Monday, November 30, 2009

Cat Callings

We have in our household a horrid little beauty of a cat.  Scratchy, impatient, bad-tempered -  unless YoungSon has her.  He rescued her last autumn, a year ago, from the barn, and has persevered gently when the rest of us gave up on her spiky person- . . . er, cat-ality.  Now she ignores the rest of us, but comes when he calls her and lets him ~ only him ~ scoop her up in a ball in his arms.  She gazes around out of his cradling arms like a baby ~ though one particularly nervy and hirsute.

Since the rescue of That Cat, aka Daisy, aka (of all things?) Mousy - and in addition to our patient and sweet old Cat of all Cats (whom I do love, though with a distant, dignified fondness) - YoungSon has also insinuated into our midst a one-eyed bruiser who struts around under the hopeful name of Phoenix.

Moreover, through this past summer and fall, YoungSon has been coaxingly negotiating an adoption with a handsome wandering gentleman who has seemed more than happy to scarf up the kibbles, but not interested in making friends.  YoungSon has been sure that this fourth cat is the long-lost and stubbornly feral Tansy (see link, if you must know more). 

This is all to say that cats are, to YoungSon, serious business.  That he adores them with all his little boy heart.  To him falls the daily chore of water and food, which he fulfills at least half the time without being reminded.  He tells us he does all the work.

On his bedroom door, amidst other important public notices, YoungSon has set out the Universe of Cat-toward approaches as they exhibit themselves in our family.  This document is entitled "Cat Callings."  Any guesses which is who?

  1. Annoyer
  2. The one who stops people from being mean to cats
  3. Watcher
  4. Spoiler (making them rotten) - though this was at first something more like "avoider" - YoungSon says he changed it because maybe this person just needed a better idea
  5. Main worker

And YoungSon wants nothing more than to expand his cat-caring labors.  Every free kitten needing a home, every untagged cat who wanders within range excites his collecting instincts. 

It is enough to reduce him to an expostulary splutter that She Who Stops People from Being Mean to Cats also stops them from adopting any more cats.

I am writing this facetiously, which is an inappropriate tone.  Forgive me.  It is the tone with which I always approach the essential things.  Last month I was working at my desk and YoungSon came running up to the sliding glass door, slap-tapping it to get my attention.

"Let me in! Let me in!"

When I opened the door, his eyes were wide and frantic.  I wondered what had been chasing him. 

"The cat!  the cat!  Tansy!"

Who it turns out has just been hit by a neighbor's minivan.  Now the story turns ugly - please stop reading and come back later if this will ruin your day -

YoungSon is jumping up and down, his voice distressed, "His eye I think it popped out  And I don't think it's dead yet but it is hurting too much - too much! and there is all this blood And it was just going like . . . " my son's body writhes and shudders showing the agony of what was, I have to admit, a beautiful white-breasted cat.

I hold his shaking body to me.  I sigh, "Let's get a shovel.  If it's savable, we'll take it to the vet.  If it's not - " this is the part no one warned me about when I turned into She Who Stops "- then we'll put it out of its misery."

And I just hope the force of my shovel-blow is enough the first time.

YoungSon is beginning to calm down, though still chattering, "I won't look at it.  I don't want to look at it."  It is not just the shock of seeing the impact.  It is also a sense of complicity.  He had been sneaking toward the cat with fishy treats in his hand, trying to lure Monsieur into a cozier connection.  The cat spooked.  Ran off down the hill.  Out into the road.  Right in the path of the neighbors' car.

Who have returned and are now stopped again in the street with their minivan, as we approach downhill through the tall grass, shovel in hand.  They are lifting the cat's limp body into a plastic tub.  "Is it your cat?"  They are so sorry.

We dig.  YoungSon won't look at the cat in the tub who is beautiful still.  But only from the ears back.  The sludgy stench of flesh is beginning to rise from the tub.

When the hole is dug - deep enough that the body won't be dug up by the coyotes whose nightly ruckus down in the ravine I mistook at first for the hoots and catcalls of kids drinking down by the creek - I send YoungSon up to the house to make a grave marker.  And by myself dump the poor body into the clean cool earth.  I avert my eyes.  A thin puddle of dark blood is left in the bottom of the green tub and the smell of death.

YoungSon is heading down the hill as I shovel in a layer of the sweet, clean dirt. By the time YoungSon gets back with the grave marker - two popsicle sticks crossed with Tansy's name carved with a pocket knife - YoungSon is in pretty good spirits. 

By this time he's planning out where all the other cats will be buried when their time comes.

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