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.
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.
Au Au uses the water dish as a finger bowl. She skims a paw across the top, then licks it, again across the top, then licks it. A shortcut to personal grooming. One night we heard noises from the kitchen, and Au Au went to investigate. Since there are always noises in the kitchen, I wondered why Au Au bothered with this one. In a few seconds she was back, bounced on the bed, once, and ran off again.
Summoned,I got up to go see. She hung behind me. An animal of some kind streaked off so quickly I could not see what it was in the beam of my flashlight. I went back to bed, but Au Au did an unaccustomed thing. She crawled under the bed, only her tail showing.
In these Oakland hills in northern California, the invader could have been a fox, a squirrel, or the usual raccoon or skunk. We have opossums, which do not move quickly no matter how alarmed. Some nights we hear a cougar scream in the woods, and one evening as Renato and I rounded the curve on our road, our headlights caught the green gleam of a cougar’s eyes. The distance between us was about 100 feet. Renato braked, and we sat still, staring. The lion was bigger than a German Shepherd, a tawny color, and its rounded shoulders as it sat were bigger than my own, or my husband’s for that matter. Its supple tail flew behind it as it ran off.
After I parked I gathered her up in my arms and started up the steps to Nancy’s. Her caregiver, waiting at the open door, remarked “I’m allergic to cats,” and left the house. I said, Tango has come to visit you, Nancy, and released her. Another error. Tango headed straight for the sofa and got under it.
Nancy said, “That’s terrific. Uh, what color was she?”
After about 20 minutes of chat I felt it was time to take Tango home, so I began to move furniture. A lamp fell over. A pile of magazines collapsed. A flap of upholstery stuck out, over Tango’s face, and I grabbed her.
Nancy hung my purse on one arm, put my car keys in my free hand, and I headed outside.
The ride home was the same, with Tango wrapped around my shoulders. Her sad song ceased as soon as she realized we were in our garage. She forgave me handily but I have still to forgive myself.
Gail, if you read this, you were so right, and I will never never do it again.
“I know cats,” my friend Gail said. “Do not do it. It’s going to be a disaster.” Tango is a calm, friendly cat, I argued. She will take it very well, and I want to take her to Nancy. Nancy, my homebound friend, would love it. Nothing interesting has happened for her for a long time.
So I purchased a harness because I knew I could not carry both Tango–at least 12 pounds at last weighing–and the carrier. As a test the day before our trip I slipped it on Tango, who didn’t mind, though she walked oddly. All of a sudden she was bent almost to the floor. I called to her as she inched past me but she was intent on her progress across the rug. When I removed the harness she bounded upright and out of the house. For me, the experiment was working and I looked forward to our adventure next day.
On Sunday morning I fitted the harness on her again, only this time one of the straps would not go behind a front leg. No matter, I thought. We’ll be safe in the car. I clipped the leash on and picked her up, entered the garage, opened the car door, and set her inside.
She froze for an instant, then began distractedly to move about. She emitted a loud cry and I quickly got in. For the next two miles Tango’s voice filled the car. She climbed into the backseat, shedding the harness as she did so, then got onto my shoulders and wrapped herself around my neck. Her cries bored straight into my left ear.
I should have turned around and gone home then, but I was determined to do this. After all, we were almost at Nancy’s house.