Memories of a muse of yesteryear.
|"So, you dying today, old cat?" I ask the skeletal animal lying underneath my desk.
"Old woman, I'll outlive you," he purrs in return. At least, that's what I pretend he says.
I've never heard of a cat living to the age o 27 human years, but Pepe managed to do just that. He's taking longer these days to move from standing to reclining with noticeably stiffer limbs. Still, he never growls in pain, so we continue to enjoy his presence day by day.
He came into our lives through the side door. After being told she absolutely could not bring a cat into the house, our live-in housekeeper listened with her usual attention. The cat arrived the same day.
From the first, he had nothing to do with any member of the family other than our daughter, Jaimie, and Virginia, the housekeeper. As all animals seemed to do, he sensed our daughter needed his protection. Jaimie was born with with Down's syndrome, a form of mental retardation. Most animals treat her with special attention and Pepe was no different.
Let my husband, son or me come into the room and a stranger would have thought the devil was chasing the cat upstairs. He held us at paw's length for seven long years.
At the end of that time, the doctor diagnosed Virginia with lung cancer and she moved out to be with her daughter. Two weeks later she passed away and within a few days, her daughter called begging us to take Pepe back into our home. He refused to eat in her home. My husband who, from the beginning, never wanted the cat, agreed to take him immediately.
Once out of his carrier, Pepe flew upstairs to the room he had shared with his mistress, refusing to allow either of us to so much as pet him. I told all family members to leave him alone, allowing him to come to us.
By nightfall, Pepe progressed from moving out of Virginia's old room, down the stairs, up on the sofa and into my lap. From that moment on, he was my cat. He loved and protected Jaimie, allowed the menfolk to hold or pet him, but I was HIS protector.
We took long walks, played cat games and he either laid at my feet or across my shoulders whenever I wrote my stories. Although he hated water, he would force himself out on the pier near our home to lay beside me watching the evening sunsets. He even tried boating and although it didn't make him happy, if I wanted him along, he came without hesitation.
Christmas time involved tree climbing, package ripping and hide and seek. He keep us laughing at his funny antics. Our alone time was the sweetest. My writing flowed easier with his gentle purring urging me onward.
He was already twenty when we adopted a six-month old Scottish terrier. Their first meeting proved traumatic for Pepe. Upon being introduced, Mr. Scotty stuck his long muzzle under the cat's stomach and tossed him up and over onto the sofa. Cats do not forget and Pepe learned to sit inches farther than the dog could run on his leash chain, driving the pup to near madness when the chain jerked him back before he could reach his target. The cat appeared to grin each time it happened, but his grin came to an end the day a link broke in the chain. Mr. Scotty happily licked and drooled over the cat until it managed to get away.
On the other hand, when the pup came too near the road, Pepe always appeared and led the dog a merry chase until both landed back in the house. At that point, the cat swatted the dog's nose to signal an end to the game.
These days he eats like a horse yet barely weighs five pounds. He seeks out places of solitude until I begin to write and once more he climbs up to stretch across my shoulders. Staring into his eyes, I still see the kitten Virginia brought into our home and the cat that arrived after his mistresses death. I also see a longing as though he's waiting for Death to carry him to his final rest.
Today is a new day. I sit at my computer and he lies at my feet, amber eyes staring into my hazel ones.
"Dying today, Old Man," I ask.
"I'll outlive you, Old Lady," he purrs, and I swear he grins at our private joke.