Thursday, November 22, 2007

A friend at our back deck

I came down with a sore throat this afternoon, shortly after meeting my sister Nicki and family and a friend for Thanksgiving dinner, which we partook at Ted's Montana Grill over by the Streets of Southpoint mall in Durham. It was quite frustrating; seeing as the last time I got sick was during the last days I had off of work, also. So, as I sipped Coke and watched Chocolat with Beth, she cooked me some leftover macaroni and cheese, because I was hungry and she thought it might help more than just Coke alone.

I ate it at the table, a long, heavy, oak (I believe) table with wooden benches and end chairs. The whole time I was eating, the cat sat about a foot away from my plate, looking nonchalant, but secretly waiting for me to let up my guard enough for a bite. Or maybe she was waiting for a chance to lick the plate. We'd gotten into the habit of letting her do so after meals, which, of course, only makes her that much less responsive next time we say "NO!" in very firm words, rudely pushing her head away from our vittles. She was a bit sick yesterday, and so I told her that she wouldn't be getting any people food today.

In the film, Chocolat, a priest tells a parishioner his dog has no soul. I know that many people believe that, but I don't. At least, as far as I believe in the soul in the first place, I don't believe people have what other creatures do not. I guess I believe in some sort of life spirit, though I'm not sure of any divinity attached to it, in every living thing. Certainly, if there is such a thing as divinity in the animal world, our cat, whom we named Squeak, has something of it.

She first started coming by our back deck late last year, if I remember correctly. She was a stray that a neighbor, our retired town manager, C.L. Gobble, took in. The Gobbles gave Squeak to another neighbor to take care of. Tina lives just on the other side of the spring from us. The spring is usually dry and even when it's not, it's only about a half-foot deep. But, as we live on Tucker Drive, we refer to it as Tucker Run. Tina has one of those yappy dogs, a terrier named Grizzly. She named the cat Bear, to go along with that, and kept her outside because Tina's daughter was allergic to cats. It was a meager existence for "Bear," because she was a kitten and wanted friendship, I imagine. So she took to coming over to our place.

At the time, we didn't know she belonged to anyone. We thought she looked to well taken care of to be so, but she was around at all hours, and seemed so skinny, we weren't sure. It got very cold several times winter, so we began letting her in at night. Also, there was a feral white longhair cat that would come by our house at times and s/he was the terror of our neighborhood. The terror of other cats, I mean. She'd chase Squeak up into trees and pretty much scared the bejezus out of her.

Once we learned Squeak belonged to Tina, we began putting her out at night, of which she seemed so sad about. She'd try to run back in before we shut the door and would often stand out there in the cold watching us through the glass. We wanted to just keep her, thinking we'd do a better job taking care of her, but we figured the gift had already been given. But she kept coming by to visit, which we imagined was the best we could get.

Then, one day she stopped coming. Several days passed and we thought Tina might have finally taken her inside or given her away. Then, as Beth tells it, one night just before bed, she went outside because she thought she saw Fifi, our cat who died last year, sitting at the far end of the yard (a good 100 or so feet away), just a silhouette visible against the streetlight. When Beth went out, the shadow of a cat was gone, but there, at the foot of our back steps was Squeak, all tore up, her back legs not working properly.

We brought her in and I called Tina. Turns out the kitty had been struck by a car two and a half days before and had run off into the brush, presumably, they thought, to die. All that time, she had lain in the woods, but instead of giving up, she dragged herself all the way to our back porch, considerably further than our neighbor's. She chose us, the way we see it, so, with Tina's consent, we chose to take her to the emergency 24 hour vet in North Raleigh, to fix her up if possible. We were to keep her if he could.

He could, and did. She had a broken pelvis and a "degloving" injury, meaning the skin had been ripped from her back foot. Her other back foot was banged up as well. The doc put metal staple-stitches in where there was still fur to fix the foot, and gave us some antibiotics and instructions for her care. She got better eventually, and learned to properly use the litter box, eventually, and became a stronger, healthier, and maybe crazier cat that we now call our own.

The white terror disappeared; in probably a tragic fashion. She was a beautiful creature. And we kept Squeak inside for a very, very long time, but we do let her roam now, so long as she comes in at night and when we're away. She's a big cat now, her belly growing in size as mine has done, to the point where we both maybe ought to do something about it. It's hard now to see her as the little kitten that once appeared at our back deck begging for companionship.

Except, she never got her proper cat voice. She might purr like a tomcat, but her meow is still stuck in squeak.