Then there is a long spell when she is moody even when we are alone. She has me following her, box in my hand, up one path, down another. She stops for some personal grooming and ignores me. Out of patience, I sit on the box several feet from her and say, “I know you think I have no pride, but I am going to count to ten, and if you don’t come running to me by then I won’t speak to you ever again.”
I reach the count of five, when suddenly she darts to me and onto my lap.
I don’t know how or why. Perhaps it was the tone of my voice.
For three consecutive, delirious mornings, Loaner and I meet in our secret place. First, of course, conditions must be exactly right: not only no other cats near, but far away and out of sight.
She runs ahead of me and goes through the boxwoods to the lawn. I flop down and she gets aboard and pounds and kneads me happily. It is always my left shoulder she leans against while I sing and talk to her. Her eyes in the pretty face gleam and she chirrups during our session, so different from her aloofness when she is in the house—the place contaminated by interlopers.
Meanwhile, my robe is being soaked through by heavy dew right to the skin. I shiver, and sneeze.
Next morning, when conditions are right for us once more, I fetch a flat box from the garage and head for our place. Loaner hangs back, apparently suspicious of the box. Why am I carrying it? Do I plan to put her in the box? As I move onto the grass Loaner is nowhere beside me, but looking around I notice her ears pointing above the ground ivy at the head of the lawn as she peers at me through it. I drop the box on the grass and sit down on it.
Aha! She sees the purpose of the box, and comes running to join me.
On the third morning she runs ahead as before, then when I drop the box she sprawls all over it and looks up at me. Do cats laugh? I know they do.
The mouse has begun to pull insulation from the stove. Whenever I look there I see tufts of fibers all over the back of it, behind the bottom drawer. Is it a nest in progress? In a panic, I call an exterminator company. The technicians who come are two large men, one carrying a clipboard. They make me feel as though the Marines have arrived and will have the situation under control very soon.
I assume they will pull the stove out from the wall and trap the mouse in no time at all. Instead, they bait several new traps they have brought, borrowing my peanut butter, and laid those down along with some glue traps. I have had glue traps in there also, but theirs are larger. They show me how I have set the triggers on my traps incorrectly, then they go down to the basement and look around the crawl space under the house. They spread a few more traps around that area. One is a large one in case my mouse is a rat.
They take my $200 and hand me a service warranty good for thirty days. After they leave, I remove the traps in the basement crawl space. Pinky likes to roam around there while I do the laundry. If any mice or rats exist there she will catch them. After all, she caught the one outside in the wild that now lives in our house, and seven or eight more that I managed to throw out in the backyard.
The instructions are simple: point at attacker at three feet distance and spray. Effects last 45 minutes.
I pull the couch out a foot and make sure that Pinky is outside the door, which I leave slightly ajar. To her mind, ajar is not wide enough to slip through and she will wait until someone comes to open the door properly.
On my hands are oven mitts, which will be demoted to mouse mitts should they ever come in contact with a mouse.
One, two, three! I spray behind the couch. It isn’t a spray that emerges but a full stream of liquid. There. If the mouse runs out I am ready to grab it. Of course, I count on its being blinded. Pinky is my backup. I look behind to check that she is out of harm’s way.
What I see is Pinky’s little black paw swiping through the gap in the door and I stare a moment too long. The next thing I know my eyes and nose are streaming and I am coughing. I run for the door, and Pinky comes in as I rush out. In a second she, too, has joined me in the hall coughing and sneezing. The mouse? Neither of us saw it, if it was there
I purchase pepper spray over the Internet. In the order box I select the visor clip-on model. I don’t care if I save 50 cents if it comes by ground. Just send it.
That mouse living behind our stove is going to receive the shock of its life. Since it has been so clever about avoiding the glue traps and the traditional ones baited with peanut butter, I will wage all-out war.
The mouse that Pinky chased up the hall has been lodged, first under the refrigerator, and then behind the stove.
Each night I have been moving the cat chow and water dish to another room. This has been self-delusion. The mouse will roam anywhere it wants. And it does, for Pinky lets me know the mouse is now behind Renato’s couch. That is when I order the pepper spray.
Loaner is all I have now. She sleeps most of the day and I think not at all at night. She can’t get up on the bed with me, and it is a ritual that I pick her up each night and deposit her there. I know she misses our lemon tree, under which she drowsed away the days.
I miss having a kitten. The sheer exuberance and joy of kitten hood is a big lack in my life. Mojo would be out most of the day, checking in now and then with me by uttering a meow as he came through the pet door. And he and Bijou were the best fly ball catchers anybody ever saw. I would pitch and they would leap up and snag it smoothly as you please. Any one of their toys sufficed.
Ah, sweet babies. I long to cuddle you so.
Loaner has grown very fat. She eats all she can, and asks for more. Perhaps she is pregnant. All I need do is glance out my kitchen window and I will see her sitting on the railing looking at me. Unwilling to grapple with the pet door, she waits to be noticed and let in. I wave, and we arrive at the same moment at the patio door. Her weight worries me. It might be that her owner has put her on a diet and so she turns to me or eats elsewhere. Perhaps I should keep my head down and pretend not to see her. As I think it I know it is impossible to ignore her.
One day I take it in my head to make a beef stew. All the good stews I used to prepare took hours of simmering that now seem absurd in my solitary existence, but this day I mean to have myself one of those.
Pinky watches the process of chopping, peeling, scraping, but when it comes to cutting the beef I have to flee around the counters ahead of her as I do when chopping shrimp.
I am going to show you, I say to Pinky, what a home-cooked meal tastes like.
As I dish out the stew, I set some aside on a plate for her. She sniffs, then turns her head aside and throws up.
Pinky, the food editor.