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.
On cool nap days, Pinky lies bundled up and tucked in. Her back is to me. I poke her in the hip and say, “Come on, gimme a leg,” and she does. She sticks out a leg for me to hold.
And on another cool day, my one exposed hand was cold and I nudged her with it and said playfully, “Get this one under, too, please.” Before I knew it, she had swept that hand into her warm, furry haven.
Sometimes I awake to a sensation of a light touch across my face. It is Pinky, her back to me, as her tail sweeps back and forth.
I like to slide my feet under the blanket, under her, and bounce, hard, while singing, from South Pacific, “Talk about the moon, talk about the stars.” She hangs tight, her tail whipping about for balance.
One time at night she placed all four paws in my hand. I thought muzzily about this. Between dreams I mused about this cat who came into my life.
Why did she come to my door and look inside if she didn’t know me and was scared of me? Why follow me for days and days until that turning point when she spoke her piece?
Why did Loaner come inside and, without having been courted, show me such sweetness?
Sometimes Pinky chooses to sleep in a drawer. I have not allowed her into my lingerie drawer, therefore she is more curious about that one. Often I am careless about shutting the drawers fully. One day I find her sitting amid a mound of my underwear, as she pulls more out through the gap with a hooked paw. Instead of chasing her away, I sit down and watch to see how long she persists. Pinky continues happily until she can no longer reach anything then, bored, she ambles off.
Some evenings she comes inside to the dining room, eyes my lap momentarily, then goes to the kitchen for a bite to eat. Afterward, she trots quickly back outside. I know she is headed for a drink from the bird bath. I don’t know why she prefers the bird bath to her own water bowl. Which means I must scrub the bird bath every day.
Likewise, I trot to the bathroom and rush back to my chair and put up my feet, just in time, as she comes around the corner and jumps onto my lap. I can plan ahead as well as she can. She lies lengthwise, belly up, and I go to work on her. She is content if I only hold her legs. Those half-closed green eyes tell me so.
I have read that cats nap 18 hours a day. Since the advent of Pinky I seem to be napping almost that many hours along with her. What can I say – she is irresistible as a napping companion. She has ways of letting me know she is ready for a snooze by staring at me, jumping on and off my lap, or circling my chair. My book is steaming ahead, but I answer the summons and shut down.
Pinky’s attitude of repose is an art form, toes are tucked behind my ears, her arms pointed skyward above her head. The world is our tiny domain. I read for a while before I doze off. How long does not matter. I don’t even hear the telephone ring.
My friends have learned to call me in the evening. Being retired and accountable to no one, I have no cares about time. Besides, I need to make up for my erratic nights and Pinky’s reveille calls.
When we wake up we both str-e-e-tch and produce prodigious yawns. If it is still morning, I get up to see about lunch. If it is evening, the TV news can wait. The news will reach me soon enough.
Tango and Pinky vie for possession of my lap. While Tango is occupying the space, Pinky trots up and stares at her. I move Tango to the table, whereupon Pinky jumps up and lies on her back so I may perform my duties, scratching her belly and her cheeks and chin. Tango edges over, leans down and begins chewing on Pinky, who swats her. I break up the interaction before it becomes serious. During the next hour, one or the other takes turns occupying my lap. This inspires some new words for the song “This Land is My Land:”
This lap is my lap
This is not your lap
This lap is not for you but me
My room is full of cats. Au Au is walking the windowsill at the back of my bed, Tango prowls the room. Moon Cake has been in and out. Even Pinky is sitting up on my feet, alert. I can see all this because moonlight is pouring into the room. A strangled yowling sets up outside. At once, all the cats, even Pinky, heads for the door.
Is that Moon Cake calling? Big doings are on tonight. When Pinky comes home at
dawn, flying upon my bed as always in greeting, I stroke her serenely. I hope the other girls are safe, but at least I know Pinky is.
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 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.