Roman and F.Spot were making great strides in their attempts to get along. At least the greatest strides either would concede to. If they happened to be in the same room at the same time, a stare down would commence, ending with bob-catsy like crouches facing the other, mouths wide open, baring extremely white teeth, accentuated by loud growls mixed with hisses. The noises were horror movie worthy and for a while I thought maybe we could tape the encounters, send it out to Hollywood, and the cats would earn their keep. Soon they realized they were stuck with each other and maintained a wide berth. If this was the worst of it apparently they could handle it.
Until. One night at work we received a call from Sea-Tow. The Captain, a friend of the city's dog warden, thus a friend of a friend, had been hooking up to an abandoned house boat that was to be taken to a scrap yard. She heard mewling coming from the boat, specifically the engine compartment. When she climbed onto the rickety boat, lifting the lid housing not only two huge engines, but a pool of oily water, what she saw would make her gasp in horror. A feral cat, who apparently had made it through the birthing process but not much longer, and three teeny kittens clinging to her lifeless body, all floating in the oily mess. We sent the dog warden (later to be aptly renamed Animal Control) out immediately. Another save. End of story.
Only not quite. Seven or so weeks later the dog warden called me. "I can't find a home for the last kitten," she whined. "He's so cute, you only have two. And need I remind you we are not yet a no kill shelter..." She had been feeding the kittens with kitten formula in little baby bottles for kittens, in her home, since the day she picked them up, they were being cuddled by her three pit bulls, and she couldn't bear the thought of, well, you know.
She showed up while I was a work with the little guy in an enormous dog pen in the back of the even more huge, state-of-the-art (thanks to her) Animal Control van. I met her outside feeling like we were involved in some clandestine drug deal. "OK, where is he?" She slid open the door of the van and there he sat, taking up a hundredth of the front corner of the large pen. Just sitting. "A Tuxedo Cat," she said, beaming. Though she needn't. There was something about this kitten. So much trust in such a little face, none of the screaming, frantic clawing that usually accompanies a cat in a cage, never mind one who has been in a moving vehicle. He just sat. And stared at me. A 'Tuxedo' cat with one teeny little white spot next to his nose. A birth mark she called it, since it was the only out of place white on the entire kitten. And I had to have that little guy with the four white boat shoes.
I picked him up on my day off that week. His name officially became The Great Gatsby. What I anticipated to be another four or five weeks of adjustment for Roman and F.Spot would never materialize. Everyone loved Gatsby from the moment he entered the house. Roman and F. Spot were a far cry from pit bulls, but this cat needed to snuggle all the time, and they were there.
Though he has known only humans from day one, he came from countless generations of feral cats living under the docks, surviving on dead fish. He has large toes and incredibly long fangs on either side of his mouth that reach nearly to his bottom jaw. Menacing. Except when someone new enters the house. He'll look at the door upon hearing strange steps, get that deer in the headlights look, and race to the furthest corner of the house to hide.
Over the winter, this drafty farmhouse I moved to after a particularly hideous divorce, took its toll on Gatsby. He caught a horrible cold. Did I mention I happen to have the sweetest vet in the world? I called and told the receptionist, "Gatsby sneezed," (yuh, I'm one of those mothers, ask my kids, boy can they tell ya some stories...). She had us in the office in an hour. Luckily. Gatsby's one sneeze translated into double pneumonia. Need to know how much he weighs before medicine. My vet picks up poor Gatsby who was too ill to panic, and slides out the door to the scale. The look of surprise on his face upon his return to the examining room was just precious. "18 pounds, and not an ounce of fat on him." The last morphed his face into a look of sheer puzzlement, before he quickly spun into action to prepare a shot (can someone else come in here and help hold him, I'm needle-phobic...), and measure out liquid medicine. Over the course of the next two weeks and the medicine, Gatsby would either sleep under the covers with my electric blanket (medium his preferred setting), or the couch on his heating pad (low), watching TV. He loves sports, with the exception of golf. Tennis is his favorite. Funny, its mine as well.
Have I failed to mention a most important detail, yes. Especially at this stage. Our cats do not go out. The world is simply no safe place for animals that live near roads, nor, as in our case now, on a farm that coyotes visit with regular frequency. We are on the low end of the food chain here, and I heard a murder in the vegetable fields last fall, just outside my bedroom window. Followed by the mother coyote howling, and three little pups huddled around what would turn out to be a large raccoon. The tail was the only evidence left behind the next morning. And no, I did not condone my son drying it out and hanging the thing on his rear view.
In fact my son and I are having the same difference of opinions that my parents had on the subject of cats and the great outdoors. The fact that - due to economic downturns - my adult son was forced to move back in with his mother, much to his chagrin - does not change house rules. He thinks his cats want to go out to the fenced front yard for walks with him. He believes they will stay where they are supposed to stay. Obeying his commands if you will.
My father used to say the same thing. To my mother. When he was home on leave, a point never forgotten while my mother explained to him that a.) he may think the cat wants to go out and explore, when in fact it was she that b.) had to worry about the cat when she couldn't get the darn thing in at night and she had to go to work the next morning, and c.) she was the one stuck with a cat wanting to go out long after my father was safely aboard an icebreaker in the middle of the Arctic.
At the time their cat-in-residence was Morris. One night before my father was to leave, the same night before the morning my mother would have to drive him to Boston to put him back on the ship, Morris decided he wanted to spend the night camping out under the barn. The main barn doors were just under my bedroom window, and its kind of hard to sleep with an hysterical woman down on the ground looking into the hole under the sill with a flashlight, screaming "MORRIS," so I went downstairs. There sat my father at the kitchen table, attempting with no success at all, to stifle insane giggles, dabbing a tissue at his eyes to sop up the tears his laughing was producing, as he said, "I'm in trouble," which set him off into another uncontrollable fit of hysterics. "I gathered," I said, as I slid over to the window to look out. Then I understood. There was my mothers butt pointing straight towards the Big Dipper in her flannel kitty pajamas my sister and I had gotten her for Christmas the year before, her head nearly under the sill of the barn, yelling at the cat, while Morris sat placidly behind her, staring.
My father had cramps from laughing so hard, making him incapable of going out to fetch the cat, and besides he later confided, no one would have believed it if someone else hadn't seen. I slowly walked out the back door, snatched the cat, and told my mother the neighbors were going to call the fashion police, ending the crisis.
And as my father like to remark forever after, neither Morris, nor any other cat that had owned them, would ever feel the cool fall breeze on his whiskers, nor the soft grass between their toes, while my mother sat, effecting that teeth-sucking-eye rolling routine that wordlessly conveyed, "You, my friend, are still in trouble."