Cats, and not the Broadway show
I never used to like cats. They can be standoffish or give you the cold shoulder. Dogs make better friends, or at least I thought so.
While having dinner at a friend's house, a few years ago, his cats jumped freely on the table with impunity. I mean really, who wants to have a tail right over a soup bowl, brushing accross your face at a dinner party? That takes nerve, if you ask me... But he's a cat lover, so much so, he lets them roam, unconstrained all over the house. There are no off-limits, their scratch mark traces left on every piece of furniture but this does not bother him in the least. He shrugs it off: "Oh well" , with nothing more to add. I did meet some cats I liked. My brother, for example, had an unusual orange cat named Ptolemy. He liked to eat asparagus stalks and went on evening walks with us, following at a distance, popping up a few feet away every now and then, surprising everyone. He was a big cat with a big personality to match. If you patted him without consent, he would stare you down and with a frosty glare, suddenly lunge out and bite, afterwhich, his point made, he would flop his tail and roll contentedly; mission accomplished. He seemed to say "Ha ha! I got you!", which made it comical nonetheless plus watching him wolf down entire stalks of asparagus rounded it all off. He was oddly un-catlike; the biting, not so much so.
A fatal day came, a year ago, at my nephew's wedding. Our daughter fell in love with the resident stray at the B&B where she stayed. That cat "Patches" was different. Patches loved our daughter. He followed her and demanded to sleep in her room, rubbing against the door and meowing till she let him in. He was a gentle calico, a tad needy, but very affectionate indeed. That was all it took. She was smitten. Here was my adult daughter, seriously under a spell with serious cat fever. She was reminded of the mess they create, the cleanup, and all the veterinarian bills. There was also nail clipping and their need for scratching, oh, the scratching! Nothing changed her mind. She went on endlessly about "that" cat Patches at the Inn. We made it clear that this would not be an option as long as she lived with us. A year later, she got her own place, a studio apartment midtown Manhattan. "Mom, they allow pets!", she was thrilled to tell me. She couldn't wait. She was going to find the cat of her dreams at the shelter, any shelter. I went with her. The first shelter was a disgrace. Cats sat glumly waiting in tiny cages, while officious volunteers asked 10 pages worth of questions. One would think they were doing us a favor. The question "how many times would you take your cat to the Vet?" came up. "Uh, as many as my Vet tells me to?" was the answer my daughter gave. Silence. After a lot of noted responses, we were informed this was the incorrect response. There was a set number, according to her. From there it descended into a somber, futile exercise of power play, destined to make prospective adopters feel uninformed, ignorant, incapable." We will be giving you our response in a week", the volunteer concluded. -Wait? Really? The final decision would be the result of a questionnaire? A week later, to our utter dismay, came the rejection letter. "Dear ... It was very nice meeting you. While it is clear that you would provide a loving home, unfortunately, we are not proceeding with your application. We take many things into account, not all of which reflect whether we think that the person would provide a loving, compassionate home -bla- bla- bla -bla .." -Wow, what on earth could have gone wrong? We took to YELP, the rating website and looked them up. It turned out that 70% of their reviews were negative and also from rejected adopters. Some of them went through exactly the same useless drill. It was depressing to know that people could be judged so harshly, when all they wanted was to provide a home for orphaned felines. Undeterred, we went on to visit an adoption center with a better reputation: the ASPCA. It was the end of the week and there were only a few cats up for adoption. We were almost on our way out when the volunteer stopped at a cage. "Oh, I almost forgot this cat, she just came a week ago." "She's very gentle and sweet." I wondered if this was some last minute effort to unload an inconvenient boarder. My daughter paused and the cat went right to her. She was taken out of the cage and placed in my daughter's arms, the cat looked right at her.
There wasa moment of silence, the cat's mindsilently saying: "take me now, because I'm not going anywhere else". Everything fit. Even her given name "Fleurette" was so right, there was no doubt she was the one. Once the papework completed, the supplies purchased, we were on our way, carrier in hand, to hail a cab en route to her new home. She howled and thrashed against the cage door, terrified. This went on the whole trip, the howling escalated till we reached our destination. Once inside the apartment, we found the smeared, stinky outcome all over the carrier. She had gone all over the cage and herself. She was promptly swept to the bath, howling and thrashing still. It took an entire pack of baby wipes, loads of soap and towels to clean her up, and at last she finally calmed down. We put out her litter box; uninterested she darted into a nearby closet, her refuge for the next hour or so. Eventually she poked her head out and gingerly sniffed the air, you know, just to make sure there were no other dirty tricks in store! Reassured, she went on her inspection of the premises and settled on a plush throw rug. I finally got to get a good look at her. I hadn't noticed her white fur bib at the shelter, or her remarkable tiger stripes and big hazel eyes. I also had not really paid attention to the fact she was chubby, really chubby, borderline cat-obese. When she stretched out fully, she looked like a fur puddle, or that someone had dropped her and she just melted on the floor, like the witch in the Wizzard of Oz. The comical view from her back was like a circus mirror distorting the image of her backside, spread out while her tail flopped casually left and right. She was home, we guessed and not going anywhere, we hoped.
Since those first days in her new home, there has been a lot of water under that bridge. She meows a lot, not just for food. She has a low growly kind of meow, like a RRRRAOWWWW sound, which she makes if you pat her, if you play with her, feed her or talk to her. She speaks too, in her way and she's the boss now. I came to visit a week ago and after greeting her, she promptly jumped on the table and was not shooed off. Boxes littered the once pristine floor. "Why is she on the table and what is with all the boxes?" -I wanted to know. "They're for Fleurette, she likes them!" My daughter replied, skillfully omitting the first part of the question. I turned to the cat, who had not budged from the table, spread out like a Pacha, her tail lazily flopping. She suddenly bore a closer resemblance to a tiger than a house cat, and in a flash I saw her Chesire Cat grin, her human-like mouth and facial structure. The bewitching grin of a cat whose favorite pastime is appearing and disappearing in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland". "I'm hallucinating!" I thought. Fleurette's eyes met mine and promptly jumped off the table into one of boxes strewn on the floor. She heard my thoughts. In my altered state, a line came back to me from the Cheshire Cat himself in Alice in Wonderland. Seated in his tree top, he tells Alice:
"Every adventure requires a first step. Trite, but true, even here "
The flash of her grin passed and I reached out to stroke her fur. "RRRRRRAOWWWWW" she said. "OK", I replied. "You win, I love you too".