Once upon a time we took home two cats, young ones, from a farmer who fed about two dozen out in his barn once his cows were history. The two of them were brother and sister, both gray and white, and together they were just like a pair of court jesters right there in the house.
But, within a couple of years, both were killed, memorably too. The first was hit by car right in front of our kids, which meant I had to put the poor thing out of his misery. The second--our neighbor told us, early one morning--was killed the night before our son had his first day of high school. I thought seriously about sending him off with a sign around his neck--"this morning just thought I'd mention my cat died."
Then came Bud, who was whiter than snow, an imperial carriage, some book said, but then all cats think they're extraordinarily important no matter how they're colored. Buddy--we named before we'd experienced his arrogance--was going to be an inside cat. We'd suffered enough heartache.
Unfortunately, Buddy resented the fact that he wasn't in on that decision, and he showed it by hanging around, cat-like, every last time anyone opened an outside door--then squirting out, as if the outside world were nothing but fat robins. Catching him was a horror, too.
Then, once, he got out before we noticed and never returned. We looked all over too--if you're snow white, you don't hide easily mid-summer. Buddy did.
Then came Benny, who was, even before we got him--and we made sure!--an inside cat. Benny is old and heavy, big-boned, the vet says, excusing the misery he brings to a scale whenever he gets on one. He's not fast, and long ago already he cut back on the explosions of unexplained madness characteristic, he would say, of youth.
My wife thinks he's about 12 or so, ready for the Home himself. In fact, for a couple of years already, we've been telling ourselves that Benny, our senior in cat years, is graciously teaching us how to get old. He does a lot of sleeping.
But since we’ve moved out of town, Benny has undergone some species of testosterone restoration or something (that would be a miracle, but you get the picture). Never, ever, did he show any inclination whatsoever for stealing outside when we lived in town. He had his own kingdom, after all, the place we were privileged, he maintained, to share with him. Now, out on the farm, he wants to roam the acreage hourly it seems, as if being locked up inside means he can’t get enough good country air or experience the rugged possibilities of the frontier he sees just outside our windows. Who knows what's going on in his cat mind?
If we don’t deliberately smack shut the outside doors, he’ll drum them until somehow he bangs them open. Once outside, he’s incredibly wary, but two days ago we found him in the machine shed nonetheless, way out back.
Yesterday, when we noticed for the first time that the back door didn’t click shut, we were sure he got out somehow and was sunning himself along the Floyd, stalking house finches, or begging a fight with the squirrels. We looked all over the place, time and time again, both of us, trying to spot our plain old blue-collar cat.
My wife gave it up, conceded him his refurbished animal nature, and said she’d decided simply to hope for the best—that a clawless fat old man could somehow make it in a untamed world of fox and coyotes and who knows what else alive and kickin’ in the river bottom, that he wouldn’t be stone dead come morning. Besides, if he were, at least he'd die happy.
We were already starting to imagine what a life without him would look like, when our grandson simply opened the upstairs door, and viola! there was Benny. He must have discovered some new upstairs sun spots because my wife swears she had checked all the second-story favorites earlier--twice. We’d already given him up to Wild Kingdom, and he was only upstairs napping like the rest of the old men in the Home.
Right now, pre-dawn, he's here beside me in the study, his nose poked outside, the screen of the patio door between him and the world he covets. He has no idea of the trauma we went through yesterday, which means he's just as likely as ever, this morning, to take yet another shot at freedom, or whatever other achievements remain on his newly redone feline bucket list.
If you'd ask him--the way people ask us--how's life down on the farm treating you? I swear, even though he's a cat, he'd smile.