loveaffairI grew up with dogs. Cats weren’t allowed because my mother was so allergic. I’m not even sure when the allure of the feline sect became more than I can resist, but I know that the Reign of Cats in the Gerlach household began with Raven.

A tiny kitten, black as midnight, with a pumpkin orange collar and miniature jangling bell, Raven was my daughter’s Halloween gift from my boss. Although I was matron of honor at this lady’s wedding, I am not at all sure that she didn’t give this cat to us as a voodoo curse. It’s unconfirmed, but we suspect Raven was one of the lesser demons from Hell, sent on a mission by Satan to bring chaos and disharmony to our lives.

Raven’s favorite pastime was to sit under the table on the chair beside Joshua’s highchair, where she would wait until he had what looked to her like a tasty nugget to eat. She would then dig her claws into his leg until he cried and dropped the food on the floor. Stealthily, she would creep out, snatch the food and disappear back under the table cloth. It took us roughly a week to figure out why Joshua always cried while he was eating, and what that peculiar rash on his left leg was.

Once, when my parents were over for dinner, Raven casually strolled across the living toward my father, who unwisely was summoning her. I tried to warn him, but he’s never given any credence to anything I have to say. When she reached him, she nonchalantly dug both sets of front claws into his leg until she drew blood, withdrew, and just as nonchalantly went on her way as though she had no idea why he was screeching in agony and cursing her parentage. Sadly (sort of), Raven disappeared when we were on vacation to the Olympic Peninsula three years later.

A year after we got Raven, my husband came in from cleaning out anything that was salvageable from our burnt-down garage, cradling a gorgeous tortoiseshell calico in his arms. Starving and half-frozen, she had been spied in the garage several times but he had been unable to catch her. This time she was too weak to fight him. He dumped in her my lap, expecting me to call the animal shelter, and by dinner she had a name: Abigail. Abby for short, also known as Crabby Abby (anyone who has had a calico cat knows what I mean). She spent her first month cowering under the living room sofa, no doubt hiding from Raven.

Abby was a great huntress (at least she saw herself as one; we who saw her starving to death in the wild can tell a different story), and she provided for us in a most unusual way. She had a fondness for dirty socks and “Plastic Fantastic”: Lego’s, Barbie accessories, the ring off the gallon jug of milk. Everyone always knew when Abby had made a “kill”: she would make a funny meow (rrrOOOOOwww) all the way to the room you were in, where she would drop her “gift” in the middle of the floor and wait to be praised. If you didn’t praise her immediately, she would keep coming back with kill after kill until you did. We often came home after extended absences to find, in the middle of the living room floor, a pile of Abby’s kills: Barbie shoes and purses, milk rings, caps from 2 liter bottles of pop, dirty socks, and on one memorable occasion, a pair of my daughter’s dirty underwear, filched from the laundry hamper. Abby died two years ago in her sleep, curled up on her favorite basement step. When the shelter came to dispose of her body, they found her final kill beneath her: a truly gross dirty sock with a completely malicious odor, stolen from my son’s room.

Next was Cleo, named after the fish in Disney’s Pinocchio (don’t look at me; my niece, then seven, named her!). She was treed in our maple, no more than eight weeks old, the day before we were leaving for the Peninsula. While my husband and I packed the car, my daughter and her best friend took the kitten around the neighborhood, but no one claimed her. With not enough time to deal with the issue, we tossed her into the house and left for the coast. She was with us for seven years before succumbing to cancer.

Pudge is our only store-bought kitty. Originally named Tiger Lily (the kids were on a Disney kick), we discovered when we took “her” in to get spayed that “she” was a “he” and we had to have him neutered (and renamed) instead. In our defense, he’s very fluffy and those parts had not descended yet, so it was an understandable mistake. Our vet was howling with laughter. Pudge is allergic to fleas, wheat, milk, tuna, and pyrethrins (insecticide in over-the-counter flea treatment), and costs us more each year to care for than all the other cats combined. He weighs no less than fifteen pounds (hence the name Pudge) and is happy only when those fifteen pounds are resting solidly in your lap for hours on end. He is completely in love with me, a sentiment I return wholeheartedly, and my husband doesn’t seem to mind our torrid romance.

A procession of cats has followed since: Lilypad, so named for all the extra toes he had on his paws. Huge and fluffy and black, he was a gift to our daughter and was completely devoted to her. He loved to knead our necks and shouders and gave better massages than most people I know. Sadly, Lilypad vanished without a trace; we think he was stolen. Isobel, nicknamed Bella, who was taken in from a particularly cold winter, went downstairs to live on our bed and only came up to the main floor in the summer. Bella has gone to the Great Mouse Hunt in the sky. Bandido, the last of a litter of kittens our daughter’s friend was trying to give away. No one wanted her, so we took her. We think she is the reincarnation of Raven. Bandido’s two offspring, Crookshanks and Norbert (kids were on a Harry Potter kick this time) also live with us. Both think I am incapable of using the restroom on my own, and seem to believe that winding around my ankles and jumping onto my lap aid me in my restroom endeavors. Sylvester, black and white and fluffy, another refugee from the cold, taken in last January when the thermometer dipped below zero and she was spied huddling under our trailer.

loveaffair2Then came Zoey, another calico, who “followed” my daughter home from a vacant field where she lived with her mother and siblings. Zoey was too cute to be turned away, and besides, it was very cold outside (it was only a couple weeks after Sylvester came to stay). I made my daughter take care of her, and now Zoey is totally in love with Valerie and intolerant of anyone else. The cat detests me; all I have to do is pick her up and she growls at me. Crookshanks and Norbert took over the care and cleaning of Zoey when she moved in, and they are often spied sleeping in a pile on the sofa.

Last but not least came Chloe, a tiny tortoiseshell calico who is almost a mirror image of Zoey. My husband brought her home when he found her hiding near the Dumpsters on the lot where he works. He tried to catch her, and she crawled into a cardboard compacter. Afraid she would be crushed, he managed to pull her out, stuffed her into a box, and brought her to me, foolishly thinking (hoping?) I would take her to the shelter. Perhaps he was only serving himself some bitter pie, as she turned into a furry Cuisinart and nearly shredded him to bits when he was digging her out of the compacter. She and Zoey are best buds, and when our daughter moves to Kentucky with her husband in a few weeks, both calicos will be going with her.

All but the calicos sleep on our bed at night. My husband is paralyzed with fear that I will bring yet another feline into the house, and he will have to move to the sofa. I can’t help myself when I see a gorgeous, fluffy cat running around the neighborhood: I simply have the overwhelming urge to sink my hands into silky fur and cuddle a purring body. My husband always takes my elbow and marches me to and from the house when said cats are present, warning me through gritted teeth, “Don’t make eye contact, Sharon!”

I wake this morning to a grey day. The furnace is humming and pumping warm air. I can hear the shower going; my husband is up. Pudge, dislodged from his sleeping place against my husband’s chest, is curled against the small of my back. I stretch and find I can move my legs; no cats at my feet. Crookshanks, realizing he is neglecting his sworn duty, creeps over and drapes himself over my ankles. Sylvester, lying beside my pillow, begins to purr and twists herself into an unlikely pretzel shape, exposing her belly in invitation. I oblige, liking the feel of her soft clean fur under my hand. I am cozy under blanket and cat.

For a moment, all is right with the world

©2007 Sharon Gerlach

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