by Sylvia Ann

elegy to a cat

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

I get along without you very well, of course I do…
I’ve forgotten you just like I should, of course I have…
Except perhaps in spring, but I should never think of spring…
For that would surely break my heart in two.

[Hoagy Carmichael Jane Brown Thompson]

He looked forward to spring with its frog songs and bird songs that stirred his reminiscences of fledgling Steller’s blue jays tumbling from their nests. His purrs were barely audible. He never meowed. He warbled, distilling everything he felt you needed to know into several trilled ‘r’s,’ spoken with a warmth that convinced you how special you were to him. He never turned grey, the way an old dog does. He had cream and coffee fur. A sooty face. Legs and tail to match.

You can pretend he was yours, if you like, since when has grief been anything but grief?

You held him when his journey had ended, searching for him in his half-open eyes that rested on yours, your own shattering his into starbursts.

Over the years his forget-me-not eyes made fun of you during your playtime, when you’d yell out his name in mock indignation and chase him as he rushed down the hallway, tail in air, flew up the stairs to the sixth step – always the sixth – spun around at a whiplash right angle and thrust his head between the banisters, butting your forehead and smiling at you with none of the muscles that would have let him smile like a dog, but smiling all the same, his sunny blue eyes blazing with pride as he taunted you with his rackety, merry, sassy-boy warble, triumphant to be a taller than you, telling you off as you’d never been told while you stood on tiptoe, laughing at and kissing him. He was your boy. Your best boy.

Sometimes you kiss the back of your hand unthinkingly, pretending it’s him, talking to him until your words fail and nothing’s left but to hide your face in the fur you’d pulled from his brush during the months he was dying. Spring is here again, and his fur has lost its tang of California redwoods.

They have your best interests at heart, they say, when they urge you to throw away his things. ‘Why hold on to that litter box?’ they ask, mystified by your rationale in keeping it beside the bed where he lay in the dark that summer morning and tried to tell you, as best he could, with one intimate warble, that he had to say goodbye. You held his paw and whispered to him that you knew he had to leave – wondering, afterwards, if his and your parting was dwarfed by the everlasting sorrows of the world. It must have been. But it was enough.

They mean well in talking you into taking down the hook from the iron chandelier, the eyesore of a hook that held the bag with its idiotic line that stretched from ceiling to floor and halfway back up. ‘And why is that sitting on the kitchen table?’ they quiz you, glaring at the blanket. They’re right. It doesn’t belong there. Yet that’s where it is in remembrance of him, for that’s where he sat day after day, his spindle-shanks trembling because he never understood why you would want to hurt him.

Every morning you lifted him onto the blanket and told him how much he meant to you, in case he couldn’t guess. He flinched when the needle went in, but then sank into a calm, glancing up at the bag now and then, or lifted his face to look at you, bewildered, but trusting in you, because you were his parent. Though it made him feel better for a few hours, what could you do but ask his forgiveness, unable to explain what he couldn’t comprehend, consoling him, instead, with the soothing baby-talk parents murmur to their child, ‘Shhh, shhh, ta-ta-ta-ta…’

The volume dropped in three days, which left you holding him and the needle with one hand and reaching out the other to accelerate the dribble by twisting and wringing the bag, hoping things would go smoothly every day, that you wouldn’t push the needle through his pinch of skin – which you did on occasion (a common, ‘comical’ mishap, according to the vet nurse) – the fluid trickling down his gnarly spine while you silently wailed, damning yourself to eternities of hellfire.

‘GOOD OL’ MAN! NOW we’re done! NOW we’re all FINISHED!’ you trumpeted in his ear minutes later, bear-hugging your boy before he jumped down, ran into the parlor, tail aloft, jumped up on the piano, thrilled to have survived the ordeal, and waited for you in joyful expectation.

You changed the needle and unhooked the bag in nine seconds flat, then followed him in to where he stood and cupped his inch-wide chin in your hand, he shutting his eyes as you tenderly brushed his whiskers and eyelids, petting and praising him all the while for looking like Charlie Quasimodo – which he did – until the hump slithered down his ribs as the months wore on and his fur coat slackened from gallons of fluid, coffee cans of needles.

After his massage, you brought out his squeaky mouse on a wand, flicking it from one end of the piano to the other for him to pounce on, partly to please you, for he guessed you were trying to jolly him along. But then came the day, as both of you knew the day would come, when all the play went out of him, as much as he wanted to be a good sport and cheer you, too, with his Nureyev leaps, making you laugh until you cried.

‘You need to move on!’ they earnestly intone, determined to snap you out of what you’re in.

Was he worth no tears?

He almost made it to the end of summer.

He’s gone now. He’s gone.

Which doesn’t mean he’s gone.

He wakes you in the middle of the night.

He’s there when you visit a pet supply store and rummage through the cat toys, the fake fur doodad he shouldn’t be without. The catnip thingy he’d…..

He’s with you in springtime when you’re driving in the country and have to pull over because you can’t see the road for him.

Dreamless, he’s there when you walk through a haze of cottonwoods, he’s with you in the sun and showers and April wind that bent his fur backwards a lifetime ago, in his and the earth’s intoxicating spring.

His memory sleeps. Yours keeps vigil because it cannot not.

Still, nothing’s colorfast. He’s bound to fade like the woodsy scent of his fur you saved as a keepsake when you watched him sail away.

As to how it is now, though, your frail old man with his beautiful eyes, your best, best Peter Pan of a boy spills through your thoughts as you stand on a shore, thankful for his sake he’s forgotten what you can’t: that he was yours and you were his.

Will he ever leave you?

A vision of infinity lies beyond the surf, a grey-gold sea with an elfin, mustard-seed of a bark, a forget-me-not speck of a cockleshell on the horizon, its mote of a sail hanging limp in the quietude, seemingly motionless, but drifting into dusk. Melting into vapor.

* * *

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

11 thoughts on “ELEGY TO A CAT”

  1. This was a bit too much for me first thing on a Monday morning. Very beautifully written. Hard not to cry – but i am at work. I miss Red. Especially now the warm weather is coming.

  2. Hi, Dee —

    Thank you for your nice note, and yes, I relate to how you feel; people of our stripe suffer for any & all animals that succumb to old age or lead unhappy lives. I’ve said to Ruthie and will say again to you (stuck record that I am), the fortunate of the earth are those who bounce down the river of life like a rubber raft They never tip like a canoe. I admire resilience: you need it to survive and help others along the way. But I never cease to be stupefied by impermeable temperaments. These are the ones who’ll make it to the end with nary a dent. They’ll never suffer beyond the sufferings they themselves feel as they age and die. It’s a gift from God, or from Beelzebub. An enviable psyche –though these are often types that abuse and neglect other living creatures.

    I’ve admired your polished writing, and always look forward to reading what’s going on in your life when I visit PoC.


    lead unhappy lives. alte t how you feel. We suffer –

  3. Dear Kylee –

    (An unusual and very pretty name.)Why wish for something you already have? I don’t visit POC every day, but read your great essay several weeks ago, and found it fascinating. You obviously love your fur-kids so much, it makes sense, don’t you think, if we ever have kids again – though you still HAVE them!- to choose tortoises or parrots? Parrots live as long as we do, and tortoises live much longer than we. Isn’t that right? It might have been an exaggeration, but thought I read somewhere that they can live for centuries.

    Anyhow, not only did you write a fine essay, I admired the photos of your kids and also your artistry. Have no idea how you do it, but you’re certainly skilled.

    I’d wish you a happy spring in your beautiful homeland, but am thinking you’re already in the autumn of the year.

    Take care of yourself, and get busy on another essay for POC!

    1. hi there sylvia thanks for that . Apparently my name was Americana, mum found my name in a mini-series in the late 1975 when i was born. Thanks for such lovely comments. Its nice to know that i make a difference. Sometimes, don’t know if what you say matters. Its becoming autumn/winter here. I dont usually do very well at this time of year. I’ve found coming here to this wonderful and fantastic group of cat lovers and caretakers. Thanks about the cats. I hope to write some more about the cats. I like to be able to share scrappages of cats esp as its a way of spreading love though friendship. I was talking with ruth she said all your cats have passed. Im so sorry that must of been horrible. Hugs ur’ve given me some inspiration that i needed. Lots of love kylee xxx

  4. Sylvia, this is so beautiful and beautifully written.
    I had to read it in 2 parts because I just “broke” half way through.
    I never felt that I was much of a crier until I came to POC. Now, I’m a blubbering fool.
    I feel like all of our cats are mine too.
    Inspector McWee was gorgeous. R.I.P. boy.

  5. This is lovely Sylvia, there is a lot of love and emotion as well as hard work in the article, so nice to have you back, we’ve missed you.

  6. wow this is so beautiful and such a tribute to your beloved cat. Such a lovely way to remember them. It brings back mememories of my beloved animals and their passing. You have a natural ability with words. Wish i was like this.

  7. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    This is so beautifully written that it had me in tears, even though I already knew Inspector McWee’s story and how emotionally hard it was on Sylvia Ann having to give him fluids to keep him alive for as long as he had good quality of life. She knew it was only a matter of time and my heart was breaking for her, having not long before lost her dear old Count to old age illness too.
    Not so long ago she also lost her dear old Ethel, I know all this because through PoC we became epals a good while ago and even though she is far above me in intelligence and her deep and meaningful writing sometimes baffles me (and she knows it) we are still epals to this day, although spasmodic now because she has such computer problems.
    I hope like Michael that everyone takes the time to read this elegy which is so very poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful.
    R.I.P Inspector McWee x

  8. Hello Sylvia. It is nice to have you back again for a while but I hope that you stay around. I missed your prose, the me it is elaborate prose and dense with language compare to my rather bland stuff. There is a place for it on the website and I am pleased you contacted me again. I hope you are well.

    There was an interesting article in the newspaper yesterday which, as I recall, more or less stated that Internet websites such as twitter and Facebook would turn people into speed readers with short attention spans who as a result were unable to read books or any substantial pieces of text. That is probably true. I published your article because it went against the grain because nearly all webpages are quite succinct these days. There is a limit to how much the modern person can digest at one sitting before he moves on.

    Reading quickly and getting the gist of something is the modern way of reading because everything is moving faster. I hope your article slows someone down for 10 min.

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