His cinnamon spots and stripes on white remain distinct as he grows; his blue eyes will change. At night in the dimness I have begun mistaking him for Loaner, which is astonishing, for Loaner weighs 16 pounds enhanced by a two-inch long coat. Their similar coloring and sweet faces make them out as mother-son or sister-brother and it is not surprising that I chose him over his two blue-grey siblings.
My neighbor, Eugene, had found the three under a pallet at his place of work. Their mother was nowhere though he searched for blocks around. He then brought home the dirty, hungry kittens and bathed them and plucked fleas for two hours. He brought them to me in his arms, the blue-greys restless, big eyes turned up to me. But the little cinnamon one burrowed his head under Eugene’s arm and would not emerge. Shy, I thought, and of course I said “I’ll have this one.” Actually, I said, “I’ll take all three,”
But my neighbor, having a better head, advised it wouldn’t be a good idea, that he would find homes for the others. I lifted him in my hands and felt the sharp ridges of his spine and ribs.
I had no food for a five-week-old kitten—our best estimate; boy or girl was still unknown--but put him down at Loaner’s food bowl hoping it would do until I could get provisions. I needn’t have worried. He sprawled all over the bowl, nearly inside it, and chomped valiantly, making nom nom nom noises as he worked at Loaner’s kibble. Loaner herself was outside at the moment; I would put off shopping until the two had met. As I thought this, the cat door creaked and my big girl ambled in. Sensing something was up, she came quickly into the kitchen and stopped still, staring at the kitten eating her chow. Slowly, she advanced.
Oh please. I wasn’t quite worried, but still. Loaner had been my only cat since Pinky left me three years before and Tango had failed to come home two years ago. Being the sole occupant of my affections had to have engendered feelings of proprietorship.
She sniffed the kitten, who turned in the bowl to face her, then she sat and studied the intruder. They stayed still for many minutes, until I felt it was up to me to break up the eyelock. I could see Loaner was reserving judgment; perhaps it was a good start.
Life with the new being, whom I named Mojo without care for gender, took off in escalating steps, first with a visit to the veterinarian, Dr. Yang, for a worm checkup. Holding him upside down while pinching somewhere in his rear end, Dr. Yang said I had a boy. I barely heard him, for it appeared an indignity to have the kitten dangling in that manner. I supposed Mojo was at the very least the one-hundred-thousandth kitten the vet had handled, but he was my first and no less than a human baby.
The vet knew better, though. Mojo wasn’t as vulnerable as a human baby. Nourished on a milk formula and kibble for kittens, he began to lead me a race around the house. My ear became primed for sounds from wherever he might be. Loaner’s head swiveled right and left as he zipped past. Although still diffident, he began brushing close to her, closer every time, and Loaner emitted an Owrrrrr! Sssst! whenever he did so. He wanted very much to be friends, and wooed hard, though he found things to do in other places. I caught cries for help; once I found him hanging by his claws from the window blinds. These he could reach from my bed, which of course became our bed. Another time, his paw got caught in the cat door and again when I shut a drawer on his paw. That shriek he emitted froze my heart. He loved playing with the kitchen wallpaper, which began to hang in strips. My slippers disappeared. So did his toys. There was no point to sweeping for them under furniture as they eventually reappeared on their own. George the catnip turtle didn’t come back for two weeks, but Mojo made do with other objects: the rubber tips from our home’s doorstops, a grape stem, a wire twist, a cork. Most satisfying was a single, uncooked penna rigata, which he could roll noisily around on the floor.
His weight doubled, and doubled again, while I lost five pounds in two months. From time to time I reflected on Eugene’s good sense in keeping back Mojo’s siblings from me.
We play fetch with a purple yarn ball, usually while at my mealtimes or at bedtime and he will chase it as long as I continue to toss it; he tracks my feints alertly and makes major league fly ball catches. In a second he is back with it in his mouth to lay it in front of me to begin again. The hard sounds of his paws impacting the floor make me wince and after a while I hide the ball to stop the game. Surely his paws must hurt after all that pounding. One night as I slept he jumped on my head and uttered his special chirp. This meant—I knew what it meant: I felt around on the bed and found the ball he had delivered. The clock said it was three a.m. Feeling only slightly mean, I took the ball under the covers and tried to go back to sleep, ignoring his continued chirping.
The ball is liable to end up anywhere, once in my tea. As I brushed my teeth one night, I turned to see him leaning up against the toilet bowl. He had tossed his purple yarn ball into it. The tea episode, fortunately, had occurred before the toilet bowl. Another time it joined me in the bathtub.
Mojo’s fascination with water extends to my water glass, tipping it over almost daily whenever I fail to save it in time. He deposits the ball, George the turtle, the penna rigata, anything else he has going, in his water dish. But my wine remains safe; the look on his face as he backs away from it is worth recording.
Through all this, Loaner’s behavior is something to be proud of. She suffers the exuberance of Mojo upon her person with only a Waaaaah! and deals a whack that does not hurt, for he comes right back. I sympathize as he leaps on her and tries to wrestle. At that, she nails him flat with a paw and growls into his neck, but again he is not killed.
And then the day came when she began licking him about the face. The period of détente was over. In turn, Mojo hugs her neck and returns her lickings. His enthusiasm leads to biting, which gets him the expected rebuke. She can take care of herself when he has these fits, but my hands have no fur to protect them. I cry “NO!” again and again with no effect; his ears only flatten and he goes into a frenzy, his rear paws joining the action. I have to fling him away when he starts disemboweling my hand.
He returns calmed as if he had never reverted to his lion ancestors, licks my chin and lies purring across my neck and falls asleep there while I hold my book higher in order to read. At these times all is peace, with Loaner asleep at my left hip, my hand buried in her belly fur. The sensation of her rear leg slung over my wrist completes my connection with her. I notice that my browsing of library shelves is now focused on hardcover/softcover/heft rather than title/author. There is only so much my right hand can manage on its own.
When I climb into my bed Mojo is stationed under it in ambush while I draw my feet up as fast as I can before he catches them. Sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. If he is somewhere else in the bedroom, he makes a dash for me but is usually too late.
After years languishing in the laundry room, a canvas duffel bag that belonged to my sister has found a use. I tuck it over my lap to protect from his attempts to leap up. The scratches on my thighs will heal in time. I know that when he has grown further he will finally make it up without fail.
He learns quickly, with Loaner as his model. Any day now, he will know what to do when I say “Show me the way!” to Loaner, who spins about and leads me to the bedroom where I set down their food and water for the night. I have begun doing that since raccoons came in to forage. They have not, so far, ventured into the bedroom, although once or twice Loaner snarled and hissed at some sound outside the door. As gentle as she is, I had to admire her for what she did one evening. Drowsing on the hall rug, she suddenly rose up and charged the cat door. I got up from the dining room chair to see what was about and there she was, slamming the cat door on a raccoon’s head. Routed, the raccoon left the deck, but was back five minutes later. Loaner was ready and pounded his head again.
Impressed, I call her to the kitchen for a treat.
Some time ago—I can’t date when—she began waiting for me to let her in from the deck. She uses the cat door to go out, but evidently coming in requires my attendance.
There is no telling how long she is capable of waiting, but she will sit a few inches from the door until I happen to pass by and spy her there. I came home one day and out of habit looked to the deck door and spied two faces pressed against the glass.
And there is the matter of her daily treat of raw codfish. At midmorning she collects me from my office and together we go to the kitchen; now, the three of us make that procession, not that Mojo has learned to like raw codfish yet.
Feeding the both of them separately is a challenge. He ignores his own chow and tries to nose in on hers. Typical of Loaner’s sweet nature she is indulgent and I must take him away to his own bowl. Naturally, she loves his rich high-fat kibble and posts herself behind him, tapping his back now and then to say, Move over now. My turn.
Mojo now flies up to my lap easily. He also uses my lap to launch himself to my desk. Absorbed in a document on the computer screen, I do not catch him in time when he lands on the keyboard and sends somewhere else the document, a short story I had started the day before. I only sigh, and notice he has brought his purple yarn ball for me to play with him. And so I do. I am old enough; I know what is more important in this life. After a while, he moves to my left arm and fits himself in its curve, his purring punctuated by sharp meows that I take as sounds of contentment. He homes in on that arm and shoulder no matter where we are at the time. At table, I put down my newspaper or fork and accommodate him.
Loaner has been asking me to let her into the spare bedroom, presumably to be alone, but that doesn’t work, either. Yesterday as I was dressing, Loaner on the bed emitted a WOWRRRRPHSST!! Mojo had the tip of her tail in his mouth and was tugging hard. They tumbled together to the floor. I told Loaner, tangled with Mojo, "Do you know a human child would be like this for years and years? So be glad of it."
I have taken him to be neutered, something I know must be done even as I deplore this insult to his body (my sentiment years before when the vet told me Pinky had already been spayed). A few days later the vet administers the leukemia vaccine, and Mojo reacts to this the next day. He moans when I touch him and will not eat. I research the Internet for feline vaccinations and learn this horrific fact: a sarcoma sometimes forms at the site of the vaccination, and that is why it is given on the leg, which may be amputated. That was Pinky’s fate, only it was the rabies vaccination that caused the growth.
This discovery makes me reel. What recourse do we have when a procedure to prevent disease brings on another? I flinch for him at the prospect, and for myself.
His weight at five months? Eight pounds, five ounces!
I notice a strip of wallpaper in the kitchen is curling out at about Mojo’s height. At the moment, he is lying close to Loaner on the bedroom rug, the two of them side by side like mismatched commas. I say his name, and he opens his eyes and turns to me his golden gaze. #