He came to a sliding glass door that he remembered, in a Colorado autumn, after his family had left their home in some way with which he couldn’t or wouldn’t go along. He had dainty ears but a large head, forepaws that looked as if they had been tentatively dipped in milk, a glowing white shirtfront but tattered black coat, with a tail half gone and half cocked at a jaunty angle — suggesting a gentleman who had dined too well, lost his pocketbook and been compelled to make his way home in the wee hours. The people behind the door saw him and exclaimed, and in a few steps he had a new family, for life.
Other cats were his companions through a succession of moves: Maryland, Virginia, wooded backyards and suburban side streets. He walked stolidly, not quickly; he never cared much what stuck in his fur. He was sturdy and imperturbable, thick-bodied and mellow — “the Barry White of cats,” his human sometimes called him — though once in a while, in a raffish mood, he would nip fingers, if he could reach them.
He was an institution in his household for so long that no one noticed at first how he was growing old, even when the companion of his young years was laid to rest under the azalea border, even when new kittens arrived to learn the Way of the Cat from the old roue in his battered tuxedo. Every year he sniffled a little when the flowers bloomed, but every day he went outdoors to find the sunny patch — where he was basking on the day a few years ago when I first met him, and only after that met the humans of his house.
He grew slower and thinner, and the tiny kitten who had once learned to eat tuna from his dish — now a twenty-pound whopper — came to groom his dreadlocks and warm him. The loyal human who had taken him in from that Colorado backyard gave him medicine for his sniffle, and mixed his food just so, to the vet’s prescription. He still found his way to the rim of the sink to lap running water; it ran over his head and he simply didn’t give a damn. He found his human’s pillow every night, until the light went out and he went about his nocturnal occasions, as is the whole duty of a cat. During the day he caught up on his sleep in a basket of unmatched socks.
Last Sunday he went out to look for the best sunbeam and didn’t come home in the evening. Monday morning he was curled, as if asleep, under a window, tiny and soft, still as a pressed flower.
His human called me, and I came with my spade, because he had marked his place already with daily naps in the overgrown azalea border, and we put the mateless socks down before we laid him in the baked and rocklike Virginia earth. I sang for him, a queer and dreamlike sound even to me in the still air of a suburban morning; before everyone had finished taking turns to restore the broken red clay, we could already feel him watching us from the slopes of his dooryard jungle.
Every good thing that is, is always.
On the way back home with my spade I slammed my finger in the car door. I counted it as a nip, possibly music criticism, and don’t hold it against him.