Today is December 10, 2017.
But what of Zeb, brother of Waldo, son of Gerry and Chicklet?
Gerry and Chicklet, parents of Zeb and Waldo. Above their picture, the breeder had written, “She has always loved him, funny. They’re like people, only better.”
Judging from our own thoughts and actions, we take liberties when we guess what our silent animals can’t tell us. But we do it anyway.
Chicklet has always loved Gerry.
Zeb acts differently when Waldo doesn’t return with me from the Animal Hospital. I have left the carrier in the Jeep, so Zeb wont see it coming in empty.) He is subdued, tentative, questioning. Something’s not right. Where is the other part of me?
Later in the morning, Zeb will begin his silent trips through the house, up and down the two staircases, looking around corners, under tables and beds. Restlessly, up and down. Then the short, plaintive question-cries. Are you here? Are you here? Then the questions turn to angry scolding howls. That’s enough. Come back. We used to play hide and seek, but by now you would have jumped out or leapt on top of me.
In the afternoon, he came up to my bed, walked across my chest, checked out the bedside table items (the cat-glass of water, the colored pencils in their silver cup, the clock) and departed. I listened to his silent footsteps go down the stairs to embark on another house search.
No eating. No interest in the food bowl. On Day Two I began counting out how many kibbles I placed in the bowl. I arranged them in a peak, so I could see if the peak got disarranged during the day. On Day Three, I was tempted to take an iPhone photo of the bowl, then another as the day wore on. But it seemed somehow invasive. I checked the litter box for any little sand-covered lumps. Nothing.
I went out to PetStock to buy more bags of Greenies Dental Treats and a catnip toy and two little sparkly mice. I went to the Meat Market and bought six chicken thighs. I wrote to the Director of the Animal Hospital, who had treated Zeb and Waldo, and asked if he would look at all the paperwork and tell me his thoughts. I googled cat poisons and was upset when I read that a half clove of garlic could kill a cat. When Rebel and Caroline were here, we had put our roast pork plates on the floor for the cats to finish off. One sliver of garlic clove? Why did no one tell me that before?
At night Zeb slept curled tight as a package on a small pillow next to my head. A new place. Close but not touching. And never for long. Soon another trip downstairs in the dark. Then another round of howling cries.
On Day Four, we got up at six and went down to the Morning Prayer Room, a habit we began a year ago, after the inconceivable election. I lay crosswise on the high bed and Zeb climbed on my back and perched between my shoulders. His old place, while Waldo would lie beside us. The only prayer I could repeat was from the Psalm 90 hymn by Watts. (“O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come…our shelter from the stormy blast…be thou our guard while troubles last…”)
At 1:52 that day, Zeb ate some warm chicken. While I was still tearing it off the bone, he sidled over, giving a little excited positive cry. I put the pieces in his bowl and he ate.
Later in the day, he jumped from the windowsill to the bed. At least five feet. Later he jumped to the top of the cat castle in the big room downstairs and lay meditatively in a spot of sun.
I was reading again but not drawing, and the thought of going upstairs to my study, turning on the desktop, and writing my novel seemed undoable. I was reading about a new translation of The Odyssey by a woman, and someone had written about Mentor, who took charge of Telemachus while his father was away. Telemachus has become disconnected, intellectually morally, and emotionally, but Mentor appealed to the inherent nobility of his charge. A mentor, the writer said, is someone who instills a heroic mentality in someone.”
Dr. Leighton, our old vet, called from the Animal Hospitality. He had talked with the vet who treated Waldo, looked at the paperwork and x-rays, and consulted with another vet. They concluded that Waldo had been hiding an underlying problem. “Something had been smoldering…” Judging from the reports and blood work (anemia, low albumen, high sugar, and low cholesterol–a sign he’s not absorbing his nutrients) his guess was necrotic pancreatitis. (“You know, kitties have a way of hiding things, so Waldo could have been below par for some time.”)
Which doesn’t bring him back…his personality, his curiosity, his loud, demanding voice, his wanting to go under the covers, his marching round and round over my drawings…but it is somewhat comforting to know I didn’t poison him with garlic.
I could read again, a Peter Wimsey novel, but I still couldn’t go up to my study and write. I looked at the colored pencils beside the bed and decided to have another go at Geryon, the beast who transported Dante and Virgil from the circle of violence to the circle of fraud. Geryon, “who has the face of an honest man,”flies on enormous dragon-like wings, has the paws of a lion, the body of a wyvern, and a scorpion’s poisonous sting at the end of his tail. So far I hadn’t got it right. First I had made him too sweet, in a sitting-down position, then I had tried to do my version of Dore’s illustration in The Divine Comedy, but the wings had defeated me.
So I tried him from the front, almost like myself flying toward myself:
One early November evening, Zeb resorted to an old thing he always did alone. He would gallop at break neck speed, from living room through the kitchen, through the next room; then he’d pause and gallop back through the house, sometimes leaping over the sofa, then galloping on. He did it in sheer elation, because he could, because it was just this thing he did.
The next morning I took a shower, dressed, went up to my study,and took up where I had left off in my novel. I would write the scenes by hand for awhile. Because this PRACTICE was just this thing I did, because I could.
This eight pound cat had been my example. My mentor, if you like. My mentor appealing to my inherent nobility.