Cherene was the managing editor of the press I worked at for about the first 7 of the 11 years I’ve worked there. She was a fascinating person and had a eyebrow-raising history. But when I met her she was in her sixties and frankly something of a cat lady. It was through her I was introduced to Bill.
“Tony, do you need a cat? You live in the country, don’t you? Do you ever have problems with mice?”
I said she was a cat lady and I want to clarify that I don’t really mean crazy lady with 100 cats living with her. I suppose it’s more accurate to say she was a cat advocate, who sometimes lived with more than ten cats at a time. She didn’t collect them neurotically; it was more out of compassion. The neighborhood she lived in had a lot of students. Oddly enough, areas where lots of young adults are living together, neglected or abandoned, or lost kittens create colonies of feral cats. Bill was from one such colony. And from what Cherene told me, he kind of ruled it.
So Cherene caught him in a humane trap, and took him to a vet. She had him checked for everything, and got him his first set of shots She kept him inside for a while, but then realized he liked domesticity, so she began to let him out. He immediately began to fight with any other cat he could find outside, and was sometimes harassed by the occasional drunken student. So Cherene asked me if I might take him, what with my house next to a cornfield.
The cat we had at the time, and who we still have, is named Purple. When the girls introduce Purple to people they always mention, “She’s skiddish.” Because she is. She’s a pretty cat, but kind of flakey, and likely to run in fear from a mouse. But if you live in the country, and your house is literally forty feet from 300 acres of corn, you need some sort of pest control. I have long preferred cats over almost any other brand.
So I told Cherene yes, and Bill moved in. We instantly hit it off. He was a machine. Garden yields improved, the micro raison in the corner problem started to subside. Yeah, he took out the occasional beneficial, like birds, but he also carried more than his weight in keeping the pests in our house in check.
He was a big cat, stocky frame and arrogance. But he really seemed to like me. I don’t know why. Among other cats he was a bully, but around me he turned to pudding. He took a long time to warm up, but when he did it was like he got religion. And I loved him too.
He was a handsome cat. With classic gold tabby looks, so admired by lesser cats. But he was a bully. It was hard to reconcile with how sweet and loving he was to me, but I saw it. I witnessed him just slap the crap out of another cat for no good reason. Yeah, I get the territories thing, but his apparently included the tri-county area. And even polite neighbors raised an eyebrow at his gruffness.
Bill died today.
I have no idea how old he was, Cherene figured he was 5 to 10 when she gave him to me. I’ve had him for about 7 more years. A few months ago we locked him in the house with Purple when we took a long weekend to go camping. Bill preferred the outdoors, but while grumpy about being inside (he always gave me a dirty look when it snowed, as if I should do something about it) but survived being in the house for trips we’ve taken even as long as five days. But I could tell when we got home from this last trip that something wasn’t right with Bill. A big patch of fur on his rear flank was missing. He looked like he’d been getting chemo.
We let him out and it cheered him greatly. At first I chalked it up to stress and the fur grew back, but about a week later I noticed he seemed thinner.
“Something’s wrong with Bill, can you make an appointment?”
She took him in and she was lectured about a couple of his vaccinations that had expired. The vet took some blood and ran a few tests but nothing came up odd except a bit of anemia. They gave us some vitamins and sent us home, told us to come back in a week. Bill continued to get thin, so they took more blood and ran more tests, but still found nothing, this time they gave us a topical for parasites, and more vitamins. But Bill continued to get worse. When we brought him in next, we were told that they didn’t know what Bill had, but it was probably some form of Cancer. They suggested that if we take him down to Pittsburgh, they could run more sophisticated tests and figure out where it probably is. But considering how quickly Bill got sick, it began to seem that treatment might not be effective.
Two weeks later Bill was so weak that he stopped coming to his name or a fresh can of Salmon Delight. Two days ago, when he hadn’t eaten the cans I left out, or even come home, I knew something was wrong. When I got home from work I grabbed a spoon and a can of wet cat food and headed out on the porch. I cracked open the can and repeatedly clicked the aluminum lid like a cricket trying to call for him. For a while, I tried it every hour. But he didn’t come home. The next morning I started again, but to no avail.
By this morning I really noticed his absence. I get up pretty early, and when I go downstairs at 4 or 5, I can usually expect to see Bill at the door, looking in, eager for a snack and a leg to charm. But he wasn’t there again. Still.
I figured he must have died and I was very blue all day at work.
When I came home, it began to rain. A fast soaking rain one might expect at the end of July. After I pulled in I again circled the perimeter of the property calling for Bill. But again, nothing.
I went inside and figured it was probably what he preferred. Dying out in the corn,
But two hours later, as the storm raged on, I was in the kitchen making bread when Kate came by to give
sympathetic hug. And as she held me she said, “He’s on porch.”
I turned around to see what she was looking at and sure enough, though the kitchen window, there he was lying on the porch, looking still thinner and very sick.
“Call the hospital.”
I took him in but there was nothing to be done. The doctor told me the drug would need to go into a vein so they were going to try his leg. They shot his leg with a few squirts from a water bottle to matt down the fur to find a vein, and then they gave him the injection.
He went to sleep, but I know he hated that water. I held him, and stroked him, and apologized for the violation. And then he died.