“I really don’t like your cats,” Timothy announced that afternoon, adjusting the French cuffs on his tailor-made dress shirt. “I’ve never had a cat and simply do not understand why you fancy them so much. They eat all the time, mess and make so much work for you. It’s not like they protect you or contribute to their upkeep; it’s as if you had full-time babies. They get under foot and trip you every time you turn around and I’ve seen the scratches on your hands and legs. Those animals cost you a fortune.
“I just don’t know why you do it. My parents wouldn’t let me have an animal; they never even wanted to have more than one child. And neither of my former wives would have kept a pet covered in so much fur,” he remarked.
“Any other complaints?” I absently queried while preparing iced tea, taking great care not to wax sarcastic about the mink coats both of his exes remove from storage as soon as the temperature outside drops below 60 degrees.
Now THAT caught my attention. Ever conscientious about the odor potential of my feline family, I was appalled, grabbed a box of baking soda, snatched up the pooper scooper and performed a complete circuit around the house, carefully checking and sniffing each litter box. Nothing unusual awaited me; no poorly aimed piles, no sodden spots. Tucked away from the omni-curious critters, reed diffusers tinged the air with a vague scent of sandalwood and patchouli. No, it was all per usual.
“I don’t mean your house smells bad,” he corrected, trailing behind. “It’s the cats themselves that smell funny.”
“Funny how?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just different.”
I still didn’t understand my old friend. He was generous and helpful in keeping a cabinet filled with cat food and could be called on when an animal required unusually costly medical care. But during all the time we’d been acquainted, he’d never so much as touched a cat, much less gotten close enough to inhale an animal’s scent. We’d argued religion and politics, but my passion for felines was an unspoken given. “And you are telling me this now because…?” I prompted, wondering if he could be any more vague.
“That kitten, the little plain one. It’s rubbing against my leg and leaving hair on my pants,” he complained. “Now I’m going to smell like a cat all day. And it won’t quit; can’t you do something?”
“What do you have in mind?” I countered.
“Oh, c’mon, Janet, just pick it up, put it somewhere, anywhere. Just not on the floor next to me,” he demanded, lowering himself onto a convenient chair.
“Uh, Tim, you might not want…” I started to say, grimacing as his expensively clad bottom settled onto the rocker where moments earlier the aforementioned kitten had been sleeping. Too late, I shrugged, pausing for an instant to glance at the door knob where I kept a roll of duct tape to de-fuzz visitors before they left. “So what’s your real problem with cats?”
Tim didn’t reply, his eyes glued on the tiny bundle of fur kneading the butter soft leather of his loafers. “Why is he doing that?” he mused. “Can’t he tell I don’t like him?”
Well-known for my “too-many-rock-concerts” (but less advertised “selective”) hearing loss, I pretended not to listen, turning away instead to sweeten the cold drinks. “Hey, you…little guy…get offa’ me,” I heard Timothy hiss. “Shoo…Move…Get outta’ here.”
The object of his displeasure meowed in reply, continuing to march in insistent measure. Timothy leaned down, hand poised to brush his mewling nemesis aside. I turned toward the duo prepared to intervene, then stood still to watch the interplay: As if to shake Tim’s hand, the kitten stretched one paw out and tap-tap-tapped a well-manicured finger, then resumed marching in place. “Wow, that was different,” my friend marveled. “Will he do it again?”
“Wiggle your fingers,” I suggested, “Just relax and play; she’s only a baby.”
As expected, Timothy wiggled, the kitten played along, and before the ice in our tea had melted, the two were locked in mock mortal combat over rights to a catnip-infused felt mouse. The kitten snatched the toy and scurried away, briefly glancing behind to see if she was being pursued; Tim followed on her heels, laughing in childlike delight over mindless, simple, uncomplicated play. At that moment, it was easy to see the little boy that lingered inside the elegant, older gentleman…a child who might have battled the loneliness of being an “only” if he’d had a small, furry companion…a man who’d known wealth and wives, but had never owned a cat or been owned by one.
Slightly disheveled and a bit out of breath, Tim sat down and swallowed a mouthful of tea, fingers dampened by his sweating glass. Then he let his hand slip toward the kitten. Her miniature pink tongue, still infant silky, lapped the droplet of moisture that lingered. “I think she likes you,” I said. “Here, let me show you how to hold a kitten.”
Timothy proved to be an apt pupil. By day’s end he had held, cuddled and made completely undignified schmoochie noises to the tiny tabby. He wrinkled his nose, but neither gagged nor groaned when asked to escort her to the litter box where she promptly, appropriately, relieved herself.
“That wasn’t too bad,” he admitted after disposing of her pooplet, “not bad at all.”
Standing in the doorway, waving as Timothy drove away, my hand brushed the untouched duct tape, and I scolded myself for not removing the cat hair attached to my friend’s clothing. In the flurry of farewells, Timothy paid no attention to the condition of his shirt and trousers; he was preoccupied with attaching a seatbelt to the carrier I’d loaned him in which to transport his new-found companion. “It’s a good match,” I nodded, “and this one came with a fur coat as original equipment!”
Two years later: Tim and Miss Tabitha are happily cohabitating; they elected to increase their family last month by adopting young Felicity, an orphaned calico beauty. Both ladies have been spayed, live indoors at all times and possess an elaborate kitty condo for their leisure. Regardless of their wealth, the two most prefer a romp and cuddle with their boy, Timmy.
Janet Garey is a professional journalist, environmental educator, cat-lover and “AARParrothead” devoted to a variety of community-based projects which she either developed or supports. Janet, daughter Amanda, and granddaughter Alexandra rescue and find homes for hundreds of stray or abandoned cats, simply for the joy and love they receive from their feline friends. Born in New York City and raised in Miami, Janet lives in Nashville TN.