I have only myself to blame, really. Tucker, the black and white cat I picked up at the Humane Society in a moment of animal weakness a year ago, has been cheating on us. I had thought he was just catting about. I assumed he was hunting the neighborhood for mice, a cat on the prowl, a man about town. I worried, sometimes, when he didn’t come home after
dark. Our closest neighbor feeds the raccoons and keeps his own cat, Weed, in the house. But Tucker always made it home in the morning. I figured he expertly kept his distance from the raccoons and eagles, scurrying beneath the rose bushes and rhododendrons. I assumed he made a bed of dried ferns, piling up last year’s dead leaves, sleeping soundly in his little cat nest.
Sometimes he would come home only to be fed, meowing at the back door moments after he’d finished his Fancy Feast Savory Classic Salmon. This should have been a sign. I should have paid more attention. But I trusted him. I thought he just wanted to go out and play. I assumed he loved our family, imagining that even though it had been I that pointed to his little checkered face behind the bars, telling the overwhelmed Humane Society employee that I wanted that one and no other, that somehow Tucker had chosen me. That he wanted to be with our family above all others. That he would never want to live with another family.
I was wrong. I realize that now.
Our neighbors two doors down also have a cat–a short haired female with yellow eyes named Sophie. Sometimes, when I called Tucker, shaking dried food in his metal bowl (a last ditch effort I’d begun to use more and more) he’d come running from Sophie’s direction. A mere infatuation, I figured. A summer fling. It was Sophie, not her family of humans, that held his attention, I convinced myself.
After all, Sophie was a member of his own species. And so what if they touched noses in the lush grass in front of her human’s house? It wasn’t like he’d taken a liking to her humans?
Tucker has gained weight. I can’t deny it any longer. Even though I have carefully measured his food, following the Vet’s guidelines of “one mouse-sized portion” in the morning and one at night, no longer letting the fiend self-feed like the heady days of last summer, still he packed on the pounds. And still, it never dawned on me. Not once did I assume the worst. Not once did I admit the obvious: someone else, some other family, was feeding my cat.
So Saturday, sitting on the dock, with Tucker asleep under the lawn chair, we watched Sophie’s family get on their boat. Anyone living on the lake feels the end is nigh. Any sunny afternoon could be the last chance to take a cruise around the bay. People will start pulling their boats out of the water for the winter any day now.
We waved at our neighbors, talking about the weather and the kids’ first week of school, and the imminent change towards colder days. Their boat drifted towards us as we talked. One of the kids noticed Tucker, his eyes bulged open and he blurted out, “Your cat! Is the checkered cat your cat?”
I smiled and told them yes, figuring they must have seen Tucker courting their Sophie in the grass. Boys will be boys, after all. I shook my head and crossed my arms. Those darn cats.
Our neighbors all begin speaking at once. My eyes widened. Had I heard them right? They had assumed he was a stray. He came in their house? Like he was the King of the castle? The boys fed him saucers of milk? Something inside me just stopped. A ringing in my ears blotted out other sounds. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and yet there was no denying it. The evidence was all there. I smiled automatically as our neighbors took off; I think I waved before turning back to the cat.
He yawned and stretched his paw out at my foot, claiming me as his own. I shook him off. He wasn’t fooling me. I wasn’t born yesterday. No sirree. One part of me wanted to shoo him away. To tell him to go find Weed or Sophie or that dried leaf kitty nest I’d once imagined he frequented. Obviously he didn’t need me. He didn’t need us. All those mornings we’d spent together–me at my computer, him trying to sleep on my keyboard. I’d thought we had shared something. I thought what we had was special. But apparently not. Apparently what we had could be gotten anywhere. If I hadn’t plucked him from behind those kitty bars at the pound, he wouldn’t have been euthanized. Some other family would have chosen him.
But another part of me, that romantic side–the soft (call it feminine) part of myself that cries at Coke commercials and Obama speeches–wanted to believe in what we had. That part of me wanted to pick him up and hold him tight. To open a can of tuna and pour the entire contents in his bowl. To pour him saucer after saucer of milk warmed just enough to satisfy the deepest, most primal thirst for domestic kitty love on the planet.
Tucker looked up at me and meowed. Reading my thoughts no doubt. He jumped into my lap and purred. My heart melted a little. He pressed his head into my palm so I had to pet him. He started to drool, pieces of fur came loose and floated away on the breeze. He had cheated, and I would forgive him. The heart is a lonely place, sometimes.
- I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats (chroniclebooks.com)