Tuesday, December 13, 2005

the midnight cat

You would think the midnight cat should be black, inky black, disolving into darkness and fog, but she's not. My inheritance from my friend Red, who died now about 6 months ago and is missed every day, the midnight cat is the color of sunset glimpsed through a thick forest of dark firs. Red called her a calico, but said others told him she was a tabby. Her eyes are enormous and green, her tail only half there, and crooked. She has an unmistakeable meow, and calls to me sometimes as I walk Buddy the elderly yellow lab very late at night.
Red cared for her about a year before his death, and up to two days before he died I had never met the cat. I heard about her, but she was never in sight, just a watching presence hidden somewhere whenever Gabe and I stopped by to visit Red at his little trailer in the lot by the car repair place.
For Red the little trailer was a upscale step; before that he'd been living on the street. Somewhere around the time of his death, in June, I posted a bit about who he was...if you are interested, go there.
But that day, two days before he died, the cat was worrying Red. He thought perhaps she was sick, or had some sort of lump on her back. He came to the bookstore and begged me to come see the cat, and check her health.
His anxiety was so great that I immediately put up my "back soon" sign and followed him. There was, of course, no cat in sight anywhere. But he called, and out of the tall brush to the back of the gravel strewn lot, out came a bouncing, bounding kitty, who leapt happily into his lap, curving and swirling and kneading, gazing at him with great love and at me with considerable suspicion.
It took some cajoling, but after a bit the cat came to sit on my lap. There was nothing wrong with her at all, and she settled down and started purring while Red and I talked of many things, there in the late afternoon sunlight. "I'll have to give you some seeds of the white poppy" he said. He was very proud of a California poppy he'd grown which had, instead of the bright orange flowers most common to the species, milk white blossoms. I'd expressed a lot of admiration for the plant, which was just begining to unfurl its blooms.
After Red died, after a friend and I sorted through his belongings, after the big memorial service, I returned to sit with the cat. Yes, she came as I called, that day at sunset.
Since then I have gone every night to leave food for her, and to check on her water. The tough New Yorker who runs a pizza place next to the car repair lot agreed that Red's cat could have her food near where she was used to being fed. When the RV was given away, at Red's mother's request, the pizza guy put the cat's dishes on his restaurant's back porch. I brought over an old cushion, so the cat can eat in some comfort when she wishes.
And often it is midnight when I meet her there. I sit and pet her a while. Often she wants the affection more than the food I bring. Sometimes other cats have gathered--word gets out in the cat realm. A huge silver tom with a red collar, a little black and white cat too terrified to come near.
The midnight cat holds her ground. I wonder sometimes if she would like to come inside, but she seems so content ranging freely. Would she be a tame, placid bookstore cat along with my fluffy Pippin and Destiny and the dogs and the piles of books? I don't think so.
She's not around every evening. Sometimes I leave her food and wonder if harm has come to her. Red had her spayed her first year with him, so I know she is free from worry of raising a kitten brood. When the big storms come, and the vacant lots flood with water, I worry about her and go out, rain dripping through my hair, sometimes finding her curled in a sheltered corner on that porch, sometimes not finding her at all.
And every night, walking over to the gravel where the poppies still grow, I think of my friend. My son Gabe insists Red is still dancing somewhere on the clouds. But he says Red has been dead too long--when is he returning to us, to have more fun?
I think sometimes the midnight cat wonders as well. Or maybe she knows more than I do. Cats often do.

13 Comments:

Blogger Dr O2 said...

Jarvenpa! that was one hella a post! loads of adj I had to look up in my dictionary :-) perfectly described which has left me jealous ;-)

To be totally frank I am in no way a cat lover with some rare exceptions. Of course I like Persian cats as they are really cute & well they are persian :-)

In this particular case it is really interesting for me to hear of a loyal cat! most cats actually disappear from time to time & that is what I hate abt them most. How old is this cat anyways...

1:49 AM, December 14, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Imagine if I had to write all those adjectives in Persian, though! You write such remarkable things in English that I am jealous, so we are even.
I think the cat is probably only 3 or four years old; young, but not a kitten. And you are right, she remains very loyal to Red.

11:10 AM, December 14, 2005  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Dithered and stuck you in 'the confessorium' because the stories about your life are so poignant.

We have a calico who is bold and smart, and a blue Persian with a heart murmur who is abysmally stupid but cute. There is just no place for a brain behind that adorable smushed face. But the cat of my life was a neurotic miniature Burmese...

5:45 PM, December 14, 2005  
Blogger Blue Hole said...

I can't believe you didn't tell me you have a blog!!!

8:53 PM, December 14, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Marlyat2--I will feel right at home tucked in the "confessorium", thank you.
Blue Hole (gee, aren't you usually other colors when we meet elsewhere?)--what can I say? I have a complex life and don't go around telling all my secrets everywhere. Actually, even (and especially) my close personal friends don't know about my blog--though I recently told one trusty friend who promptly assigned it to her elderly computer students: class, here is a blog. Go do one too. I note you are an Aries--what day?

12:57 AM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger Blue Hole said...

March 29th! When's yours?

And yes, sometimes I like blue, sometimes purple :)

I'm at another library today, pulling books off of the shelves that predate me. It's fun to spend $$$ buying new ones.

12:33 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Last day of September, blue hole.
During my library years $$$ to buy new books was very scare--you must be having great fun.

1:35 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger David said...

I think that cats are some of the most successful animals on Earth. They are so good at endearing themselves to humans that their numbers seem to increase virtually without end! :) I really like cats, but only the indoor variety. Outdoor cats kill great numbers of birds every year. Most of those killers are well fed by humans and just hunt for fun. In the wild, I understand and accept killing for food, for survival, but domestic cats should stick to hunting strings and rubber balls, as far as I am concerned.

10:58 PM, December 15, 2005  
Blogger LiVEwiRe said...

Cats always know more. Always. I think they are wiser that most humans will ever be. This was an excellent post. Kind of makes me wish I could catch a glimpse myself...

6:35 PM, December 16, 2005  
Blogger David said...

Jarvenpa, my previous comment was a bit pessimestic. I get that way sometimes, as I just wrote to Omid. Sorry about that. Your story is quite nice, as usual. I will try to imagine that the Midnight Cat only watches the birds from comfortable hiding spots. I hope that the white poppies will thrive in your garden. :)

10:29 PM, December 17, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Livewire, I agree. Cats know a lot indeed. David, don't worry about your posts (though I did have an entire one way internal conversation with you that started by observations about humans who abandon animals and got very tedious!). I have a lot of environmental friends concerned about domestic critters in general and how they change the natural world. They are always lamenting my fondness for all the wrong things.
I'm okay with that.
And Marlyat2--a miniature Burmese? I'm going to have to look for pictures.

12:04 AM, December 18, 2005  
Blogger Dr O2 said...

sorry to be perfectly honest but aren' dogs much better than cats :-S at least their loyalty is guarenteed :-)

Better friends they are also :">

P.S: Jarvenpa why have U gone quiet!?

7:01 AM, December 20, 2005  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Well, dr o2, I won't agree that cats or dogs are better--they are simply different. I'm glad I have both in my life.
It's been a busy time here at the bookstore and in my life, but I posted something today (and, for you, it's about a dog)

12:21 PM, December 20, 2005  

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