Now, I have a cat. A second cat. A four week or so old cat – a cat without a birth date and no means of support. Or, more to the point, I have a lost cat. Or, I lost the cat. He is not outside in the dense Mexican countryside where danger lurks around every palm tree. He is somewhere in my 900 square foot house. He is under something or over something, behind something or in something. His tiny little cat heart is pulsing and he is alive, I assure myself, as I look for him everywhere, and then look everywhere for him again five minutes later. I look in baskets, behind curtains, in cabinets and closets and bowls. Finally, I realize that the kitty must be dead. In between calling “here, kitty, kitty” like some demented old cat woman, I sit quietly letting my ears wander in and out of cracks and corners, searching for the high pitched chirp of Fabio who weighs less than 10 ounces and has a brain the size of a gabanza bean.
Cats can hide anywhere. They can disappear inside empty rooms. Burrow into mouse holes. Flatten themselves out as if ironed and vanish into walls. This is the difference between dogs and cats. Find a dog that can hide and I’ll show you a cat who can whistle.
I consider calling a cat whisperer I know in Marin Country (where else?) but at $75 for a half hour Skype session, and a wavering belief in cat psychics, I worry instead. It is the least I can do. But worry, like hives, spreads from one small lost cat to the nuclear option. In the end, this is all I can do – tell you a story of the cats in my life while in the back of my mind I listen for the smallest sound, the merest swish of fur against the tile floor.
Once upon a time, I was afraid of cats. In fact, I hated cats. My family hated cats. The whole neighborhood, possibly the entire country hated cats back in the 50s. It was said they were sneaky and carried germs and were not loyal and loving and smart enough to learn how to roll over and beg. Cats were stupid. Back in the 50s when kids had dogs and gold fish and while they lived, yellow chicks at Easter, no one owned a cat. No one I knew even thought about owning a cat. The boys in my neighborhood swirled them around by their tails and threw matches at them when they weren’t busy kicking little girls’ shins.
Out of that dark and triumphant decade of regimental thinking when America was tensing for world dominance, and my father was recovering from WWII, I developed many fears — atomic bombs, my next door neighbor Billy Miller, my mother, spiders, going bald, dying of cancer before high school and, as if all that was not enough – cats. Given this early distaste for them, it is odd how regularly cats continue to arrive on my doorstep. Strangers walk up to me with box loads of cats, friends beg me to take the best of the litter. The world is full of skinny, homeless cats and until the beginning of my sixth decade I managed to refuse everyone who ever offered me one.
Since that time, however, I have, except for the lost kitty, accepted two cats into my life. One came from a friend who was unable to continue taking care of it – a matter of having paid an inordinate amount of money for a brother and sister pedigree Terrier team trained in the art of killing felines. Whiskey, named for her coloring, was a bulky Henry the III of cats, haughty, demanding and cranky. Like so many cats, she did not have a specific birth date, or even a birth year. Whiskey and I had a few disdainful years together, some of them in Mexico where Whiskey, an Inside Cat, spent much of her time sleeping, and the rest of it chowing down kibble. In her last years, she took to my bed, eating from her bowl on the night table, and only stirring herself to address the kitty litter every now and again.
Next came Beggar, another cat without a birth date, who showed up in the garden one morning and never left. Having made it clear she would tolerate no incursion into her territory, Whiskey settled into old age gracefully while Beggar assumed the role of guard cat, patrolling the perimeters for hostiles. I adapted to having an indoor and an outdoor cat. The seasons turned and Whiskey died and Beggar and I decided it was time to pursue an inside/outside relationship. He began sharing my bed at night, and continued clearing the property of snakes and rodents and geckos during the day. Resting at night, prowling by day, Beggar has grown fat and wizened. Most guests fall for him rather dramatically, some even asking if, missing their own cat, they can sleep with him now and again during their stay. They feed him tuna and take his picture and Beggar is thrilled to oblige.
All has been well in the kingdom until Quinn, the gardener, arrived last week on Mexico’s Mothers’ Day with a Nike shoe box. Tucked inside, small enough to fit in a child’s sneaker was a pouf of white with big blue eyes and stand up ears. I hustled him off that same day to the vet who dipped him for fleas and promptly snipped off the poor guy’s tiny cojones.
Back home, the fat sassy guard cat was displeased. Well, to be honest, Beggar was enraged by the newcomer who, due to size and a vast sense of bravado, is temporarily an indoor cat. Our once tranquil days and nights are full these days of squealing and hissing and someone-is-going-to-get-hurt wrestling. The kitten will not leave Beggar alone. He will not stop gnawing on his tail or eating his kibble or flinging himself underneath his body looking for something to suck on. The other evening just before sunset I caught Beggar, seemingly at his wits end, looking into the gathering darkness as if about to end it all. Never have two males without balls fought harder to get into the bed of one old woman.
And now Fabio is lost and Beggar is begging as only he can to be let in and given his evening treat. I open the door, grab a can of tuna and scrape it into Beggar’s bowl. I feel a soft wet brush against my ankle and there he is – Fabio is back! He is not dead. He has been waiting for Beggar. Inside, outside or otherwise, these two cats – the second and the third – are here to stay.