A Tale of Two Cats
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 3, 2010
Hey Charlie boy, strange furry little child of mine. You want to go out, do you? Here you go, I said. Charlie, a tiger-striped short-haired domestic tabby, lept out the now open cat door. Why they waited like that puzzled me. Charlie and his other half, a black and white short-haired domestic tabby, come and go as they please. Sometime they stay out all day, sometimes they pop in for a bite and pop right out again. Sometimes one or both sleeps on my bed all day. In summer they sometimes don’t show for a day or two. I never can figure them out. They don’t need me to open the cat door, but if I’m in the room, they sit or lay patiently until I notice them, and wait for me to hold the flap up so they can leap through the hole.
There’s cat litter in the house, but they rarely use it. I hardly ever change it anymore. I can pull out the occasional piece of dried shit. I can often hear them running around over my head. They love the flat-roofed houses around here. There are six houses connected together, so they often run full tilt across the roofs, sounding like herds of miniature horses. Cats and horses, of course, have exactly the same gait, moving both legs on either side in unison, alternating from one side to the other as they run.
Often they wait outside the clear plastic door, waiting patiently for me to notice them. I let them in. Sometimes they eat, sometimes they want to be petted, sometimes they are just looking for each other. Sometimes they want to go right back out.
If I’m too slow to notice them, they start scratching the small throw rug by the door. There’s a small rug by my bed that they do the same thing to, if I’m too long in bed in the morning. Charlie sometimes meows at me, but the other one, Kilala, just scratches like mad. Sometimes they want food. Charlie has a high-pitched meow he uses when he’s hungry, so I always know just what he wants. If he wants attention, he simply jumps up on my lap, or on the desk if I’m at the computer.
Kilala doesn’t ever jump up on me. She likes to rub her neck on all the corners of the walls, and likes me to pet her, mostly just around her neck and head. She was the feral one, showing up out of the blue one day. Charlie was barely a year old when she showed up; I had raised him from a kitten. His mother had camped out in the yard, and dropped her litter. I fed them every day. Since this was the second time a cat had dropped a litter there, my wife insisted I get rid of them quickly. Before I did, I heard one of them mewing and crying away from inside the fence I had recently put up. There were pickets on both sides, and he must have fallen in from on top. Fortunately, I had used deck screws to put the fence up, and I undid the screws on the plank closest to the crying. It was the little striped orange cat I’d later call Charlie. I took him over to his mother, petting him all the while.
After a few more weeks I went to Animal Control for a trap. I set it up early, and put their bowl of cat food inside. Later on, I found the mother and most kittens inside. That made my wife happy. She was glad to see them go. It was the second litter I’d had to get rid of. I’d kept the mother of the first litter, after leaving all her wiry, well-trained mousers at Animal Control. They were such lively, healthy animals. I’d watched the mother train them in mousing, bringing them a field mouse to learn how to catch. I hated to see them go, but my wife insisted, and she wasn’t interested in waiting for people to come by and take them.
I had the mother fixed; no more kittens for her. She was a gentle cat, obviously a runaway, as she was well used to people, cat food and houses. But, one day a few weeks after she been spayed, she died in the garden. My wife noticed while she was watering. I was sad. I never knew what killed her: complications from her spaying operation? insect poison on the garden?
But, next spring there was another female, another litter. That was the litter Charlie came from.
When I trapped them, Charlie was the only one who hadn’t gone into the trap. So I kept him. My wife wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, but as long as the menagerie was gone, she was OK with keeping one. Charlie was almost feral himself, still very young. He stayed away from the house, but showed up every day looking for food. While he ate, I petted him, and it must have imprinted, because, to this day, he often waits by his food until I pet him. He’s the only animal I’ve ever seen who will allow himself to be petted while eating. He even purrs as he chomps away.
I think Kilala was no more than six months old then she showed up. I never knew if she’d stay, so she was just “Girl” for the longest time. She was incredibly thin, but then I noticed her belly hanging down. Damn, another pregnant cat. She took to Charlie right away. They hung out a bit until she had her kittens, then she was often missing. One day I found her with her kittens in a small pit under an old, low-slung bench in the garden area. She grabbed one of the kittens and ran to the fence, vaulting it like a champion despite the bundle in her teeth. Later on, I noticed she had taken all the kittens, probably in the same manner. As they got older, they needed more food than Kilala could provide, so she brought them all over to the bowl I had Charlie’s food in. She had eaten there before, so now she was teaching her progeny where the food was. I had to put a lot more out. I was happy again to see the kittens playing, fighting, running around the yard, but my wife insisted they could not stay. Again, I had to round ’em up and take them away. I kept Kilala of course. She was a great companion for Charlie. I can’t stand to see animals kept by themselves. Most animals, especially cats and dogs, are very social creatures. An animal locked up by itself, in a house or yard, is the cruelest kind of life, I think.
Charlie had already been neutered, and I had Kilala spayed. I kept my fingers crossed, and was very happy to see that she survived. Eventually I coaxed the two of them into the house to eat. They had a ball investigating all the rooms in the house, and chasing each other through them. They didn’t, however, like it when the outside door was closed. They loved running out and in, and out and in again. Whenever I could I left the sliding glass door and screen open. In winter, when I couldn’t, I had to open the door every time they wanted in or out. They never ran away. Even if they were out all day or night, they waited by the door for me to let them in again.
My wife hated the way I catered to them. I couldn’t see just leaving them outside, or confining them inside, so I became their doorman. I didn’t mind. They are affectionate to me and each other, although, just as people do, sometimes they fight with each other. Often they mate, even though both are fixed. It is always funny to watch them, curling together like a Yin and Yang painting, then suddenly fighting, or chasing each other around and biting and hissing. But always, they return and sleep curled around each other. They remind me so much of married couples, with one exception: they stay together. Either one could leave, but they never do. No matter how much they fight, they end up licking each other’s face, and cleaning each other’s fur. And always they like to sleep together.
Not like humans. My wife is no longer with me. We grew apart, without much affection passing between us anymore. I loved her, but she seemed, to me, to be cold and hard. Perhaps it was all in my mind. I told her once, after she’d been away, and she kept insisting, drunkenly, that I tell her, that I hadn’t called her because I hadn’t missed her. I had actually enjoyed a little time away from her. I meant nothing radical. It just was nice to have the house to myself, with peace and quiet, without the constant noise of the TV and her nagging, once in a while. I hadn’t meant more than that, but she wouldn’t talk to me anymore, wouldn’t listen to me. She made me leave, and, of course, I took the cats. The cats went with me kicking and screaming, but they adjusted to the new place, and they stay with me. I never heard from my human companion of fourteen years again.