Pinky knows what those rustling noises mean. I am getting her two big shrimp out of the bag in the freezer. Before they are in the microwave to defrost, she has taken her place on the counter. Chopping the shrimp requires agility to keep ahead of her as I move from counter to counter to stovetop until the feast is ready. Watching her eat brings out every drop of the one-fourth Italian in me. “Mangia, mangia,” I say, beaming, my hands clasped over my stomach. It is a satisfaction life seldom affords the average cook.
The treat was intended to be once a week. That proved difficult. It seemed a long stretch to me, too. I spaced the treat to five days, then three days. Now it is every second day. This is where we stand, my last stand.
At the substitute, a teaspoon of ice cream mashed in my hand, she turns her back, though she does not leave the kitchen. It is a comment on lack of shrimp, but there is room to negotiate. I dab a little ice cream on her nose, which she licks clean. She moves a few inches away, and I dab some more ice cream. Finally, she turns and grudgingly approaches my cupped hand. In a few seconds, my palm is licked dry. I know I have spoiled her, yet still I smile like a fool. “Spoil” is a relative word: Pinky does not have to attend college, get a job, or move out on her own.
One day I accidentally poke her in the eye. Before I can make amends, she runs out of the house. From then on, she avoids contact, slinking away when I call her to me. I am distressed that she no longer trusts me. Still, she comes to eat and afterward finds a distant place in the house to sleep.
How to approach her? I enter the living room, get on my knees, and lie flat on the rug on which she is sleeping under the coffee table. My head pressed lower than hers, I extend a hand to her, all the while asking her to trust me again. Instantly, Tango rises to lick my fingers, rubs her face against mine, then climbs on my back and kneads me up and down. It is magical. One doesn’t tower over children when trying to make friends. Cats are no different.
Tango is asleep on my lap when she starts up at noises of cats fighting. She dashes outside, and I follow. By the time I reach the deck railing the fight is over, but there is a blond cat sprawled with its head under cover. There is no sign of the cat who fought with it. The vanquished cat is not Loaner, who is bigger; nor Au Au, whose coat is paler.
Tango is crouched near the distressed cat and looks up at me as if asking for help. I go down the steps, and at the sound of my approach the unknown cat lurches to its feet and scurries away, Tango escorting it.
As they disappear, I become aware that Pinky is looking on from the top step, and Au Au is doing the same from the far end of the patio.
Fifteen minutes later, Tango returns to the house, jumps on my lap, and goes right back to sleep. I stroke her in wonder. I have just seen something special. Wild elephant cows stay with their sick or wounded companions. Are there many more animals than we know who do this?
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