiro is a flat percussion instrument that looks like a tambourine. He, too, was extraordinary.
I went afterward to say hello to Alessandro Penezzi, the guitarist. We spoke Portuguese and I nearly cried with nostalgia.
I wish I could revisit Rio de Janeiro.
And this: In the variety of photos of Harvey destruction in Texas, there was this dog carrying his bag of dog food in the streets. Right on!
Tango is aware of things most cats pay no attention to, for she will watch baseball on TV and turn her head to track players as they run (not nearly often enough for me). The big kitchen clock with its ticking second hand fascinates her as she tries to capture it.
She behaves like a bratty kid sister with Au Au, prodding her with a paw until Au Au wakes up and, patiently, does a job of licking Tango about the face, after which she goes back to sleep.
My ambivalence about Tango’s presence has to do with this: so far Pinky has managed to hold an exclusive on my bed. Our naps together are precious to me. Another cat there inhibits her displays of affection. As it is, she is more reserved when the others are in the house. I am afraid she will begin to keep her distance from me like Loaner. Au Au doesn’t often try to join us on the bed, but Tango hasn’t yet learned the rules. Once, I picked her up where she was happily asleep in the center of my bed and set her down on the living room sofa. I felt mean and unhappy, but she didn’t come back. Oh, yes, again I decide that she is a girl.