The Gentleman

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.

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18 thoughts on “The Gentleman

  1. Monday morning he was curled, as if asleep, under a window, tiny and soft, still as a pressed flower.

    That was so beautiful it made me cry. Good old Bob – he was a lucky cat and so were you all for knowing him.

  2. A lovely poetic testament to a feline ballad (an epic?).
    Memorable language, especially to those of us who have shared our homes with such lovely creatures as your Bob.

    (My cat’s name is also Bobb.)

    • He was really my friend’s Bob, and because of complications with some members of his household (it’s a slightly chaotic group house) I saw rather less of him in his later years than I would have liked. I think I wanted to write about him that much more because I missed some chances to scratch his ears.

      • Guess what? Remember the cat that has been hanging around my Bobb? The one we found in the tree with him?
        He/She looks like the cat you wrote about. They seem to like each other.
        We have now concluded that this is not a feral cat; rather, someone probably dumped the kitty up here at the end of the road.
        We are feeding him. How can we get to know him?

        • Food always works. It’s usually pretty gradual. When I lured in my Fergie, who was in a similar fix, i think, I put out food and water daily in the same place, and made a point of going out when I saw him to fix the dishes, so he would know I was the feeder. I would sit quietly at a distance and let him eat, then speak to him. And I fixed a box with old flannel sheets under the porch, which he did come to sleep in. Eventually I lured him in. E-mail me if you like (button on the sidebar), we can talk about cat whispering.

  3. Between your writings about your ex and your writings about the passings of beloved cats, I have come to the conclusion that your true calling in life is that of a eulogist.

    • I worry about that sometimes. But I’m just going to say that I’m a Scorpio and all the highflown New Agey stuff says we have business at the gate between the worlds.

      My ex used to quote Harlan Ellison to the effect that “no one should go down into the darkness with too few words.” I pledged long ago that wouldn’t happen on my watch.

  4. Eulogist or not, you’re a fine writer. When you gave permission to share something before, I didn’t follow through, caught up as I was in this life’s fast cyclings. But this one I have shared, for my many cat and animal lovers. Hope you don’t mind.

    • I’m told that he also, even in his last year, attempted to, ahem, assist a female kitten of the household who had gone into heat ahead of her spay date. That is the act of a true gentleman and as it should be. (Reportedly, he had a lady friend back in his Colorado days, who lost interest after his new family got him fixed, but he never forgot what is due a lady.)

  5. I am glad this story could speak to people. I wanted to do something for old Bob, who was always so phlegmatic and undemanding. As I said to David above, more or less — no one should leave this life unremarked. Everyone leaves gifts, not least a good old cat.

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