A racket in the kitchen gets me up. It is the next day already and Pinky has not yet come home.
As always, I cannot bear to switch on the harsh overhead light but rely on my flashlight. A number of gray forms swoosh past me, headed for the door, then they are through the pet door, all except one. It is a young raccoon, huddled in a corner in fright. The family pack, two adults and three kits, linger outside the door. The light of the half moon shows me how large the adults are, yet they got through the six-inch pet door without trouble, which proves they are really skinny as snakes under their coats. I open the door and attempt to move the lost one outside. The kit does not move; instead, its family crowds into the doorway, growling like dogs.
I arm myself with Pinky’s toy-scooping dowel and attempt to fence them off. They do not move away one inch. I then try to push the huddled kit with it toward the door. It pushes away the thin stick with its hands.
Finally, I find a cushion and herd the kit toward the door. This works. The family absorbs the kit and moves away, still growling. It occurs to me then that raccoons not only bite but kill cats. I scream after them, “If you’ve killed Pinky I’ll get you all!”
Forced to leave the door unlatched, I return to bed but cannot sleep. They may have gotten Pinky, and that may be why she hasn’t yet come home. A few minutes later, I hear a clatter at the door. The dowel is on the floor. Outside, a big raccoon watches as I pick it up and replace it on the sill. Payback!
At the usual hour after dawn I rise and fix myself cereal. No sign of Pinky. I fetch the paper but cannot bring myself to read it. Back to bed to stare at a Pinky-less future.
At about 8:00 a.m. I see her flagpole of a tail headed past my bedroom doorway toward my office, then back the other way. Then she emits tiny cries, no doubt looking for me.
We meet in the kitchen. I am dying to know so many things: did she encounter the raccoons? Was she hiding from them? Otherwise, what has she been doing until this hour of the day? Instead, I settle for fixing her special breakfast, Savory Salmon Dinner.
I happen to be in the hallway, crossing to the living room, when she explodes through the pet door. Close behind her is a raccoon. I move fast and latch the pet door, while Pinky and the raccoon stare at each other through the glass, Pinky whining angrily high in her throat. The next thing I do is open the door and yell “Scat! Go away!” It lumbers off, not quickly.
I go to bed, unnerved that she can be killed as easily as she kills mice and birds. It’s fair, I suppose, and she is equable about it. Yet that night she stays high under my arm and does not move away the entire time. I need the same comfort she is seeking.
AND THEN THERE IS…
Miss Dusty.A neighbor died and I adopted her cat, a handsome gray with a white diamond on her chest and white feet. She had no tail, having lost it in an accident at home. I understood that Miss Dusty had not met with another human being or cat for eight years. This became obvious when she led her owner’s daughter-in-law and me on a chase throughout the house, in and out of one entrapment and another. After a month, we captured her at last. Her coat was a sad mess; her back was matted and stood up in a hard-looking Mohawk.
I thought to start her out in my basement until she acclimated to her surroundings. Time enough to acquaint her with the cats upstairs. There was nothing I could do about having her cleaned and brushed; I was, simply, afraid to touch her even if I could catch her.
Each time I went downstairs she growled, then the growls diminished, changing to meows. I tried singing to her. At “Over the Rainbow” she emerged, grudgingly, from her hiding place under a shelf, and allowed me to scratch her head. I tried not to make any sudden moves, but even so she swiped at me with a paw now and then. But we had begun a friendship!
Then one day she was gone, and I surmised she had gotten through an opening by the clothes washer to the crawl space under the house.
She did eat the food I left her and I saw she used the litter box. Two weeks afterward, we met as she emerged from the crawl space. She was terribly excited, meowing continuously and dancing about, as though to tell me of her adventures in her new living space. She allowed me to scratch her head, even so giving me a bloody swipe between meows. I showed her I had fresh treats with me, which she ate quickly. In a minute she had gone back into her crawl space.
Over nine months we encountered each other only two or three times more, and each time she hid until I went away. She no longer used the litter box, so I imagined her building up a new kind of topsoil under the house.
Pinky and the others liked to go downstairs; all sniffed around the food dishes and the litter box. None of them was accustomed to using one. Up until now, I had been blessed with cats who had been brought up in the wild and used it freely.
I worried about Miss Dusty’s way of life, her lack of sunlight, vaccinations, and everything else Pinky had. It hurt my heart to think of her skulking about in the darkness downstairs.
Then, one evening, I came home and spotted Miss Dusty, no other, hiding under some shrubbery in the back yard. How had she done this? Come up the basement stairs, gone through the house and exited through the pet door? Never mind. I rejoiced at her self-liberation and placed food at the door of the patio. Of course, every raccoon in the woods appeared first, but I persisted until she came up the patio steps and, scared and uncertain, she found the food and ate.
Though it was the middle of March and cold, I left the patio door ajar. On the third day, she entered the house. Pinky began to bristle, and Miss Dusty faced off with her!
The visiting cats were merely curious and Pinky settled down to circling around the new one. Tango lost out. Miss Dusty took possession of the thick sleeping pad I had bought Tango, who liked to stay overnight now and then. Well, there were lots of other places she could crash. Now we had a full house every night in the bedroom, Pinky sharing my bed, and Miss Dusty on her sleeping pad. I made plans to have her bathed, vaccinated, and that Mohawk shaved. In the meantime, she always slept facing me, her thunderous purring loud in the room.
THE GOOD LIFE
Late spring, amongst all the foliage and woods where I live, is a season of bounty for birds. If they get as much to eat as all the seeds the cats have picked up on their coats, that will be plenty. The cats are covered with seeds, stickers, and burrs that adhere to my clothes and bedding.
Still, I find that preferable to the rainy season when sometimes two soaking wet cats at a time fly onto my head while I am asleep. I burrow under the covers and allow them to roll about on the quilt to dry themselves. I have had the quilt cleaned twice. Then there are the unspeakable, unmentionable critters that catch a ride on the undercoats of the cats. These, I pick off the quilt with paper towels. I also check my hair.
Early summer is here. Pinky stays out late at night and may not be back until two o’clock in the morning. The mouse parade quickens. The smallest I have ever seen is little more than an inch long and is mostly round. Pinky had cornered it and it huddled against the wall, trembling, while I ran to fetch my indispensable oven mitt. Had Pinky had not adopted me first, I might have adopted that mouse. The biggest mouse is still the one behind the stove. I manage to return all but that one to the wild. For a country mouse, it has the smarts of an inner-city inhabitant.
One afternoon Pinky jumps down from the bed and makes to leave the room. At the doorway she halts, backs up, and ducks behind the door. She bides there a minute or two before advancing and peering around the door, then again retreats. Watching from the bed where I have been reading, I wonder at this behavior. There is no one else in the entire house but us. Finally, she comes back to bed.
As I think on it, the meaning comes clear. I say, quietly, “Hello Renato.”
Pinky and I play GETCHA! every day weather permits, or if not we play it in the house. I stomp menacingly toward her and growl I’M GONNA GETCHA! and she takes off at top speed. As I amble along, she charges me and shoots past my feet. She pauses under a hedge. On cue, I go to the other side and cry “BOBBLEBOBBLEBOBBLE!” over the hedge. She throws me a shocked glare and speeds off. We do this two or three times a week, changing hedges or trees. When she wants to end the game she flops and offers her belly for scratching. I love to see her wiggle in the grass and roll over and over. She is such a package of comfort, freedom, and agility that I wish I were a cat myself. When she lies flat, her long coat flows into the grass. The earth and she are so close I envy her.
I lie down, too, and we both contemplate the tall, old Monterey Pines and sky. My book is nearly done. For a long time after Renato went away, the partial manuscript lay in a drawer. I was helpless to take it up again until, on the first day of the month of January, I sat Pinky on my lap before the computer and, taking her paw, struck the first letter of the opening of a new paragraph. She added a few more letters on her own, but the important thing had been done. I had broken the freeze.
The sun has moved from behind one of the pines and I roll over onto my face. From the house comes the distant eeeuh cries of Tango seeking one of us. She has become Pinky’s sidekick and follower. It is amusing to see her run after her small leader, her jack rabbit legs like furred pistons. When I am not home, Pinky searches for me, too. My friend Jane tells me that recently she opened her kitchen door to find Pinky sitting on the mat. Jane had a long way to look down to find Pinky waiting there patiently. “Wrong house,” she said. “Lucille is next door.” Jane had been vacuuming her house. We both figure out that Pinky, acquainted with the sound of the machine, thinks I am in Jane’s house.
We play variations of GETCHA. Instead of going to the lawn, where I appear to be headed, I continue around the bendand hide. After a while, I peek out and see her running toward me. She has caught on to the trick. I laugh at her and, instead of jumping up on me as a dog might do to share the joke, she walks off and, ignoring me, begins grooming herself by the bird bath.
The next round is hers. She does not follow me to the lawn, and as I wait and wait and finally give up, I come upon her hiding behind a boxwood on the outside, exactly at the place where I walk through.
She has not finished with me yet. We are together on the lawn when she saunters out onto the flagstones. Wondering, I wait. In the next instant she is flying back onto the grass and races in circles around me.
I chalk that one up to her. But next time, I pop up at the precise moment I know she is walking on the other side of the boxwoods toward our rendezvous, and say, “Hi, Shorty. Looking for me?” She stops dead and I realize she is trying to think of her next move. Then she charges onto the grass and climbs up a tree.
Our last, recent game involved my leaving the lawn and hiding behind a boxwood. It was a long wait. Finally, I got up and looked around. No sign of Pinky. Then I saw her, crouched three feet away, on the other side of the same boxwood I was hiding behind. Yes, we have dozens of boxwoods, most of them bordering the lawn on two sides.
Nothing but greenery surrounds us, yet I am always aware that wild animals, particularly raccoons, hide and live in the brush.
Early one afternoon, we are lying peacefully on the grass when we hear odd, soft bleats somewhere near. We have a wire fence at the bottom of the property overlooking the decline to San Francisco Bay. Two young fawns are poking their noses against the fence. I walk down to them. They back away into the tall weeds. Pinky and I stand side by side watching, but they do not come close again. An hour later they are back, and I am becoming concerned, for I do not see their mother. There have been several cougar sightings in our area. I worry that it has taken down the doe and left these fawns defenseless.
Finally, I call Animal Control, hear a voice message that no one is available and to call another number, which turns out to be the police dispatcher. I explain, and he tells me someone will come out.
No one comes. The fawns are still out there, hiding in the tall grasses, but I can see their ears sticking up.At 3:15 a.m. my doorbell rings. A voice outside the door says, “Police!”
He says he has just received the dispatcher’s call and do I want him to go out back and look for the fawns. He and his partner have no noose, no tools of any kind with which to catch animals, especially in the dark, and I tell him it isn’t any use. He departs after advising me to call Animal Control in the daytime. I say I called at 2 p.m.
It is one of those things: Animal Control, firefighters, the police. All are overworked and understaffed.
Next morning the fawns are still there. Once again I call Animal Control, which redirects me to the police dispatcher. This time I think carefully about calling that number. I do not call, and go outside to check on the fawns. I make hourly visits until they have disappeared and do not come back.
Last night I woke up and found Pinky holding my hand, one paw on each side, and purring mightily. I wonder what other surprises she will spring on me.
On the grass today she is sitting up on her legs and is stretched, peering for all the world like an African Meerkat, at something high up in a tree.
Life is good.
P.S. I have finally met the owner of three of the big cats and learned that Tango and Au Au are siblings, and Loaner is their mama. This neighbor had known for some time that Pinky, also a sibling, had defected to me. And Tango and Au Au are male.
P.P.S. I lost Pinky on February 23, 2011. She survived for a year after three surgeries for an aggressive sarcoma.