By Ed Collins/April, 2008
The s…’s eventually gunna hit the fan here, but maybe not.
The heart of the issue is that last year wife Judy had a short run of bad luck with her cats. When one cat died, and then, a short time later, the replacement cat died, as crazy as it sounds, Judy took it personally, or so it seemed. And when I suggested that we get a cat to replace the replacement cat, Judy said that she needed a break from pet rearing.
Thereafter, as weeks and months passed, whenever I inquired about the subject she always put me off. “I’m not ready,” she said snappishly, or matter-of-factly, depending on her mood.
Now I don’t pretend to understand how Judy sees things. Suffice it to say that her take on a lot of stuff is much different than mine. And when it came to this subject, we were, once again, on opposite sides of the discussion. Part of it had to do with her penchant for prolonging the decision making process, but I think it was mostly that she likened it to the widow who hastily remarries, and how disrespectful it is to the memory of the departed.
We’ve always had a cat. In fact, this isn’t the first story that I’ve written about the subject. There has been a long line of engaging and/or quirky felines that have earned my appreciation if not affection. There isn’t an Ibis Street Cat Hall of Fame, but if there was, Boopie––the first cat to go down––would be a first-ballot inductee. He lived a long and comfortable life, reaching the cat-age equivalent of George Burns, spending his final months in the nurturing care of a first-rate hospice.
And then there was Hoover, the good-for-nothing neighbor’s cat who one day started making a daily habit of sitting in front of our mostly glass back door staring at either the woman up to her elbows in dish water or the emaciated cat sprawled on the kitchen table. When it became clear that the cat had been abandoned, and growing tired of seeing him on the outside staring in, she reluctantly opened the door and let him in, permanently. Hoover had found paradise.
On with the story: So Judy flies with her sister to Oregon to spend a week with their mother. This takes place on a Sunday. On Monday, I encounter Monte at the courts. Monte is the kindly nearly-retired veterinarian who assisted in extending Boopie’s life by weeks if not months. He knows the background here.
“Got any cats that need a home?” I ask mischievously.
That reckless question sets in motion this little drama.
Monte then tells me that a three-year-old tabby is at the clinic, and that it’s up for adoption, that it’s a good cat, friendly and has had all its shots.
“OK, Monte,” I say, foolishly, “I’ll pick it up tomorrow. When Judy comes home and implodes, I’ll tell her that you’re out of town, and that we can’t take it back until you return. Hopefully they’ll bond.
On Tuesday evening at home, the pint-sized brownish-grey tabby (the stripes remind me of a mackerel), whose name is Fletcher, follows me from room to room to room. The potty-trained cat is a leaper who, whenever possible, prefers to get eyeball-to-eyeball with you. He is evidently accustomed to being kowtowed and catered to. If he doesn’t have his ears massaged every few minutes he acts like he’s being ignored, and he lets you know it––he makes a growling sound that comes out sounding like “wow”. At dinner, though, he sits quietly on the sofa, not really begging but closely monitoring my every bite. In the early mornings, during my accordion practice, he sprawls on the dining room table next to the music stand, passing the time bathing himself. It’s nice to have an audience. I can think of past cats who have whined when caught behind closed doors with me playing. This cat, I figure, is either hard of hearing, tone deaf or shrewd.
A few days later I prepare for the sticky situation of Judy’s return. She’s due to arrive in the evening around 8, if I remember correctly. To delay the possible (probable) fireworks, I won’t introduce them until the following morning. The pre-sleep stress, I figure would do none of us––Judy, me or Fletcher–-any good. Somehow, I decide, I’ll hide the cat during what I hope will be a short visit before Judy heads to bed. Then, in the morning, I’ll go to my yoga class, and as is my custom, I’ll bring in the newspaper, put it on the kitchen counter next to the coffeemaker, Judy will awaken at her usual time of 6:30, make her coffee, then take the newspaper and coffee up to bed. When she opens the paper she’ll discover my note, which will read:
He doesn’t bite, he doesn’t bark.
He does like to talk, but only when talked to.
He’s not a dog but he acts like one. He’s not shy.
His name is Fletcher.
He’s in the garage.
Then she’ll go downstairs, open the garage door, and, before I return to face the music, the two will have a couple hours to get acquainted. Hopefully, some kind of repoire will be established and the situation will be, how do I say, softened a little.
Tuesday evening, one week later: For dinner I prepare myself carne asada, boiled new potatoes and salad, which I eat from a plate on a tray, resting on my lap, while seated on the sofa in front of the TV which is tuned to the Padres-Rockies game.
When the doorbell suddenly rings my fork freezes in midair. Quickly I lift the tray from my lap, leap to my feet, grab the bewildered cat and whisk him off to the front bedroom.
This isn’t good. She’s home an hour earlier that I expected.
Seated in the kitchen, Judy and I catch up on her trip. At one point I hear Fletcher objecting to his solitary confinement (fortunately, the next door neighbors have cats). A few innings later, back on the sofa and no score in the game, I watch anxiously as Judy goes into the living and dining rooms. When she returns but leaves the door open, and I can see the lights on, I ask why. “I’m going to water the plants.” “And that can’t wait ‘til tomorrow?” I say, trying not to sound desperate.
Back and forth she goes, each time I exhale heavily when she returns to the kitchen. When she finally closes the door to the dining/living rooms, and then goes outside to water some plants, I make a fateful split-second decision to grab Fletcher and carry him into the garage.
Then I see her carrying the newspapers down the stairs. She’s headed for the recycle can in the garage.
With the Rockies hitless with runners on first and second and nobody out, I brace myself.
The door slams shut. I can’t tell if it’s in anger or not so I keep my eyes glued to the TV. She says nothing.
Fletcher, I presume, hid under the cars. He’s afraid of her too.
Judy spends the next hour washing dishes, cleaning the sink and counter tops and mopping the floor. By the time she takes the stove’s range-top apart the Padres were up 6-0 in the 5th. Certainly she must be getting tired.
A few minutes later she walks by me and says something about heading upstairs.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see her take one step on the landing, I’m trying to will her to take another; instead, she turns her attention to my tennis bag and a bag of racquets I’d left out so as not to forget tomorrow.
Before I can think or do anything she puts my tennis bag where it belongs, in the alcove leading to the garage. And then she grabs the other bag.
Now, even though Randy Wolf is 7 outs from throwing a no-hitter, I’m watching her every move.
Please put it on top of my tennis bag. Don’t take it out to the garage. Do not take it…
Oh for crissakes: In slow motion, it seems, she reaches for the doorknob that opens the door to the garage where the mackerel-coated chatterbox is stashed. Will he hide one more time? I can only hope.
In a blur Fletcher runs between her legs and into the room.
First she gasps, then she says (in crescendo):
“Whose cat is this? … Whose cat is this? … Ed, whose cat is this?”
After the third question I answer, hesitantly and weakly, “Oh Judy, it’s mine.”
“Where did it come from?” she asks, in a tone that suggests anger more than puzzlement.
“Monte,” I answer without taking my eyes off of the screen.
With that she marches up the stairs without looking back.
OK, I think to myself, I can deal with this. She’s going upstairs, I’ll stay downstairs and I’ll wait until I’m sure she’s asleep. If I have to watch Letterman, I will.
A half-inning later, after the Rockies get their first hit (with 2 out in the 7th), I hear the bedroom door opening. Oh jeez. She walks heavily down the stairs and then stands still for a moment to the left of the TV, her hands at her side. Her face is…unpleasant.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” she says in a voice that drowns out the announcers’. I’ve had a very stressful week, I come home, the plants haven’t been watered, the house is a mess and you’ve got a pet.”
I know that I can’t say anything that will get a good response so I don’t. When she sees that I won’t, she turns and heads back to the bedroom.
For a moment I consider taking the Volvo out for a ride, but then I remember that Wolf has a shutout going.
As planned, I go to yoga, leaving the house at 6 a.m. with Judy apparently asleep. When I return, the first thing I check to see is if the back door to the garage is open.
The cat had been let into the house. This is a good sign.
In the bedroom I am relieved to see that Fletcher is on the bed watching Judy reading the newspaper. As I said before, this is a smart cat.
Then she asks me what I have been feeding “your cat,” she calls it. I take this as a good sign.