When my little Sugar died last summer, my heart was broken because she was the best little cat in the world. Well-meaning friends offered me their extra cats and spare kittens, but I told my friends I was never getting another cat. I meant it, too, in the way I swore off boyfriends forever two weeks before I met my future husband. That is to say I really, really meant it.
No litter trays to scrape. No regular feedings. I could leave town on a whim for a week. No one to see through a full life that is far too short, and watch eyes dim and fur get lusterless and rumpled. No responsibility for deciding when they were to be eased out of life. No disproportionate grief. I was done with disproportionate grief, thank you very much, especially because my husband had died nine months before Sugar did.
Therefore, there was absolutely no reason for me to be scrolling an animal shelter’s web page three months after Sugar died. It was an accident. But then I saw a blurry photograph in the gallery, a picture of a big gray boy. His name was Louie, and he was apparently exactly the right kind of cat. I can tell a cat who loves people just by their eyes, and Louie had those eyes. Big, round, clear, a little baffled.
I had some time free and though I was absolutely not getting another cat ever, I got on a bus and went to the shelter, and there was Louie in a cage with another cat.
Yup, Louie’s eyes were just as advertised. He also weighed sixteen pounds, a great big pile of cat on a small frame, and he was huddled into the corner of the cage ignoring the other cat imprisoned with him. Apparently, he was skinnier than when he arrived, because he had not been eating while he was at the shelter. He had been surrendered with the other cat by a family who was moving and who couldn’t take them along. He was eight years old. He was sad.
I asked to look at him, and the attendant opened the cage. I reached my hand in. Louie licked it.
Oh. Apparently I was getting another cat. Or he was getting me. Either one. Both.
He was too heavy to put in their standard free cardboard carrier, because he would have gone through the bottom of it, so they loaned me a spare carrier, and I took him home on the bus. I stashed him in the bathroom to get acclimated, and after a couple of days when I let him out, he did the cat thing, which is to find the smallest possible space in which to hide and stare out like a damned soul looking out of hell. I spent a lot of time down on my hands and knees talking to a scared person with big eyes who was under an armchair.
A week after I got him, the shelter called me to tell me they had switched his name with the other cat in his cage, and he was actually named Hercules. That is complete nonsense. He is obviously a Louie, and Louie he remains. All one has to do is look at him. Louie.
I’ve had him for over three months now, and he has lived here forever. He plays with the toys I got him, and since he’s been on a diet, he actually leaps into the air when he chases the toys, at least a little bit of air. He still looks a little bit like an upholstered footstool, though. He’s got a big chest, a big round head, and a short tail, and he is a beautiful black-and-gray-striped tabby with a pale muzzle and soft paws.
Louie is not all that interested in food, not really, so the diet is easy. What he wants is (a) to be near me (b) to get petted (c) to play with mousie toys and (c) yeah, well, all right, food. But he doesn’t have a very good sense of smell, so he doesn’t come running when I open the can, and I have to show him the food. Either that, or he’s playing me. Either is possible.
He sleeps with me all night, though he leaves at least twice because he has to go downstairs to get his two stuffed shark toys (one trip per shark), which he brings up to me (wailing the whole way) and drops on the bed. I always thank him for the shark, even though the process wakes me up.
During the day, he comes where I am in the house and watches me. He’s not expecting much of anything, just watching me. He adores me. I am wonderful. I am God. I am going to do something worth seeing any moment now. Just my existence is enough, actually.
His utter concentration is unnerving. Sometimes I have to leave the house to go for a walk. My husband likewise wanted to be in the same room with me, and would come into my study and sit, even though he knew I didn’t like it, even though I asked him not to, so I used to leave the house sometimes then, too. It is very strange to be much loved, and to love someone else, when you are basically a grouchy introvert.
When I lie down for an afternoon nap, Louie jumps onto the bed, nestles into his official position under my arm with his paws resting on my chest, and permits me to scratch his chin and the top of his head until I pass out. When I wake up, he’s still there, and I am trapped because he will never move and it’s too wonderful. Eventually, he will start washing, and that is wonderful too, especially since he has lost enough weight that he can wash his back now. I lie there wondering why love keeps feeling so much like pain.
I am never getting another cat after this. And this time I mean it. Really. He’s asleep on the armchair next to my desk right now, breathing in and breathing out, and my current plan is that he is going to live forever, which will solve the problem completely.