Tango is large and rangy, with legs like a jack rabbit’s. Her coat is a deep orange with white belly and socks. Her voice squeezes out like this: EEUH, and sounds sad. I try to speak as she does and am rewarded by a startled look. She is also scared, affectionate, and needful. Despite her avoidance of the mole conclave that day by the lemon tree, she has followed the trail to the pet door. Her appetite is bottomless. I am now purchasing two sacks of cat chow at a time. Of all the chairs there are in the house, she likes to lie on mine at the dining table. When having my breakfast, I must sit on the edge, often on her feet, which she likes. I reach behind and find a nose, a paw, and always a tongue. Even after weeks, she is uncertain of her welcome. She has been sensing my own uncertainty about having her as a frequent visitor, and I know I send out conflicting signals. I am afraid Pinky might be feeling crowded. Between Tango and Au Au they clean out the food dish, leaving nothing for Pinky. The private food stash in the bedroom is no longer a secret. At night I awaken to crunching noises, Tango’s always louder than Au Au’s. Loaner, having once caught her tail in the pet door, enters the house only if the big door is open. Pinky does not get between the large cats and their food, and she grows so hungry that she has started waking me up at 5:30 for her breakfast. I pull the covers over my head but she is relentless, marching up and down my body, until I surrender at about 6:00. After she eats, I have my own breakfast, and blearily read the newspaper, unless Tango is sitting on it and rubbing her face against mine. She likes to sample everything I drink, even my tea. Another time, she dipped a paw into my wine and had herself a drop or two. And she is the only cat who will drink from the dish of water I keep next to the food dish. The others go outside to the bird bath, which I must scrub every day.
….pants on fire: Tango wishes she had fingers, I know. Her efforts to pick up objects of interest with her paw are futile, and so I help her. I feed her the pumpkin seeds she wants, one at a time, she chomping industriously. Then I discover a small pile of them on my lap. She had been spitting them out of the side of her mouth.
“I know cats,” my friend Gail said. “Do not do it. It’s going to be a disaster.” Tango is a calm, friendly cat, I argued. She will take it very well, and I want to take her to Nancy. Nancy, my homebound friend, would love it. Nothing interesting has happened for her for a long time.
So I purchased a harness because I knew I could not carry both Tango--at least 22 pounds at last weighing--and the carrier. As a test the day before our trip I slipped it on Tango, who didn’t mind, though she walked oddly. All of a sudden she was bent almost to the floor. I called to her as she inched past me but she was intent on her progress across the rug. When I removed the harness she bounded upright and out of the house. For me, the experiment was working and I looked forward to our adventure next day.
On Sunday morning I fitted the harness on her again, only this time one of the straps would not go behind a front leg. No matter, I thought. We’ll be safe in the car. I clipped the leash on and picked her up, entered the garage, opened the car door, and set her inside.
She froze for an instant, then began distractedly to move about. She emitted a loud cry and I quickly got in. For the next two miles Tango’s voice filled the car. She climbed into the backseat, shedding the harness as she did so, then got onto my shoulders and wrapped herself around my neck. Her cries bored straight into my left ear.
I should have turned around and gone home then, but I was determined to do this. After all, we were almost at Nancy’s house.
After I parked I gathered her up in my arms and started up the steps to Nancy’s. Her caregiver, waiting at the open door, remarked “I’m allergic to cats,” and left the house. I said, Tango has come to visit you, Nancy, and released her. Another error. Tango headed straight for the sofa and got under it.
Nancy said, “That’s terrific. Uh, what color was she?”
After about 20 minutes of chat I felt it was time to take Tango home, so I began to move furniture. A lamp fell over. A pile of magazines collapsed. A flap of upholstery stuck out, over Tango’s face, and I grabbed her. Nancy hung my purse on one arm, put my car keys in my free hand, and I headed outside.
The ride home was the same, with Tango wrapped around my shoulders. Her sad song ceased as soon as she realized we were in our garage. She forgave me handily but I have still to forgive myself.
Gail, if you read this, you were so right, and I will never never do it again.
Au Au uses the water dish as a finger bowl. She skims a paw across the top, then licks it, again across the top, then licks it. A shortcut to personal grooming. One night we heard noises from the kitchen, and Au Au went to investigate. Since there are always noises in the kitchen, I wondered why Au Au bothered with this one. In a few seconds she was back, bounced on the bed, once, and ran off again. Summoned,I got up to go see. She hung behind me. An animal of some kind streaked off so quickly I could not see what it was in the beam of my flashlight. I went back to bed, but Au Au did an unaccustomed thing. She crawled under the bed, only her tail showing.
In these Oakland hills in northern California, the invader could have been a fox, a squirrel, or the usual raccoon or skunk. We have opossums, which do not move quickly no matter how alarmed. Some nights we hear a cougar scream in the woods, and one evening as Renato and I rounded the curve on our road, our headlights caught the green gleam of a cougar’s eyes. The distance between us was about 100 feet. Renato braked, and we sat still, staring. The lion was bigger than a German Shepherd, a tawny color, and its rounded shoulders as it sat were bigger than my own, or my husband’s for that matter. Its supple tail flew behind it as it ran off.
Tango is aware of things most cats pay no attention to, for she will watch baseball on TV and turn her head to track players as they run (not nearly often enough for me). The big kitchen clock with its ticking second hand fascinates her as she tries to capture it.
She behaves like a bratty kid sister with Au Au, prodding her with a paw until Au Au wakes up and, patiently, does a job of licking Tango about the face, after which she goes back to sleep.
My ambivalence about Tango’s presence has to do with this: so far Pinky has managed to hold an exclusive on my bed. Our naps together are precious to me. Another cat there inhibits her displays of affection. As it is, she is more reserved when the others are in the house. I am afraid she will begin to keep her distance from me like Loaner. Au Au doesn’t often try to join us on the bed, but Tango hasn’t yet learned the rules. Once, I picked her up where she was happily asleep in the center of my bed and set her down on the living room sofa. I felt mean and unhappy, but she didn’t come back. Oh, yes, again I decide that she is a girl.
Not so about Moon Cake, who resembles a Maine Coon Cat with calico colorations, I have tried saying “Semi-Maine-Coon,” but found Moon Cake rolled off the tongue more easily. A calico, I have learned, is invariably female. This handsome cat keeps to herself and growls when other cats come near. She comes through the pet door to eat. Having eaten, she will accept a stroke or two on the head, but does not stay and I do not encourage her to. Yet, when we are alone she will jump on the counter and rub faces with me. This is a trait I notice in cats: they are aloof from me when around the others, affectionate when alone with me.
I wonder if she has been spayed. There is no way I plan to find out.
Which brings me to my concerns about Pinky. It is time to take her to the vet.
FULL MOON, FULL HOUSE
I purchase a carrier, make an appointment with the vet, and set myself, not without a deal of anxiety, to get Pinky into the carrier. The two attempts to place her in it are harrowing failures. After the first try I do not know when, if ever, she will return home after her flight. After the second struggle, she runs only as far as the patio where she sits under the railing overlooking the lemon tree. I show her my bleeding finger. Gently, she licks the blood away and rubs her cheek against the wound. I forgive her at once. Again, I call the vet to cancel. The receptionist is understanding. An appointment with a cat owner is contingent upon availability of cat.
On another day I call the vet’s again. To my bemusement, the different receptionist asks how to spell Pinky. I am pleased, though, that Pinky is being taken seriously.
I manage to get Pinky into the carrier, not without a tussle. Her orange fish I have placed inside the carrier does not calm her fears. In the car, she lets go with despairing yowls. The power and volume of her voice surprise me. She is sure she is going to be killed. One green eye peers at me through a vent hole.
The vet is a Chinese man from Peru. Pinky had been quiet since we left the car. The form I have filled out, except for my own information, is blank except for her name. He looks at me. I explain.
He nods, understanding, and takes her away to run a series of tests. After a while, he returns with her hanging limply from his arm. Pinky is composed, resigned to her fate.
She is in good shape, he says. Shall we give her the shots?
He gives her half the doses, the second to be administered in three weeks. This dismays me. We have to go through this at home again! But I learn three things I have been dying to know. She is about three years old, no more than five, weighs eight pounds, and she has been spayed. Sorrow stabs my heart. No one ever asks a cat, dog, or horse for permission to stunt their lives. Yet – and there is a terrible human necessity in this – I would have asked the vet to perform the procedure. At the same time, I am giddy because she is so young, and I will have her a long time.
For the fun of it, he and I converse in Spanish. Renato and I lived fifteen years in Brazil, with intermittent trips to Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, and we developed a language when traveling there that everyone else who lives in those countries calls Portuñol, for Portuguese-Español.
He asks why this tortoiseshell cat is named Pinky.
I show him her one pink toe.
Lógico, he says, smiling.
She is mostly quiet on our way home. For all she knows, she is going to another place to be murdered. At home, as soon as she is free of the carrier, she walks around the house, the patio, the yard, as though to make sure nothing has changed. She stays close to me the rest of the day.
We won’t have to do this again for one year! And then I remember we must return in three weeks for the second dose of shots.
Tango and Pinky vie for possession of my lap. While Tango is occupying the space, Pinky trots up and stares at her. I move Tango to the table, whereupon Pinky jumps up and lies on her back so I may perform my duties, scratching her belly and her cheeks and chin. Tango edges over, leans down and begins chewing on Pinky, who swats her. I break up the interaction before it becomes serious. During the next hour, one or the other takes turns occupying my lap. This inspires some new words for the song “This Land is My Land:”
This lap is my lap
This is not your lap
This lap is not for you but me
My room is full of cats. Au Au is walking the windowsill at the back of my bed, Tango prowls the room. Moon Cake has been in and out. Even Pinky is sitting up on my feet, alert. I can see all this because moonlight is pouring into the room. A strangled yowling sets up outside. At once, all the cats, even Pinky, heads for the door.
Is that Moon Cake calling? Big doings are on tonight. When Pinky comes home at dawn, flying upon my bed as always in greeting, I stroke her serenely. I hope the other girls are safe, but at least I know Pinky is.
JUST START WITHOUT ME
I have read that cats nap 18 hours a day. Since the advent of Pinky I seem to be napping almost that many hours along with her. What can I say – she is irresistible as a napping companion. She has ways of letting me know she is ready for a snooze by staring at me, jumping on and off my lap, or circling my chair. My book is steaming ahead, but I answer the summons and shut down.
Pinky’s attitude of repose is an art form, toes are tucked behind my ears, her arms pointed skyward above her head. The world is our tiny domain. I read for a while before I doze off. How long does not matter. I don’t even hear the telephone ring. My friends have learned to call me in the evening. Being retired and accountable to no one, I have no cares about time. Besides, I need to make up for my erratic nights and Pinky’s reveille calls.
When we wake up we both str-e-e-tch and produce prodigious yawns. If it is still morning, I get up to see about lunch. If it is evening, the TV news can wait. The news will reach me soon enough.
Sometimes she chooses to sleep in a drawer. I have not allowed her into my lingerie drawer, therefore she is more curious about that one. Often I am careless about shutting them fully. One day I find her sitting amid a mound of my underwear, as she pulls more out through the gap with a hooked paw. Instead of chasing her away, I sit down and watch to see how long she persists. Pinky continues happily until she can no longer reach then, bored, she trots off.
Some evenings she comes inside to the dining room, eyes my lap momentarily, then goes to the kitchen for a bite to eat. Afterward, she trots quickly back outside. I know she is headed for a drink from the bird bath. Likewise, I trot to the bathroom and rush back to my chair and put up my feet, just in time, as she comes around the corner and jumps onto my lap. I can plan ahead as well as she can. She lies lengthwise, belly up, and I go to work on her. She is content if I only hold her legs. Those half-closed green eyes tell me so.
On cool nap days, she lies bundled up and tucked in. Her back is to me. I poke her in the hip and say, “Come on, gimme a leg,” and she does. She sticks out a leg for me to hold.
And on another cool day, my one exposed hand was cold and I nudged her with it and said playfully, “Get this one under, too, please.” Before I knew it, she had swept that hand into her warm, furry haven.
Sometimes I awake to a sensation of a light touch across my face. It is Pinky, her back to me, as her tail does the brushwork. I had dared to fall asleep before her return.
I like to slide my feet under the blanket, under her, and bounce, hard, while singing, from South Pacific, “Talk about the moon, talk about the stars.” She hangs tight, her tail whipping about for balance.
One time at night she placed all four paws in my hand. I thought muzzily about this. Between dreams I mused about this cat who came into my life. Why did she come to my door and look inside if she didn’t know me and was scared of me? Why follow me for days and days until that turning point when she spoke her piece?
Why did Loaner come inside and, without having been courted, show me such sweetness?
Renato, what is this all about?
SHRIMP BOAT’S A-COMIN’
Pinky knows what those rustling noises mean. I am getting her two big shrimp out of the bag in the freezer. Before they are in the microwave to defrost, she has taken her place on the counter. Chopping the shrimp requires agility to keep ahead of her as I move from counter to counter to stovetop until the feast is ready. Watching her eat brings out every drop of the one-fourth Italian in me. “Mangia, mangia,” I say, beaming, my hands clasped over my stomach. It is a satisfaction life seldom affords the average cook.
The treat was intended to be once a week. That proved difficult. It seemed a long stretch to me, too. I spaced the treat to five days, then three days. Now it is every second day. This is where we stand, my last stand.
At the substitute, a teaspoon of ice cream mashed in my hand, she turns her back, though she does not leave the kitchen. It is a comment on lack of shrimp, but there is room to negotiate. I dab a little ice cream on her nose, which she licks clean. She moves a few inches away, and I dab some more ice cream. Finally, she turns and grudgingly approaches my cupped hand. In a few seconds, my palm is licked dry. I know I have spoiled her, yet still I smile like a fool. “Spoil” is a relative word: Pinky does not have to attend college, get a job, or move out on her own.
It is always an ordeal when I try to apply her monthly flea drops. Last month she struggled and got away from me. She stayed clear of me all day while I worried about how I would get this job done. I decided there was no way but to ambush her when she jumped on the bed, if she was still of a mind to join me there that night. Apparently, she believed she was safe on the bed, for she came. I clamped an arm around her and did the deed. At that she looked around at me, clearly in disbelief that I would stoop to such a betrayal of trust.
In a flash she was gone. My heart felt heavy as a tomb. Whether she was pussy cat or human, betraying a trust is not an easy sin to commit. She did not come back that night.
Next morning she did not climb to the kitchen windowsill for her breakfast, but watched me from the doorway. I could not read those green lantern-shine eyes. Do you want your breakfast? I tapped the saucer. She turned, went outside through the pet door. I pushed the saucer through the pet door and set it down on the mat, and she bent to eat. Next day, we were friends again, for she jumped up to the windowsill and watched me fix her breakfast. But when I put the plate on the sill she came down and hid under the furniture. I followed and set the saucer down, but then she moved to the pet door and went through, where she lingered, looking in at me.
Big light bulb over my head! She wanted to see her breakfast appear again through the pet door!
Loaner has grown very fat. She eats all she can, and asks for more. Perhaps she is pregnant. All I need do is glance out my kitchen window and I will see her sitting on the railing looking at me. Unwilling to grapple with the pet door, she waits to be noticed and let in. I wave, and we arrive at the same moment at the patio door. Her weight worries me. It might be that her owner has put her on a diet and so she turns to me or eats elsewhere. Perhaps I should keep my head down and pretend not to see her. As I think it I know it is impossible to ignore her.
One day I take it in my head to make a beef stew. All the good stews I used to prepare took hours of simmering that now seem absurd in my solitary existence, but this day I mean to have myself one of those.
Pinky watches the process of chopping, peeling, scraping, but when it comes to cutting the beef I have to flee around the counters ahead of her as I do when chopping shrimp.
I am going to show you, I say to Pinky, what a home-cooked meal tastes like.
As I dish out the stew, I set some aside on a plate for her. She sniffs, then turns her head aside and throws up.
Pinky, the food editor. #