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?
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.
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.
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.