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Rated: ASR · Non-fiction · Animal · #2307048
A tale without a tail

Noć means ‘night’ in Bosnian, a fitting name for an inky black cat. Like many good things, he was an unexpected surprise. As a kitten, Noć was typically playful and liked to climb. He squirmed up through the branches of our Christmas tree in 2008 and peered out at eye level, mewing proudly. He was just visiting us at the time, but he and his sister Sjenka (shadow) came back to stay in 2009 when our son and his partner split up. Jasna, the daughter of Bosnian immigrants, was the one who picked out their names. Our custody was supposed to be temporary, but Sjenka is still with us 14 years later. Sadly, we lost Noć in 2019.

The mixed-breed siblings were adopted from a shelter and the Manx side of their heritage was obvious. Sjenka has only four inches of tail and Noć had only a tuft. The neighborhood kids called it a poof-ball. Manx are known for being sociable and Mr. Noć was no exception. He always wanted to be in the same room as his people and usually insisted on having a lap. We joked that they would always have to live with a couple because Sjenka also demanded a lap. They would jockey for position, each taking the other’s spot in turn. Whichever lap was most recently occupied was obviously the best! Ever talkative, Noć often commented on what was going on around him with trills and purrs. If I sneezed, he would look at me and meow sharply two or three times.

“You’re getting scolded for being too noisy,” my wife would say.

“No, he’s saying bless you,” I’d reply. “He’s just concerned for my health.”

His penchant for togetherness even extended to keeping me company in the shower. We have a double shower curtain with an inner curtain that keeps the water inside the tub and an outside decorative curtain. The first time Noć nosed his way between the curtains and jumped up on the edge of the tub, it scared me half to death. But I got used to it and then it made me smile when my buddy would walk back and forth and bat at the spray on the curtain while I soaped and rinsed. He also enjoyed playing in the tub after I got out. The very same cat that freaked out if a single drop of water fell on his head would sit in the tub and bat the remaining drops toward the drain and watch fascinated as they disappeared. Then he’d climb out, plop his damp behind on an unsuspecting lap, and proceed to clean his wet feet.

We also shared a love of root beer floats. Both cats liked a taste of whipped cream, but Mr. Noć absolutely loved the vanilla flavored root beer foam. He was always right there when floats were being prepared, mewing to make sure we knew that he knew that there was a treat to share. As I tried to eat, he’d jump on my lap, stand on my chest, and get right in my face until I gently pushed him away with a command to wait. Then he would stare intently, following the spoon with his eyes as it moved back and forth from mug to lips. Hurry it up, dude! When I was finished, I’d wipe the inside of the mug with my finger and let Noć lick it off. He’d have plunged his entire head into the mug if I’d let him.

Mr. Noć fancied himself a great hunter even though he was always an indoor cat. We have a big yard with a greenbelt behind (I mow almost a quarter acre). We often see coyotes and sometimes bobcats, so our cats aren’t allowed to roam unsupervised. Noć enjoyed spending a warm afternoon stalking the thumb-sized shrews that wriggle through our well-kept lawn. He always acted as if three-inch blades of grass could conceal a chubby 17-pound feline. Much of the weight was concentrated in his hindquarters. I always said that viewed from the front, Noć was just a cat, but from the rear he was a cat and a half. He caught many shrews and occasionally nabbed an actual mouse from among the fern fronds, but the squirrels always mocked his efforts. Some days they’d chirp Cat! Cat! Cat! incessantly as he sought out his prey. Noć would look up with a give me a break air and go about his business.

There were also wild rabbits to stalk, but they’re too wary and too quick for most cats. Sjenka, however, once managed to outflank an inattentive bunny and chase it back toward the waiting Mr. Noć. The bunny was going at top speed and taking a zig-zag path intended to shake off the persistent Sjenka. Suddenly, there was an ill-chosen panicky turn that sent it straight toward the deadly hunter. The rabbit bounced directly in front of Mr. Noć, less than a foot from his nose! And then it was gone, bounding over the top of the startled cat and into the greenbelt. Mr. Noć never even moved, just looking up and down, back and forth, stunned by the sudden rush of events. Sjenka strolled up with an air of total disgust, as if to say Dude, I sent him right to you.

Outside wasn’t all action, however. There was a little hummock by an old stump where Mr. Noć would pause and contemplate nature. He would simply sit, gazing at nothing in particular for 15 minutes or more. We were never sure if he was thinking deep thoughts, or if his brain was just idling in neutral. My wife said it reminded her of The Story of Ferdinand, the book about a peaceful bull who would rather sit and smell the flowers than participate in a bullfight.

Like all cats, Noć loved to investigate shopping bags and empty boxes. One Christmas, I gave my wife a large stand mixer. The box was plenty big and the Styrofoam packing had a perfect cat-sized hole once the mixer was removed. Mr. Noć quickly discovered this new ‘playhouse’ and slipped down into the dark interior. I hummed Pop goes the Weasel while dangling a string toy above the box and in no time at all I was rewarded by a leaping Mr. Noć. We played Noć in the box for weeks afterward.

Mr. Noć played many different games, but my favorite was ‘fetch the mouse’. Our house has a split entry with a flight of stairs up to the living room and another down to the daylight basement. Noć would bring me his favorite catnip mouse toy and I’d toss it down the stairs. Noć would thunder down after it and trot back up with the mouse to receive his due praise. I eventually got skilled enough to bounce the mouse off the front door and make it roll all the way down to the basement. Noć liked that even better because he could spin wildly around the corner of the landing in hot pursuit. The game would last for several runs, ending when the mouse was finally dropped out of my reach. He would occasionally play the fetch game on command, but usually waited until I was seated at the dinner table. Then he could interrupt our supper conversation and draw attention back to himself.

He slowed down a bit as he got older but remained a great companion. He had a thick coat of glossy black fur and always spent a lot of time cleaning himself. One day we found a bare patch of skin at the base of his tail. We couldn’t see any fleas, and he seemed healthy otherwise, but eventually we took him to the vet for a checkup. After $176 worth of poking and prodding, the diagnosis was OCD, maybe. We were offered medication but decided to try covering the spot to deter the behavior. My wife found a small pet sweater with a Christmas theme and we wrangled Mr. Noć into his new suit. It was just a thin layer of cotton, but Noć staggered around the house as though it weighed 15 pounds. He didn’t freak out, he just gave us the stink-eye and tried to guilt us into taking it off. Oddly enough, the plan worked and the missing fur grew back in a couple of weeks.

The neighborhood kids discovered Nerf darts during the summer of 2018 and many battles raged around and through our yard. When the weather turned cold, the wars were even carried on indoors. We frequently gathered up spent ammo and charged the kids a ‘please’ to get it back. In February 2019, Mr. Noć found one of those darts in our house and proceeded to chew it to bits. One piece lodged in his stomach and blocked the intestine. We could tell he was in distress and took him to the vet again. They operated to remove the blockage, but Noć didn’t recover from the surgery. He came home for a couple of days but wouldn’t eat. We took him back to the vet but he died the next day.

We buried him at the edge of the yard, under the little hummock where he used to sit and smell the flowers. We've lived with two dogs and five cats over the past forty years. They all had their good points, but Mr. Noć was my buddy.

Author's note: 1600 words
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