Tango, a most amiable cat

Tango is large and rangy, with legs like a jack rabbit’s. Her coat is a deep orange with white belly and socks. Her voice squeezes out like this: EEUH, and sounds sad. I try to speak as she does and am rewarded by a startled look. She is also scared, affectionate, and needful. Despite her avoidance of the mole conclave that day by the lemon tree, she has followed the trail to the pet door.

Her appetite is bottomless. I am now purchasing two sacks of cat chow at a time. Of all the chairs there are in the house, she likes to lie on mine at the dining table. When having my breakfast, I must sit on the edge, often on her feet, which she likes. I reach behind and find a nose, a paw, and always a tongue. Even after weeks, she is uncertain of her welcome. She has been sensing my own uncertainty about having her as a frequent visitor, and I know I send out conflicting signals.

I am afraid Pinky might be feeling crowded. Between Tango and Au Au they clean out the food dish, leaving nothing for Pinky. The private food stash in the bedroom is no longer a secret. At night I awaken to crunching noises, Tango’s always louder than Au Au’s. Loaner, having once caught her tail in the pet door, enters the house only if the big door is open. Pinky does not get between the large cats and their food, and she grows so hungry that she has started waking me up at 5:30 for her breakfast. I pull the covers over my head but she is relentless, marching up and down my body, until I surrender at about 6:00.

After she eats, I have my own breakfast, and blearily read the newspaper, unless Tango is sitting on it and rubbing her face against mine. She likes to sample everything I drink, even my tea. Another time, she dipped a paw into my wine and had herself a drop or two. And she is the only cat who will drink from the dish of water I keep next to the food dish. The others go outside to the bird bath, which I must scrub every day.

Tango wishes she had fingers, I know. Her efforts to pick up objects of interest with her paw are futile, and so I help her. I feed her the pumpkin seeds she wants, one at a time, she chomping industriously. Then I discover a small pile of them on my lap. She had been spitting them out of the side of her mouth.

From “Meow’s Way,” more gifts

Her gifts also are delivered to my bed. At 10:30 p.m. she explodes onto the bed with a mouse. It is wounded, and I go to the kitchen to fetch an oven mitt. Out the door with the mouse. At 2:30 a.m., she flies up with another. I switch on the light in time to see it get away from her. I bolt out of bed and in the next fifteen minutes we chase it around the room. I yell, over here! Under the chair! Behind the cushion! I am not thinking of what the neighbors might be thinking.

The mouse shows its stuff. Every time Pinky closes in it leaps, squeaking, several inches in the air. Then it is gone behind my dressing table.

Resigned, I pull the heavy dresser out. Pinky and my stick get in each other’s way as I sweep. The mouse comes out, and disappears again, either back inside or somewhere else. At any rate, Pinky gallops up the hall in pursuit.

Apparently it is still in the house. She spends hours guarding the dresser. I think she expects me to take up sentry duty when she has to go outside. While I am in the office, no doubt she believes I am guarding the lizard hiding in the bookshelves.

Loaner once announced a gift of hers by calling from the outside, though the patio door was open. Her small voice probably traveled no more than five feet, yet I heard her and went to see. Lying on the mat was a full-sized rat, its bared incisors frightening in their length. I admired Loaner’s delicacy in bringing it no farther into the house and duly made a fuss over her. Satisfied she had pleased me, she came inside, leaving the rat, and watched TV with me.

Lizards

Then we enter the week of lizards. I am usually in the office when she brings her trophies. As she drops it to announce her gift, the lizard darts away and Pinky’s triumph is muffled as she darts after it. I enter the fray, for there are plenty of places for the lizard to hide. It is still hiding in the lowest bookshelf. Pinky thinks so. She spends at least an hour each day keeping vigil there.

A friend asked, Do you get any Blue Boys? I had never heard of Blue Boys. Now I know. The latest lizard is on its back and its belly has a blue stripe on each side.

Watch out for alligator lizards, my friend said. They get mean.

This alligator lizard is about eight inches long, looks like it has just climbed out of the Bayou, and tries to do its best to latch onto Pinky’s tail. I yell, and we both dance around as it keeps lunging. My usual method of ridding the house of gifts is not going to work this time. I fetch a wooden pencil and stick it in front of its nose. Instantly, it chomps down on the pencil, which I lift and raise high so Pinky cannot slap it down. I head for the door, Pinky trotting by my side. Outside, I swing the pencil, but the lizard has such a grip I cannot throw it away. Pinky is frantic to have her alligator back and leaps onto the railing to reach it. Finally, I descend the steps and scrape the lizard off on a tree trunk. The chunk gouged out of the pencil impresses me. At once Pinky plunges into the shrubbery after it.

Gifts from Pinky

For a small cat, Pinky’s tread is not subtle. I hear her drumming down the hall and know something is up. She bursts into my office, carrying something in her mouth. She drops it by my chair and meows several times in case I have not noticed that she has brought me a mouse, which is not yet dead.

Renato, help! Thank you, Pinky. Can you take it away now? Instead, she treats me to a display of toss-and-catch and hockey moves. Her rear end sticks up as she swats the mouse. I am hoping the mouse will soon die or that she will take her operations outside. I stare at my computer screen, type a word: “and,” and have no idea what I was meaning to say.

Finally Pinky is done and strolls off. I fetch several paper towels and go to dispose of the mouse. I have received anonymous gifts on my front doormat, as well, in various stages of dismemberment.

Each day after the first mouse, I receive a bird, a second mouse, another bird, no end of gifts of esteem, topped by a little snake. The snake is dark gray, with a bead-like band around its neck, and has a pattern of red dots under its pointed tail. It is still alive, too. Luckily, it is parked on the inside doormat. All I need do is lift the mat and dump the snake into the brush in front.

By now I am hardened, until she brings a bird that is alive. My course of action is clear. I must wring its neck and put it out of its misery. Instead, I lock myself in the bathroom, where I stay for ten minutes. When I emerge, Pinky and the bird have disappeared.

Pinky and the gang

In bed, Pinky either camps at my feet or comes to my side for a session of scratching and paw holding or head cupping. While we sleep I sometimes hold her foot, just to stay in contact. She works her legs like a forklift operator, levering right and left or away. I obey, because it amuses me to do so. I have not smiled in the dark recently that I can recall.

I went out back one day and spied Loaner lying near my lemon tree. I was happy to see her and called her name. She replied with a perfunctory meow, her gaze fixed on something under the lemon tree. The object of her attention was round, with pink, star-shaped toes and a long pink fleshy nose. Upside down and helpless to right itself, it waved its feet and uttered “bleahhhh.” A mole! Loaner patted it, gently, then returned to watching. Soon Pinky appeared and also settled down to view this new thing. Then Au Au came. Down the path a vividly orange cat made as if to join us then, seeing me, veered off into the brush.

We crouched there for some minutes, with me wondering what I should do about the mole. I pitied it, yet was reluctant to break up the cats’ fun. This is what cats do, I reasoned. They hunt, they learn, they play. Who was I to spoil things for them? With this excuse to do nothing, I did not move. Pinky dabbed at the mole, and so did Au Au. The mole owned a velvety gray fur coat. In books I read trappers wrapped their rifles, knives, and Bibles in moleskin. Was that the real thing, or some kind of fabric? Those were my pseudo-scientific speculations; I can’t say what the cats were thinking.

Suddenly, Pinky and Au Au rolled the mole into the open and began playing soccer with it. Loaner got up as I hesitated, about ready to rescue the mole. She headed for the steps up to the house. I followed. We were to be alone together! After she had her milk treat, we spent a sweet five minutes with her on my lap. I must sit on the floor for this now, as she will not go near any chairs or couches tainted by Pinky or Au Au. I try carrying her to a place to sit but she wails in protest and struggles to get free. But my lap, isn’t it tainted as well?

When she left, I went outside to check on the soccer game. Pinky and Au Au were gone. I hunted, and found the mole intact, upside down again, and wedged under a rock. I lifted it by its rat-like tail and dropped it into the thick brush not too far, I hoped, from home.

A most amiable cat

Au Au and I met on a neighbor’s front drive. She was just passing through as I chatted with my neighbor, Jane. It took one stroke of the head, and next day she turned up on my doorstep. She is large, long, and sleek, a creamy pale orange all over with an unusually pointed face. My lap entranced her. She could trap me in place for hours if I didn’t, regretfully, have to move her to another chair. She then occupied that chair for the hours she preferred to spend on my lap. I nicknamed her Laptop, then Laprobe, for obvious reasons. Finally, I dubbed her Au Au because of the small noises she made while rubbing her face against the doorjamb and furniture. As far as I can verify, my view hindered by her long coat, she is a girl. Loaner once stabbed me with a pointed claw for attempting to find out her gender.

They are girls, I decide. I never know where any of the cats come from, but that is the nature of cats with so much freedom to roam. Pinky is the only one who asked to stay.

Pinky tolerates Au Au, more or less. I was ill abed for a day, and both cats kept me company. Pinky went to work licking Au Au, her face, her head, her ears, her neck, on and on and on. Au Au took it all placidly, her eyes closed and lying quite still. When Pinky finished her labors she lay down next to Au Au and placed an arm over her. They snoozed like that for a long time. I watched them, thinking of the unexpected change in my personal fortunes. Lonely no longer and, moreover, captivated by the living instruments of that change, I felt luckier than I had in years.

When they woke up, Pinky decided she had shared enough, and emitted a mild hiss that immediately evicted Au Au from my bed. Pinky is amiable, too, but being so much smaller than the others she can summon up a fighting spirit for her turf when she has to. Her last bastion now is my bed. Still, I have to help her get enough to eat. When competition overwhelms her, she climbs to the highest point in the kitchen, the windowsill, where I place her dish.

Loaner meets Pinky

Then Pinky came into my life.

Whenever they met in the house, my loaner cat stiffened at the sight of the other. She averted her head from my caress. If I happened to serve Pinky her dish of cat milk first, she marched out of the house. I had to run after her and carry her in. She purred thunderously at that. What a fraud! And how human. (A note about the milk: cats cannot digest ordinary milk, but lactose-free milk worked.)

To my sorrow, she came less and less often. Pinky consoled me and, furthermore, I had her at night.

Loaner did drop in one evening while Pinky lay on my lap. They made eye contact. Pinky’s heart thumped hard on my knee.

My encounters with Loaner outside, in the backyard or somewhere on the block, were always joyous ones. There, she reverted to her old self, rubbing against me and offering me her white belly to scratch. Once, while in the car, I saw her entering a yard far from home. Her looks are distinctive: big belly and shaggy coat, as well as her special face. I pulled over and called to her. She turned and replied, though I couldn’t hear her.

Not long ago I was entering my garage when I spotted her chasing after me down the driveway. I got out of the car, dropping everything, and scooped her into my arms. We cuddled, I crooned, she drooled. I had purchased jumbo shrimp for Pinky’s treats, and tore open the package and began breaking off little pieces for Loaner. She ate hungrily. I fed her another. Shrimp is rich for cats, I know. Should I give her one more? She pawed the package, and I caved in and gave her a third one.

Smelling the shrimp, Pinky came into the garage, and Loaner pushed away from me and walked off.

Face-to-face meetings between the two in the house were often rambunctious. Hearing noises coming from the bedroom, I investigated. From under the bedskirt, Pinky’s slim black paws were sparring with Loaner. Then she dashed out from cover and fled through the house. She raced around and around like a mad thing, while Loaner rampaged in the bedroom. When both left the house, I went around straightening rugs and picking up toppled objects on tables. There’s life in this old house, I thought. Good going.

No matter how much time passes, Loaner remains the same with me – as long as we are alone together. How human that is.