I’ve lived most of my life with one or more pets, and have had dogs and cats continuously since 1987. When my wife. Michele, and I were first together, I became the stepfather of four cats and a dog. One of those cats, Weetie, was a loud, sweet, smart Siamese who lived to 18, making her the grand dame of that generation. I adored her, and Michele teases me to this day about how I bragged to the veterinarian about how smart Weetie was. I think what I mean by “smart” was that she liked my company, and would talk to me, and I would talk to her.
If my math is correct, we then got Mosey and Smudgie, boy and girl siblings, in 1997, and Weetie probably lived for another year. I can’t imagine Weetie was entirely happy with the new arrivals. It’s clear we did it for us and not for her, really.
Smudgie came to rule the roost. I took to calling her “the Supervisor” because she was always there, watching us. Mealtimes, chore times, down times. She would watch me clean up after dinner, watch me do the laundry. I kept imagining she must have had strict instructions on how to handle everything, but she wasn’t much of a talker. When she did meow, it was with great effort. Sometimes a sound would just barely squeak out. Her power was her silence–standing there in judgement.
Mosey kept his distance. I always thought it was because the dogs saw the cats as prey. Just like when I was growing up with a terrier and a calico, the cats lived at altitude. The kitchen table and their table for eating were their only really safe spots. They could swipe at the dogs from their perch, and then bolt for the cat door and through to the refuge of the basement. I always felt badly that their space was so circumscribed. We have a big, somewhat rambling house, with two floors, an attic, and an in-law suite off the back. They really couldn’t ramble.
Mosey seemed to live most of his life in the basement, which thankfully is also large, with the dusty and crowded original field-stone basement and the newer cement-walled basement under an addition. He would sleep in a basket in front of the furnace on cold nights. On warmer nights he would find his way to the cooler, newer basement, climb up on a dead wall, and then find a spot atop some boxes. I liked thinking that it wasn’t such a bad spot for a cat.
But then Smudgie passed a few years ago, and Mosey emerged. While Smudgie had always been quiet and aloof, Mosey was a big, affectionate lug. Now he had the run of the place, at least the run of the kitchen table. He took full advantage. He is always there, and Michele set up a bigger, nicer table for him to eat and sleep.
Lately, he has been on that table nearly all the time. For maybe the last year, Mosey has been on the decline.More recently, he wasn’t eating much. He was throwing up. He was frail and lethargic A few weeks ago, it looked like it might be Mosey’s time, but Michele reviewed options with the vet, and we are doing a few things. It’s some combination of age, arthritis, thyroid disease, and maybe kidney disease. He doesn’t seem to have any masses or anything horrific. He’s just getting old.
So we are giving him thyroid medicine, anti-nausea medicine, and fluids. Michele was a veterinary nurse, so she gets a needle under Mosey’s skin, comforts and distracts him, and I slowly push the plunger, getting 60 ccs of Lactated Ringer’s into him. It seems to be helping. He still isn’t eating much, but he’s probably eating enough. He’s drinking. He’s sleeping well.
What’s really nice is he has bursts of energy. He has taken to caterwauling again on some mornings, and has followed me into the basement when I do the laundry. Then, yesterday, something really delightful happened. My office is in our attic, up a narrow, precarious flight of stairs. The ceilings slope at something like 45 degrees, and the door is an odd cut to meet the angles. At some point I took the door off, and haven’t found time to put it back on. So when I set up my office this fall, I draped a drop-cloth over the door in an attempt to trap the heat my little electric radiator generates. The drop-cloth is an odd effect.
Imagine my surprise when I heard Mosey’s feet on the attic stairs, and then see him emerge through the drop-cloth. He inspected the perimeter, as cats are wont to do. The books, the record albums, the makeshift bed our dog Petey has used exactly once. Then he came to me, put his front paws on my thigh, and I lifted him to my lap.
Even though Mosey is a big affectionate cat, he is not a great snuggler. In fact he’s a pain in the ass. If Petey is safely locked away somewhere else, and Mosey finds you sleeping, he will go straight to your head, and bat at it, or dig his claws in–not viciously-but more than enough to wake you up. He’s also not really a lap cat. He is fussy about exactly how you sit, and he expects you to be perfectly still. One move that he doesn’t approve and he’s off your lap, and out of the room. You’ve been fired.
But yesterday Mosey was quite happy with my lap. He settled in as I typed, his back to the desk and his face curled into his legs, pointing at my belly. I stayed fairly still, but not like the statue he normally demanded. He purred, fell asleep, and stayed for a good 20 minutes. At some point I realized he felt like a heating pad on high, and he seemed to realize it at the same time. He climbed off, with some effort and help from me, and settled on the makeshift dog bed. I went back to work.
Maybe a half hour later, Mosey returned. The same posture, feet on my thighs. I gathered him up, and he went back to the same position, fell asleep even faster. This time I paid even less attention to exactly how I moved as I typed. He stayed just as long, then went full heating pad again, and stepped down. He left the room, padded downstairs. It was dinner time.
Two years ago Michele and I went to the Keys, and visited the Hemingway House. I was there for Ernest, of course, but more people were there for the cats, the big, double-pawed cats that are all progeny from some New England cats that were a gift to Hemingway. I’ve said elsewhere that I didn’t know the Hemingway House was on my bucket list, but it turns out it was. In my pantheon of writers, Hemingway is there, but not very high up. I admire his craft, and I admire his process even more. (If you’re interested in his craft, read an interview with Hemingway that is part of the Paris Review series on writer’s at work.) I use some of the techniques he recommends–not as well, of course, or as faithfully.
It was a beautiful day in the Keys. Hot but not too hot. The house was interesting, the guy giving the tour was great. He spoke to both the nerdy me and the cat crazy people with alacrity. At some point Michele and I broke from the tour, found a bench in a shady corner of the big yard, and watched the people wander, looked back at the big house. Some cats meandered, and I looked for one that might look a little like Mosey, but didn’t see any. Mosey is big and handsome, a grey tabby, and he has impressive, double paws–no doubters. It’s a point of pride.
I bought just a few things at the Hemingway House. I am not one for souveneirs. But I did buy one small portrait of Hemingway, and some postcards. My favorite is the one I included here. The one with big rugged Papa Hemingway, probably my age or a little older, holding onto one of his big cats. I bet that cat was a big affectionate lug. I like to think he visited Hemingway in his office, maybe even climbed up onto his lap if it wasn’t too hot, or took a position on the corner of Papa’s desk. Hemingway would have paused from his writing here and there, reached out, given the cat a scratch, and tapped out another sentence on his typewriter.