Pinky and I play GETCHA! every day weather permits, or if not we play it in the house. I stomp menacingly toward her and growl I’M GONNA GETCHA! and she takes off at top speed. As I amble along, she charges me and shoots past my feet. She pauses under a hedge. On cue, I go to the other side and cry “BOBBLEBOBBLEBOBBLE!” over the hedge. She throws me a shocked glare and speeds off. We do this two or three times a week, changing hedges or trees. When she wants to end the game she flops and offers her belly for scratching. I love to see her wiggle in the grass and roll over and over.
She is such a package of comfort, freedom, and agility that I wish I were a cat myself. When she lies flat, her long coat flows into the grass. The earth and she are so close I envy her.
I lie down, too, and we both contemplate the tall, old Monterey Pines and sky. My book is nearly done. For a long time after Renato went away, the partial manuscript lay in a drawer. I was helpless to take it up again until, on the first day of the month of January, I sat Pinky on my lap before the computer and, taking her paw, struck the first letter of the opening of a new paragraph. She added a few more letters on her own, but the important thing had been done. I had broken the freeze.
Early summer is here. Pinky stays out late at night and may not be back until two o’clock in the morning. The mouse parade quickens. The smallest I have ever seen is little more than an inch long and is mostly round. Pinky had cornered it and it huddled against the wall, trembling, while I ran to fetch my indispensable oven mitt.
Had Pinky had not adopted me first, I might have adopted that mouse. The biggest mouse is still the one behind the stove. I manage to return all but that one to the wild. For a country mouse, it has the smarts of an inner-city inhabitant.
One afternoon Pinky jumps down from the bed and makes to leave the room. At the doorway she halts, backs up, and ducks behind the door. She bides there a minute or two before advancing and peering around the door, then again retreats. Watching from the bed where I have been reading, I wonder at this behavior. There is no one else in the entire house but us. Finally, she comes back to bed.
As I think on it, the meaning comes clear. I say, quietly, “Hello Renato.”
Then, one evening, I came home and spotted Miss Dusty, no other, hiding under some shrubbery in the back yard. How had she done this? Come up the basement stairs, gone through the house and exited through the pet door? Never mind. I rejoiced at her self-liberation and placed food at the door of the patio. Of course, every raccoon in the woods appeared first, but I persisted until she came up the patio steps and, scared and uncertain, she found the food and ate.
Though it was the middle of March and cold, I left the patio door ajar. On the third day, she entered the house. Pinky began to bristle, and Miss Dusty faced off with her!
The visiting cats were merely curious and Pinky settled down to circling around the new one. Tango lost out. Miss Dusty took possession of the thick sleeping pad I had bought Tango, who liked to stay overnight now and then. Well, there were lots of other places she could crash. Now we had a full house every night in the bedroom, Pinky sharing my bed, and Miss Dusty on her sleeping pad. I made plans to have her bathed, vaccinated, and that Mohawk shaved. In the meantime, she always slept facing me, her thunderous purring loud in the room.
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.
And then there is Miss Dusty. A neighbor died and I adopted her cat, a handsome gray with a white diamond on her chest and white feet. She had no tail, having lost it in an accident at home. I understood that Miss Dusty had not met with another human being or cat for eight years. This became obvious when she led her owner’s daughter-in-law and me on a chase throughout the house, in and out of one entrapment and another. After a month, we captured her at last. Her coat was a sad mess; her back was matted and stood up in a hard-looking Mohawk.
I thought to start her out in my basement until she acclimated to her surroundings. Time enough to acquaint her with the cats upstairs. There was nothing I could do about having her cleaned and brushed; I was, simply, afraid to touch her even if I could catch her.
Each time I went downstairs she growled, then the growls diminished, changing to meows. I tried singing to her. At “Over the Rainbow” she emerged, grudgingly, from her hiding place under a shelf, and allowed me to scratch her head. I tried not to make any sudden moves, but even so she swiped at me with a paw now and then. But we had begun a friendship!
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.