or, The Paragon Of Cats
1. October, 2007:
“You’ve got a bush full of Fergie!” the Engineer exclaimed as he bounded up the staircase at something like seven AM, full of manly energy and the exhilaration of biking from his old place to mine. This is not as rude as it sounds. The bush in question was the enormous American Holly (the girl one) that occupies the southeast corner of my house, close to the cellar stairwell and dining room window. In recent months, it had become popular with the stray white-and-ginger cat who had taken to loitering on the property, contesting a dish of outdoor kibble with a wholly Satanic-looking yellow-eyed black longhair visitor and, so far as I could tell, usually coming off the worst of the dispute. Fergie, as I dubbed the ginger, was not the alpha-est cat on the boardwalk, but did persist — one of many feline virtues I would be privileged to observe.
I had been trying to lure the cat closer since July, not long after the quiet and lethal tuxie Patricia Twinkle had left us. Without her, considerations of sentiment aside, I had only the slightly doddering Apricat Beezler in residence, and every winter there was an influx of mice, which she had neutralized with extreme prejudice and no remorse — strutting the house, after incidents like the Saturday Night Mouseacre (the extermination of an entire nest that without my knowledge had been established behind the stove) like a four-legged Emma Peel. Apricat was losing his eyesight, arthritic, and had never been able to catch a cold on his best day. “Oh, God of Cats,” I had cried to the heavens, “send me a mouser.”
And there was Fergie. I couldn’t get close enough to guess the sex, but figured an iconic redhead like Sarah Ferguson was a good namesake, and if not, our local candidate for Clerk of the Court, one Paul Ferguson, would do nicely.
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Long-legged, personable, and a bit of a ladies’ man in his day, or so I was told. It turned out I was right on the money.
The infestation of my holly bush inaugurated a dance of circling ever closer to the house until, one December afternoon — Pearl Harbor Day, as it happened — I looked out into an eerie, snow-coated landscape saturated with sunset light angling orangely through a cloud cover, and saw the cat leaping from limb to limb.
I took a dish of food, waved it under his nose, and backed toward the porch door, then ever so slowly inside, until I could slam the door shut, causing the cat to do a one-eighty — exposing an impressive set of nads — go airborne in a straight line, his thought balloon reading “OH SHIT!” and scarper under the porch furniture.
I came down later attired in a puff jacket and a pair of oven mitts to take him to the spare room. But he was a perfect gentleman and the defensive gear was superfluous. He went right under the guest bed and stayed there.
The next night he came out, took an epic dump in the provided box, leapt up on the quilt next to me and proceeded to roll and plaster himself upon me as if trying to perform a Mobius-strip application of all his surface to all of mine at one time. I was to learn that he would never give up this attempt.
Within a couple of weeks he had displayed his audition mouse at the foot of the stairs, for my examination and approval. “Allow me,” he seemed to be saying, “to present a representative sample of my work.”
Not a mark on the poor little bugger. Never knew what hit him.
Honestly, I’ve been meaning to tell this story for years.
2. May, 2008 and Onward:
I suppose the next development was inevitable. My vet at the time, after castrating him — a pressing necessity, since he had sprayed all the long gowns and skirts in my closet — remarked that it really seemed sort of a shame to do it, however requisite. “If it’s not weird of me to ask,” I said, “how large are feline testicles anyway?” “Oh, sort of like frozen peas,” she said, “at least mostly. But these were like small grapes.”
His name was finalized when I made the appointment. The desk lady at the vet’s asked for it and I hesitated a bit before saying “Mister Ferguson.” “That’s very formal,” she said. “Well,” I replied, “I figure you’re about to do something like this to a guy, you at least address him with respect.”
The good news is that the intervention left him shooting only blanks, though he still went through the motions of spraying. The other good news is that when I took in Nickel Catmium, the Rechargeable Feline Battery and resident Crazy Bengal, he let her chase him until he caught her — at one point performing a seven-foot parallel leap between two tall shelves that inaugurated the expression “Air Fergie.”
It was a match made in heaven. Apricat, grandfatherly and sedate, wanted nothing to do with Fergie’s invitations to a good invigorating rassle, and they eventually worked out a sharing of their snoozy hours.
But he needed a playmate. And, well, apparently, a mate. And not in the British sense of the term.
They worked it out… so much that there is still an album on my hard drive titled the Catma Sutra.
He was almost as affectionate with my clients, though not in such a testosterone-driven way. Apparently you can separate the cat from his nuts, but you can’t really take the nuts out of the cat.
A decade later, they were still humping on top of me at one in the morning, directly over my surgical staples from having both hips replaced. Apparently the uncomfortable position this forced me to lie in made an especially attractive theater for their disports. Cats are no respecters of personal space.
As an exemplar of all the catly virtues, Fergie managed my business office with elan, gravity testing everything on the desk and observing and directing all projects:
Elevations became a specialty.
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His star turn was giving me (and the Engineer, after he moved in) a heart attack prancing along the upstairs banister over a ten-foot drop, with his always smartly curled tail conspicuously not balancing him in the way that cats’ tails are meant to do. Somehow, he never fell.
He told every cat in the house how to behave. He schooled his little wife in proper litter box etiquette, refereed her quarrels with every cat who was not her beloved husband, and explained to Mystery, the Engineer’s tubby yellow moire tabby, that “I bite you head!” “No, I bite you head!” is a game for ruffians. While Apricat was still alive, and increasingly prone to widdle on the bathroom rug, Fergie was always there to huff indignantly, slap him on the flank, chase him from the scene of the crime and yell “Mom! He’s doin’ it again!”
We referred to him as the Paragon Of Cats.
4. July, 2019 — He Fell
“He doesn’t want stair food the last night or two,” said the Engineer, referring to our practice of placing dishes of canned food on successive steps to reduce competitive eating, especially after we had to start slipping a nightly medication into Fergie’s food for a malabsorptive syndrome that left him skinny but nonetheless vigorous. Suddenly, he didn’t want any, going straight to the strong tasting kibble offered in the kitchen.
The next night he would only eat the soft treats the Engineer uses to give his cat Lilly Bast her thyroid pill — I never met a cat who wouldn’t eat a whole bag if he could get them.
The next morning he wouldn’t eat those.
I took him to Dr. Cohn, who’s looked after my cats for ten years, and when he called back with the test results I could hear his tone pleading with me to not, not put my cat through treatment for what was apparently one of the most aggressive kinds of feline cancer. “Use the appetite stimulant we gave you,” he said, “and his other meds if he’ll take them, but not if he hates it.”
He ate for three more days.
He jumped up on the platform on the porch to watch birds and rabbits, until he didn’t.
He went in the closet.
He didn’t want to come out.
When I fished him out his head nodded with every breath. I petted him for a long time, then called Dr. Cohn’s practice. There’s always someone there.
I don’t know what to tell the Widow Catmium-Ferguson. At least, not in language she would understand.
This evening we put out food on the stairs, and Mystery, who always
stands looms over other cats waiting for them to finish so he can eat the rest of their food, ran to the dishes, and took up a spot on the step above the topmost dish, as if Mr. Ferguson were still there to eat from it.
“It’s the feline equivalent of the Missing Man Formation,” said the Engineer.
He brought out a bottle of French brandy.
“The Paragon Of Cats,” he said.
His last morning