A new pet kitten becomes part of the family.
When I left New York and moved to British Columbia I had to part with my cat Saskia, a name (chosen by my son Richie) that she shared with Rembrandt's wife. Saskia was an indoor cat. She lived in my apartment and never honoured me with rodent gifts, although New York apartments provide rich opportunities.
I was very sad to leave Saskia, by then a dignified mother, and her slightly dotty son Angel. I might have brought them with me but my husband, John Daly, a commercial fisherman, said that one cat, much less two, who had never lived on a boat would be a dangerous addition to our salmon troller. They might rush up the mast or up him in rough weather or fall overboard or worse, whatever that could be.
After John died, a neighbour offered me a kitten. "No! No! No!" I said. "I don't want to be tied down. What do they look like?"
The mother was a sleek grey beauty with a determined expression, and the black and grey striped kitten was a round butterball with a white tummy and paws and a mischievous expression. I said, "If I take the kitten, can I have his mother too?"
The neighbour brought them to my house in a box covered with a blanket. "This way they won't know where they are going, so they'll stay," he said.
My new little family climbed out of the box and looked around. It was a hot day, so the screened windows were open. They spent the rest of the day exploring the house, they seemed to approve of the food and the litter box I had provided in their new lodging, and they settled quite nicely for the night on the orange velveteen sofa in the living room. When I tiptoed to the door late in the evening they were curled up together, fast asleep.
No cats greeted me the next morning. I called my neighbour, who looked out his front door and reported that mother and son were on the doorstep waiting to be fed. Despite a large hole in the expensive new screen on my kitchen window, made by Mother in her headlong departure with Baby the previous night, I was ready to try again.
Back came my neighbour with his blanketed container. Why he bothered to cover those cats again, I will never know. Although it was a very warm day I closed the kitchen window, transforming the kitchen into a hotbox.
The open window in my bedroom provided escape No. 2 through another expensive new screen. I don't know who was more determined, but I'm bigger, so back they came in the same box. That afternoon I caught Mother shoving Baby through a sizable hole she had made in a third screen, in the guest-room window. Baby was dangling from Mother's jaw and halfway through No. 3 when I reached out and pulled gently from behind. Mother let go and fled. I now had three ruined screens and a very small kitten. I placed him in the warm V between my bosoms under my shirt, where he promptly fell asleep.
I was totally smitten with Baby, but I had had enough of Mother, much as I admired her maternal devotion. I called the vet for advice about dealing with her if she returned. He advised me to close all the windows. "Keep your kitten indoors for two weeks. That also will give you two time to bond," he said.
It was a warm summer, and Baby and I spent two hot weeks bonding. Every night without fail, Mother showed up at the kitchen window. Her head, with huge, incandescent yellow eyes, loomed large and threatening and she pressed her face so hard against the window glass that she appeared to be grinning, an evil, diabolical grin. I dreaded going in the kitchen.
If Baby had shown the slightest sign of homesickness I might have returned him to Mother, but he was too busy disappearing under beds, playing hide-and-seek in paper bags and skipping after toys provided by a doting household. By evening he was fast asleep.
On Day 13, Mother's creepy presence at the window was missing. On Day 15, I opened the kitchen door and Baby and I stepped outside. We never saw Mother again, and my new kitten was eating and addressing his litter box as if he had never lived anywhere else. I named him Harry after my late father-in-law, an elegant Baltimore gentleman whom I loved. The first time I said, "Come here, Harry," he jumped right up on my lap.
When Harry had lived with me for three weeks, he disappeared. I thought maybe Mother had kidnapped him, but she was at home happily sunning herself on the deck, Harry long forgotten. I called, I whistled, I looked under all the beds, I went through the closets, I peered into every corner and crevice. I called and called. A search for a mile around the house in every direction produced nothing. Harry had vanished.
I lay awake all night, afraid that the local raccoons had made a tasty meal of Harry and surprised that I had got so attached to him in such a short time.
By morning I was a wreck and on the phone. "Harry is gone forever," I sobbed to my neighbour, Anne, who had continued looking when I was too exhausted to go on. I heard a funny noise. I set the phone down and followed a faint squeak to the large antique mahogany armoire in my study. I turned the brass key that opens the double doors and out stepped—Harry! He had been there for twenty-four hours.
Since then Harry has been closed accidentally in the linen closet, the broom closet, the cupboard under the sink and both bathrooms, and he has spent several nights in the basement when we thought he was out prowling.
Then there was the morning I beheld my friend Frank out on the deck, walking stealthily toward the carport with his shoulders hunched over and knees bent. Harry was stalking on the rail beside him.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He put his finger to his lips until they had both arrived at the carport. Then he turned and said, "Why, I'm teaching him to hunt, of course. Without his mother, how else will he learn?"
Perhaps I have Frank to thank for Harry's hunting prowess. He has presented me over the years with a steady supply of voles, mice, rats, squirrels, flying squirrels, a half dozen birds—how could he?—and one bat. He particularly enjoys tucking voles under rugs, and during a spate of squirrel hunting, he left their tails neatly lined up on the hearth.
Frank has trained Harry to take his gifts to the tub in the guest bathroom. Whenever visitors arrive, I rush in ahead of them and inspect the tub to make sure there are no bloody smears or any of the unpalatable body parts or bird beaks that Harry, who is fussy about what he eats, leaves behind.
When I go away for extended periods, Harry stays across the harbour with our friend Lois. I am proud to say that he has a whole set of impeccable company manners that he brings out when he visits her. When her upright piano stood beside the dinner table, Harry serenaded her and any guests by walking back and forth over the keys. At one point she moved the piano to the opposite side of the room and he apparently took the hint to drop the musical evenings, which she rather regrets.
Harry has never been known to go hunting, with the concomitant gifts, while he stays with Lois, and for years he has had his own intimate circle of friends there. The two cats next door, whom Lois never sees otherwise, always seem to know when he arrives and come to her house within the hour and meow for Harry. When she opens the door, Harry is right behind her and rushes out immediately. The three friends spend the day sitting on an upturned boat in the next yard. "They make these little chirping noises," Lois says. "They're like a bunch of old cronies."
At home it's a different story. Harry is intensely territorial, and a loner. His raccoon-proof cat door—which gives him the freedom to patrol on the deck rails, climb into the pencil cedar tree and stroll on the roof or down to the waterfront—is at floor level beside the kitchen table. It makes a little click-click noise as Harry passes through it.
Sometimes Frank, who sits at the dinner table facing the cat door, suddenly jumps up with a grim face, and I know that Harry has arrived with his contribution to the evening, a live mouse. I don't have to look. I know it is wiggling helplessly between his teeth. If we hiss, "Drop it!" or if Frank leans over to grab Harry or the mouse, we instantly have a live mouse somewhere in the house. Instead, Frank rises from the table and tiptoes behind Harry to the bathroom. I know we're in luck if the door slams shut.
It's touch and go, but Harry is family. He waits to eat his breakfast until I do, then stands expectantly at the kitchen door until I open it, ignoring his own portal. He pauses at the threshold, lifts his tail straight up and slowly strolls outside. When I come home he greets me at the carport and rolls over to have his tummy rubbed. Even if my arms are filled with packages, I drop everything, bend down, and stroke him. His eyes close; his head falls back; he is in total bliss.