The Cute Engineer held her delicately in his lap — sort of; he was kneeling zazen on the carpet of the teensy room where Nickel had been caged for the day in what was more of a large carrier than a crate, with a water bowl and litter box. Bits of damp litter were gummed into her fur here and there and he was working them out with a flea comb. Dana had shut her in the crate because when she wasn’t fighting the other cats, she was peeing on the sofa cushions, which I had noticed standing damply upright, faintly redolent of some form of stink-away, in front of a fan on our way in. She was a woebegone little cat, but she liked being handled.
I had my sturdy carrier on the floor and was unscrewing the thumb bolts that held the top on so I could put her in it without shoving her through any more cage doors.
“I think you could just carry her into the car,” said Dana.
I am a marvel of composure when I want to be. “I’m a nervous driver so I think we’d better tuck her in here,” I said. “No trouble, really.” I got the top of the carrier off and waited for Cute Engineer to get the last bits of sticky clay up before lowering her in and closing it up again.
The wretched kid was in the living room as we left, holding the marble Bengal.
“Veronica,” he said in a tone that implied he thought himself wonderfully clever. “Say goodbye to your brother forever.” He held the other cat up to the carrier’s mesh door.
I turned my head to hide an expression which I could feel forming but could not, myself, imagine.
His mother, at least, had the decency to choke up.
She scared the living crap out of Mr. Ferguson, despite his being twice her size. Before she had been in the house a week we were introduced to the concept of the “cat cyclotron”: my cellar is an open plan around a central staircase. She would pursue him around and around this racecourse too rapidly to be seen, like the tigers in Little Black Sambo. There are shelves and, in one corner, a refrigerator. Fergie, who has amazing spring-loaded hind legs, was seen at one point launching himself from the top of a tall shelf across a seven foot gap to the top of the refrigerator, a leap Miss Nickel decided was a bit beyond her.
Apricat the Beezler Boy, who still had a year to live at this point, regarded her as a tribulation to his serene old age. She could intimidate Fergie, for the moment, but Apricat was nearly nineteen and wanted none of her sass. When she approached him, he gazed down at her from the end of the porch chaise and uttered a quiet, definitive hiss, backed up — for the moment — by the leonine majesty of his Maine Coon breadth and coat. It stopped her in her tracks. When she realized he was old and halt and had bamboozled her that way, she never forgave him.
I had to keep her upstairs, to avoid cyclotrons and guerilla assaults on Apricat while he was asleep. We would rub a little Feliway on our arms, lock Apricat on the sun porch in pleasant weather, and bring her down to investigate Fergie until it got too rough.
She lived upstairs, with the door closed except by arrangement, for eighteen months.
She discovered an old sock, filled with expired catnip, and captured it every day, bringing it to the bottom of the staircase (or if the door was open, into the living room) with the alarming, lowing jungly groan with which cats announce the seizure of prey. Clients sat bolt upright wondering what the hell was in the house. Periodically, for variety, she seized an entire plastic-wrapped toilet roll in her jaws, shaking it to break its little toilet-paper neck and depositing it on my bedroom carpet with deep fang punctures penetrating halfway to the cardboard core. No mystery remained about how she had survived so well in the parking lot. Mr. Ferguson was almost always too fast for her, but we still body blocked her whenever she seemed likely to catch up: the touch of a human hand would make her pliant and docile.
One day Fergie turned around in midflight and said “Hssss.”
Unlike Apricat — who was long past the speed or agility required to follow up a hiss, and now nearly blind as well — he got respect.
She decided his butt was the Best. Thing. Ever. Since he carries his tail flipped up and jauntily curled over one hip, it’s almost an invitation for her to follow him around the house with her nose glued to his unmentionables. She still does it. Don’t ask me.
She still craps on the cellar rug pretty regularly, but neatly, in a small heap that pops right off with a litter scoop. She prefers a folded towel in the spare bedroom to the litter box five feet away. It’s a small price to pay for a buddy for Fergie, who wanted to chase and rassle with Apricat from the moment he was adopted and was understanding, but wistful, when he realized his old companion was too arthritic to do much more than stump to the kitchen for dinner. In the winter she creeps right under the coverlet and sleeps against my shoulder, and after Apricat left us, though I missed him horribly, I loved seeing her play with her best bud all day long.
Dana wrote a few days after we left to say that peace reigned in the household again. I hope she took that fishing pole away from the kid — well, I actually have more vivid ideas of where I wanted it to end up, but not my problem. I haven’t heard from her since I extracted Nickel’s vet records later in the summer, after several attempts; she was quite clear she would not be at home when I came by, and left the few Xeroxed pages taped to her door, marked “Veronica.”
Dr. Cohn scanned them into a file and typed in the document title “Nickel.”