Today is December 8, 2017
If you look closely at this picture, you will see a cat sticking his profile in front of a drawing.
It was early October 2017. My brother and sister in law were visiting. I was drawing the terraces of Purgatory. I had pretty much finished SLOTH, then decided to add a baby sloth. While looking at images of sloth, how the masters like Durer had drawn the sin of sloth, I happened on animal sloths. On U-tube you can watch a sloth cross the road. The journey is excruciating. No wonder sloths prefer to spend their time hanging upside down in trees. And their toes are incredible.
So I had added my baby sloth, which was just what the picture needed, and was getting ready to highlight its toes. Then here came Waldo on one of his “let me get between you and whatever you are doing” rounds. His method was to keep circling the project, going counter-clockwise round my raised knees, thrusting himself in between me and the picture, pausing to make himself felt, then dropping to the floor, jumping back on the bed–and starting the whole thing afresh, like it was a brand new thing he had just thought of. At some point, I picked up my iPhone and caught him in a “between”moment.
In May of 2005, I had driven all the way to Rochester, New Hampshire, to collect two ten-week-old Siamese brothers from the breeder. She had two litters of Siamese kittens in her basement and raised German Shepherds and ponies as well. We sat on the floor and watched all the cat life in progress. She pointed out “my” cats, and she introduced me to their mother AND their father. The mother was a delicate lavender point and the father was a strapping seal point twice the size of the mother. The breeder had the movie “SeaBiscuit” playing softly on a black and white TV in the corner. When she told me she was a former Army Medic, I wondered if that had something to do with the name of her web site, EnolaGay.
I left the new cat carrier with her and spent the night at an inn, and there was the carrier next morning on the porch, the two kittens in it, and a roll of sliced roast beef in front of each. On the top of the carrier she had placed a sprig of lilac. “Don’t let them go outside,” she adjured, more than once. “They don’t NEED to go outside.” She also told me a cautionary story about what could happen if you let them play with that pull-off tab on milk cartons. She suggested names for them, something like Mike and Jim, and as I drove away she was crying.
During the long drive, the little cats would cry in concert for a while and then pause to nibble on their roast beef slices then cry again. I already knew I wanted to name one of them Waldo, after Don Waldo, a formidable deep-voiced Cuban professor in my upcoming book, Queen of the Underworld. Long before we reached Woodstock, I knew who was going to be Waldo. But the second name came harder. I had to go all the way through the alphabet before I found it. Zeb.
Zeb was the smaller cat, delicate like his mother. His voice, which he kept to himself mostly, was plangent and often ended on an up note, like a question. The heftier Waldo’s voice was plaintive, demanding, rising to downright accusatory at times.
Robert had been gone four years when I brought them home, and there was never any question about where they were going to sleep. Here again they had their styles. Zeb liked to perch on a hipbone or make a nest between knees. Waldo would poke and prod and scratch until I made a tent of the covers and let him go in, circle around and settle down. Then when he felt he had been acknowledged, he would leave the tent in a semi-huff, and throw himself down beside, or on top of, his brother between the knees.
Then my brother and his wife went back to Delray Beach, and I was finishing up the terraces of Purgatory, Waldo maintaining his round and round crosswalks between me and my drawings. They were twelve now, but slim and active. They would race about the house, run up and down the two staircases, take flying leaps over the furniture, They were usually together, but each cat had his personal hideouts.
I had reached the terrace of Lust, not particularly happy with my figurative or impressionistic renderings:
the terrace of Lust, not pleased with either my impressionistic or figurative versions,
It was now the morning of October 13. We had slept in unusually late, missed “Morning Joe,”missed our morning prayer on the high bed in the guest room. Zeb was beside me, but where was Waldo?
“Lets go and find your brother.” Down the stairs. Stop to make a cappuccino and to shake some hard food into the car bowls. Then on to the TV room. Waldo in a new place, an armchair near Robert’s old desk. He lets out a cry, accusatory. Where were you? But he wont move from his perch. Zeb jumps up beside him and starts licking. More accusatory yowls.
I sink to my knees and start feeling his body. More yowls. I reach his rear end. Oh, no. There is blood all over. Oh, no, oh, no. I run to the phone and call South Peak Animal Hospital. I play the age card. “I am very old, can you send somebody. We are your clients. Please help me.”
The woman says, isn’t there someone who can bring you? We have one vet on duty, there’s nobody to send…”
I phone Anne, my assistant, who is on her way out the door to drive to a family funeral in Newport. (I should insert here that Anne and I had given up on going to the vet three years before, when Waldo suddenly took against the cat carrier and hissed and lashed and fought us with all his considerable strength. I tried a vet who does house calls. He and his wife came, set up their station in the kitchen, did Gentle Zeb first, and then all fury erupted. Waldo slashed at me, and the vet–the two of them finally wrestled him down enough to give him his shots and cut his claws. The vet poured peroxide on my wounds, and I on his. And our little threesome got on without the yearly visits.)
Anne and I got a bleeding, un-fighting Waldo into the carrier and into my Jeep. Ann followed behind me in her car. (“I love him too, you know.”)
(To be continued soon.)