Absent Friends


Some will remember that when the Engineer moved in here a year ago, he brought three cats with him — Mystery, Seven and Lily, the Children of Bast.

Lily is a shy, stumpy, grey-tabby woodland sprite who hides under the bed or in the closet when she’s not being snuggled by her brother. Big blond Mystery — you see him here on the left, paw over Seven’s shoulder — is everyone’s friend, an outsize doofus who can take up a whole bed.

I have not talked about Seven in a while because it made me too sad. Seven was the odd cat of the Basts, the cat that no one liked very much except the Engineer himself; even I found her weirdly offputting at first and I couldn’t have told you why. Not to adore a cat is an odd experience for me, but both of the Bast sisters were so frantically afraid of strangers that it was sort of a personal diss. When the Engineer was still living in the awful group house, they would both hide in his box spring any time I dropped by. I didn’t even know exactly what they looked like for the first couple of years.

Seven did have prepossessing traits, though. She was all business about hunting, and after Mystery had spent a quarter hour looping and lurching after a fly that got in one warm evening, walked into the room, leapt up without missing a beat and whapped it dead to the floor with her forepaw, then walked on. She was the only cat any of us ever knew who would actually stick her nose in a glass of red wine and lap it. People were careful not to take this too far. The vet liked to refer to her “tortitude” — she was all tortie, not a spot of white anywhere, a smaller, skinnier edition of my Aggie.

Mystery was fond of cuddling her, and she learned that if she licked his head a few times, he would kick into gear and administer a full body groom. We always did think of him as the big blond gay hairdresser.

One of the Engineer’s housemates was nominally responsible for Seven and Lily being there, but skipped out: “Those are the bad cats. You can have them.” (Yeah.)  We have to find them homes, I said. I can’t handle more cats.

We didn’t find homes. So they came with him.

Seven had already lost a bit of weight — something all the Basts needed to do, because they always went in for competitive eating. After she came here, she lost a little more. Her breath was a bit stinky, and we took her in to the vet and asked about getting her teeth cleaned; sometimes they won’t eat if their gums are sore.

Not teeth, said the vet. Kidneys. In eight months since her last exam, at the age of only about nine, her kidneys had completely tanked.

We spent about six weeks medicating and hydrating her before the vet would even think of doing the dental cleaning, which she really needed. Do you know how you hydrate a cat? There is an IV bag, which hangs on the shower rod, and you pop a #18 needle into the fold of skin that you can pinch up at the scruff, which has almost no pain nerves. The cat just sits there with the fluid solution dripping in until there is a little camel hump, and goes off, looking offended, to absorb it. It perked her up a treat.

The vet got her on the table for the dental work, sedated her, opened her mouth up and found a great lump of ohmygodthisisdisgusting growing inside her right cheek.

The biopsy came back negative. It looks like stomatitis, said the vet. They get allergic to their own dental plaque. Sometimes you just have to pull all the teeth. Here’s some medicine, let’s try that first.

We tried the medicine. Nothing much happened. Two weeks later the vet looked in Seven’s mouth and had a truly unprofessional meltdown — it must have been a long day — that ended with directing us to a specialty clinic and a Scottish oncologist with a melodious accent and a gentle, cat-loving manner. “She’s like my cat,” he said, “she’s motoring all around the floor. Are you a little shark, Seven?”

He took some fluid from the growth, which you could now feel from outside her jaw, and told us that it was a nasty aggressive cancer, and that most treatments did not work well and surgery would leave her unable to eat at all. She wasn’t ready to go yet, he didn’t mean that, but we would have to talk about it.

I looked it up online. The first vet had done all the right things; there was no reason the lab should have missed it. It was a type of cancer commoner in cats exposed to secondhand smoke. Two of the Engineer’s old housemates smoked — not in the same part of the house he occupied, but Seven went everywhere.

We gave her steroids and pain meds, just in case (cats never tell you), morning and night, and fluids twice a week. She stopped motoring around the floor, and spent her days under the piano lamp on a folded towel, sunning in the radiance of a seventy-five watt bulb. Mystery and Lily withdrew; they knew something was wrong. But she seemed to be enjoying her sun baths, and snuggling on the Engineer’s shoulder.

One morning the Engineer put her little smidgen of food in front of her, and she just looked up and said “I can’t do this” as eloquently as if it were human speech. The Engineer scooped her up onto his shoulder — by now she weighed almost nothing — sat down with her in a big papasan chair, and wept quietly.

Mystery ambled in. I hadn’t seen him in the same space with Seven for a couple of weeks, but he sprang up onto the back of the bowl chair — he can spring something mighty for a seventeen pound cat — settled down, and reached his forepaw over the Engineer’s shoulder to cover Seven’s.

They stayed like that for several minutes, before we called the vet and took Seven in, and brought an empty carrier back.

I’m so glad we didn’t “find homes for them.” I only wish I’d known her longer.

She had little eyebrows of calico orange in the black, like a photographic negative of Groucho Marx, and a long noodly tail, and she would sit in the Engineer’s lap to get petted while he worked at his computer.

Charging a glass now.

Absent friends.

Mystery and Seven1




20 thoughts on “Absent Friends

    • My ex husband liked to quote Harlan Ellison: “No one should go into the dark with too few words.”

      That’s why I wrote about Seven, and now she has more people in her posse too. The little lights from that will keep her dark from being truly dark… just enough to hunt by.

      • What a wonderful reply. Thank you. 🙂 Although I feel a little weepy with that last line too. She definitely has a bigger posse now, and a little more light to hunt by. xo

  1. Oh, poor sweetheart. I’m impressed that she would sit still for hydrating. My cats…even my skinny ancient girl…there’s no way in hell. I’ve told both of them that if ever they get to that point, we will have to part ways; the alienation and horror it would cause would ruin their lives so quickly, despite my being a dab hand with sub-q injections of the briefer sort. I am always deeply impressed by cats who just…know…when people are trying to help them, and who have that inexplicable patient wisdom and kindness to allow themselves to be loved until the greatest love is the granting of a peaceful death. That was a lucky cat, at the end of her too-brief dear little life.

  2. Already tears on the first morning of a new year. I’ll raise my glass to Seven.
    Take care and share the beautiful memories.

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