A few years ago
I witnessed the death of a cat. He was a beautiful
blaze-orange thick-haired tom. I don’t know if
he belonged to anyone, inasmuch as a cat can
belong, but he was a frequent visitor to my home.
The first time
I saw him was the grey day one of my cats went
into heat. He courted her through the screen
windows and slept on my welcome mat. Finally,
Ilana, my angry midget cat, could stand it no
longer and escaped to be with her Romeo. I recaptured
her shortly after, but it was too late—she had
already submitted to the male with his roguish
good looks and aura of mystery. She was easy
to scoop up as she rolled about in post-coital
ecstasy, and I got her back inside with no problem.
My heart sank.
I was hoping it didn’t “take”, but I knew that
with cats in heat, it usually did. She was too
young and little to give birth. I hadn’t gotten
her spayed because I couldn’t afford it—what
would I do if any problems should arise? And
I already had three cats—what would I do with
six or eight more? Also, we had a strange habit—she
ovulated and I menstruated at about the same
time. I would miss that. I decided to get a good
look at the father, and perhaps have a talk on
paternal responsibility, how he should see her
through it and all, even if he were a cat. I
opened my door for our heart to heart, and caught
a glimpse of his glorious fiery tail as it followed
a streak of orange into the bushes.
So I lectured
Ilana, showing her I wasn’t happy with her choice,
but that I would love her and see her through
it, what’s done is done and all that. She didn’t
seem to care what I thought of her, being a cat
and all, but also didn’t seem too interested
in returning to the Great Outdoors.
Until the cat
Romeo sat on my
porch, calling to his Juliet for four days. Sometimes
Ilana sat on the window seat and crooned to her
love, and other times she hissed through the
door at him. Angry, I suppose, at his getting
her into trouble.
my neutered male, ran an errand outside and returned
with more orange cats. This was interesting,
this klatch of Saxon cats, because felines are
colorblind. It was also highly curious because
Frehd, who was Ilana’s very best friend, was
also orange. Perhaps he harbored some impure
thoughts of his own deep in his impotent heart.
Earlier in Ilana’s heat, as she rolled and called
on the floor and low furniture, Frehd had gone
over to her and licked her twice on an ear. He
paused and looked at her, as if to explain, “Sorry,
but that’s all I can do for you.”
So she had sought
release in the paws of a stranger.
Ilana came out
of heat a few days later, but Romeo still hung
about. Why? I wondered. Perhaps he, too, wanted
to lend his support and do the right thing. Perhaps
he thought my other (spayed) female would go
into heat soon. Whatever the reason, he and my
three cats became a tight clowder, making noises
through the windows, tussling about or sitting
together when one of mine broke out. I started
leaving food outside, in case Romeo got hungry
and didn’t want to go home for lunch.
Home. I thought
at first he shared himself with a human—maybe
down the street or around the corner. His thick
fur shone and he looked well fed. But later I
noticed his ragged edges, and the fear he had
of my tame presence. His lone, wild life was
the spirit of his existence. He slept on my porch
some days, and disappeared on others. I continued
to leave food, but added water and a softer tone
to my voice.
spring day I went outside to read a book, and
brought all the cats. It was a special treat
for them, and some kind of misguided and masochistic
act for me. Romeo appeared shortly after I’d
settled in, and the cats did the predictable
things cats do: ignored each other, climbed a
tree, ambushed each other, ignored me. Any movement
of mine was an intrusion to their world, and
brought the games to a halt, unless they were
engaged in parallel play, in which case they
started up the games. They did their damnedest
to show me I was not welcome, and that anything
I did would have only negative effects and be
construed as oppression. So I humbly settled
down with my book.
world exploded. The cats scattered—one up a tree,
two into bushes, the fourth I didn’t see, for
a large loud dog was rushing at me. My brave
little Ilana puffed herself up, ferocious in
her ridiculousness. The dog ran off, caught sight
of Romeo pausing in the street, and headed towards
him. I watched Romeo watching the dog come bounding
toward him, and then I watched a blue Chevrolet
Celebrity run Romeo down.
No brake lights,
no honk, only an Illinois plate proclaiming IY
I ran to the fallen
Romeo, far too true to his name, and saw personally
what I’d always seen impersonally at the side
of the road.
He was on his
right side, his blaze orange still blaze orange,
his body still warm but empty of all that made
Romeo. His face, I noted objectively and seemingly
from a distance, showed only that his lower jaw
had impacted over his nose, and that his upper
canines were shoved down through his chin. His
rough, unopened head lay on a liver-sized pillow
of blood or tissue. In my objectivity, I wondered
what it was, listing and discarding various organs
I knew about from dissecting less warm creatures.
I picked him up,
for some reason using care to support his flopsy
neck, and placed him on the grass by the curb.
I looked at him for a long, long time. I thought
about his mysterious life and his still-unsure
paternity. I thought perhaps he would live, somehow,
through Ilana’s children. I thought about what
I should be feeling and compared it to what I
was feeling. I ran through the seven stages of
mourning and decided I was in the denial stage.
But I had accepted
this death. I had witnessed the slaying of someone
I knew. I had seen his wildness tamed. I was
probably the only person in the world to care
about this passing.
I felt very alone.
I felt sadness. Far, far away, I felt pain. I
felt nothing, and I did not cry.
Eight weeks later,
Ilana gave birth to five healthy kittens—two
grey, like her, and three blaze orange. I did
not witness the birth. I witnessed the death,
the end, the loss of a piece to a grand puzzle.
And still it shakes me. I want to give meaning
to Romeo’s life. I want not to be alone in having
noted his presence, having appreciated the brief
bright spot of his blaze orange self. I think
of the futility of Salieri who alone saw the
beauty of Mozart’s music. And God, who loved
his sparrows as much as his humans. I want to
be like them—the one who notices and appreciates
the bright spots of life and the living, perhaps
not attaining such a grandiose position for myself,
but always living on and on and on to give worth
to the unobserved or the observed too late. That
no life may be missed because it is not immediately
valued. But that is a lofty aspiration, and a
burden too large for my conceited shoulders.
Perhaps my place
lies with the Salieris, perhaps with the sparrows.
But let me not miss the beauty in knowing either.