— 1 —
But everything did not change overnight. The transformation happened slowly, in stages, with concessions made on both sides little by little. This process would have been painful, if there had not been so many positive elements to counterbalance it.
For now I was given the run of the house. I was regularly fed, in fact I had a constant supply of food and water all my own. I was petted, invited to sit on their laps, and allowed to sleep anywhere I chose, except on the table where they ate. In the beginning, all the attention was a bit overwhelming. But very soon, I grew accustomed to these luxuries as part and parcel of my new mode of existence.
— 2 —
To digress a bit, one of my favorite pastimes is lying in the sun. In truth, I could be called a sun-worshipper in my own fashion. I have been known to ascend to dizzying heights, rooftop over rooftop, in order to catch some elusive rays. I will recline on top of a narrow ledge or sprawl on a wall, there to bask by the hour. I will roll around on a balcony or pavement in a sunbather's sheer ecstasy. Even in the scorching summer, I will not let a morning or evening pass without enjoying a chosen place in the sun, until I am thoroughly baked and must turn to the solace of a shady alcove or stretch myself full-length on a tile floor.
Granada is a good habitat for sun-lovers like me. Many are the cloudless days of dazzling light. Here cats coexist, hand in paw, with humans, who also meander about seeking sun-beamed spots.
There are even special places named after our species, such as the River of Cats (which usually has almost no water) where cats were always to be seen roaming about, nibbling on the grass that grew in its verdant bed. (Unfortunately, in the name of progress, this riverbed is quite barren now.)
These were not domesticated cats, but scavengers with a semi-wild nature, of the variety known as strays, mixed with some, no doubt, that had once seen better days.
I heard my lady reminiscing about a Christmas Day some years ago when she and the man took a morning walk along this river, also called the Darro, above which, if one continues strolling, the Alhambra can be viewed in all its superb splendor.
They heard a noise of mournful mewing, and looked down at the cats in the river below. A small black one, the probable mewer, was gazing up at them with such a sorrowful expression in its green eyes that my lady was wrung with pity.
Fortunately for me, it was too far down for her to reach. You see, I do not relish the idea of sharing my home with a stranger. But she was so moved by its supplications that she and the man wandered about till they found some day-old bread, which Spaniards throw away in the streets, and flung it down. The poor creature devoured this meager offering ravenously, while my lady showered it with tender words of encouragement.
I have only related this anecdote to illustrate that my lady has a soft spot for cats, even black ones; and because her behavior struck me as unusual for humans, particularly on Christmas Day, when their minds are usually filled with matters pertaining to their own society. Judging from this, you can get an idea of the sort of life I now lead, in contrast to my previously straitened circumstances.
— 3 —
Lest I give a falsely sanguine impression, however, there are certain drawbacks to being a member of a household, such as the inability to open heavy doors, which severely restrict my mobility. In fact, most barriers are quite disagreeable to me, notwithstanding their ability to bar undesirables from entry, in particular, dogs and children. Likewise, when I want to go outside, which now means climbing the stairs to the terrace above, I don't like to have to wait for the whim to strike a human's mind to let me out.
In addition to this inconvenience, there are certain things on which my lady and I simply don't see eye to eye.
I am a hunter by nature, a good one I might add, and as history goes, cats were first valued by humanity chiefly for this reason. The talents of my species as mousers are renowned, and we will most certainly get any lizard or bird in our clutches that we can, not to mention grasshoppers and a host of others, whose slightest stir will rouse us out of the soundest sleep. This instinct has permitted my breed to survive, as well as to be treasured as guards of human kitchens for centuries in fact.
But my lady has a double standard when it comes to this issue, and her responses to my prizes can be quite contradictory. That is, she gives me conflicting messages, such as, 'I want you to catch mice that are in the house, but don't show them to me.' This I find completely incomprehensible.
Moreover, she gets upset if I bring her gifts like lizards and will actually betray me by taking their side against mine. And when it comes to birds, she transforms into my enemy, defending and protecting them from me at all costs.
Grasshoppers and other insects are less celebrated causes of hers, although my lady will often interfere when I have finally trapped even one of these.
For my part, I make no distinctions among these various and sundry creatures and find her position totally untenable. After all, I want to be more than only another mouth to feed. If I can justify my existence in her home by making small contributions, I would think that she would appreciate it. Wouldn't it be better if I were more self-sufficient, less of a burden to her? No, I will never understand my lady when it comes to this. Humans can be downright inscrutable at times.
— 4 —
Nevertheless, to return to my saga, if my story merits such an epithet, let no one say I had not found myself in a happy home, and just in the nick of time for the arrival of my new litter.
Well, I'm exaggerating a bit, because I passed most of the winter as an expectant mother. During this time, I began to develop new habits of civilized society.
I now had a litter box (Why this word coincides with my babies I'll never know!) and I grew so accustomed to using it that I could no longer bear to relieve myself in the street, except in the utmost emergency. It took me awhile to master the fine art of a small box of sand, but I must say I became quite proficient in this area, much to the relief of my lady and the man.
With great rapidity, I learned to be extremely discriminating about food. No longer would I eat any old scraps from the table, nor would I bother with bones, unless they were generously laden with meat. (I have since given them up altogether and have trained my lady to give my meat to me in chunks, and, whenever possible, white meat if chicken.)
While I'm on the subject of food, I was now introduced to the dry and canned kinds, made especially for cats. These vary considerably in quality, some being worthy of the term delicacy. (In Spain, such commodities were unknown until quite recently.) I was also allotted a particular place in the kitchen where a supply of dry food and water was always available.
Furthermore, I soon started appearing regularly during the mealtimes of my lady and the man. It was then that the ritual developed, which has persisted to this day, of giving me treats of some sort afterward. These have become more and more elaborate over time.
— 5 —
That was the first winter I can remember being really warm. I could wriggle under the covers of their bed and snooze there to my heart's content. I found a way to perch on the wooden-bar base of the dining table, over the electric device they used to heat the room, the sensation of which I would describe as heavenly. And then there were numerous nooks and crannies I could occupy in order to keep away the cold, when they went out. One of my favorites was a low shelf containing fuzzy garments, some of which I would pull off so as to make a perfect nest for myself. Endless seemed the cubbyholes, cupboards, and corners of closets for me to explore. As the time drew near for my babies to be born, I began to do this with increasing urgency.
— 6 —
One day, my lady showed me a sort of nursery she and the man had prepared for the big event. It consisted of a large box filled with soft material, the whole thing overhung with a canopy, through which there was an opening for me to enter.
I must admit, I was impressed by all the effort they had undertaken on behalf of my next generation. Such concern was touching, to be sure.
Still, I was not totally convinced that this locale would be the most secure, conspicuous as it was, from unknown dangers. I am a stickler for safety, when it comes to my kittens, and will go to great lengths to secrete them, most particularly from the Tom-cat (in this case, black and white) of whom I had been but recently so enamored, when they were conceived.
So I held open other options, including, but not restricted to, the closet floor with its myriad shoes (not really very comfortable), under the bed (not all that secure), or one of the shelves (the kittens could fall off); and I finally settled on the elaborate construction that had been made, as being the most suitable haven for my maternity ward. After all, they had had the uncanny intuition of situating it in one of the most out-of-reach portions of the house.
— 7 —
Though I had given birth to perhaps many dozens of offspring during the chaotic epoch of my past, this would be my first labor and delivery in such pampered surroundings. I was overjoyed at the prospect of sharing my new privileged world with my soon-to-arrive kittens.
But, looking back on it from the vantage point of the present, little did I know what irrevocable methods humans have for determining the destinies of our babies. I have racked my brain to try to discover a clue to the rationale of my beloved lady at that time. I simply cannot reconcile the heart-rending disappearance of my kittens, which must have been engineered by her and the man, with the otherwise sweet solicitous attitude they displayed toward us. Suffice it to say that my lady has feet of clay for me, dating back to then, although I have no doubt that her intentions were always the best. (My lady is certainly no Dolores!) Nevertheless, we all know that good intentions are not enough and what road to where is paved with them.
Luckily, this state of affairs has not arisen in the long time since then. This may bear some relationship to the medicinal taste I detect in the otherwise inexplicable treat of varying brands of gourmet canned food that I receive every Saturday morning. Furthermore, I am no longer even faintly drawn to the periodically howling Toms that used to be my decided weakness.
Thus I have forgiven my lady and the man their transgressions toward me while in the throes of motherhood. For transgressions they seemed to me, even though they took great pains to assure me that my kittens had been whisked away to better lives.
Yet what imaginable improvement could there have been over a kittenhood amply endowed with not only the niceties but also a loving mother's care and comfort, until the time they would naturally have ventured out on their own? Or perhaps the youngsters would have elected to share our habitat, which was certainly large enough for all of us. Yes, I have forgiven the lady and the man. But I have never forgotten.
— 8 —
When spring was just heralding its arrival with a mild breeze now and again, one nightfall I felt the first twinges of what I knew presaged the appearance of my newborns.
These happy events always have their frightening aspect, not to mention their painful side, which culminates in the miracle of new life.
By this time, my lady and I had fallen into a state of mutual trust, a rapport which has continued to grow into its present telepathic proportions. I am a bit confused as to the sequence of the subsequent episodes. As I remember, we were together on the bed, when it became crystal clear to me that this would be the night.
Signaling my distress and apprehension with meows full of import and urgency, I let myself be carried (for one of the only times in my life) to the nursery area. Wonder of wonders, I didn't even struggle, as I was cradled in the arms of one of them—I can't remember which one—and borne to our chosen place.
I will spare you most of the details of those excruciating moments, except to recount a few of the marvels that passed between my lady and me.
First one, then two, then three tiny creatures delivered themselves into the light of the world. Absorbed as I was in these magical happenings, I was aware that my lady remained at my side, stroking me lovingly and calming me in soft, coaxing tones of reassurance.
It was at that point that she must have felt things were going well enough for her to depart from the room for awhile. But, to my own surprise, I would have none of it. I wanted—needed her with me, and so, leaving my three infants, I pursued her, meowing insistently, until she returned with me.
Then, when my lady was once more positioned at the side of our box, my last little one made its appearance—whereupon began the ceaseless toil, albeit labors of love, of licking, cleaning, grooming, nursing, feeding, amusing, entertaining with my tail, lugging around by the nape of the neck, cuddling, protecting, instructing in all manner of skills, arts, and abilities—the likes of which only a mother cat can fathom—, and providing round-the-clock tender loving care. You see, I am not called Mama-cat for nothing.
— 9 —
So my lady was there in my hour of need. Now I was the proud mother of three black and white baby boys, each distinctly individual, and one baby girl, almost black, with enticing traces of tiger-striping on her head and back. A finer litter I had never had!
December 29, 1999
— 10 —
My story suffered an almost indefinite interruption, due to a catastrophic series of events, which plunged my lady into such excruciatingly intense grief and pain for such a seemingly infinite time that I was barely able to bear the suffering either. My lady's sorrow is my sorrow, her suffering is mine. That is simply the way it is. Her tears fell and fell, and, when her eyes were dry, her sadness and desolation were so agonizingly deep that I tried never to leave her lap.
The only thing that seemed to comfort her and me was an intoned sound she made over and over, which undulated soothingly through me as well. It buoyed us up from the profundity of our despair. It became our very breath, heartbeat, the pulsing rhythm of our life.
Finally, after what appeared to be an eternity of devastating anguish, she took up her pencil again one day and asked me to continue my so-called saga.
— 11 —
But during this interminable interval, the last of my, as they say, 'nine lives' (some say, 'seven') came to a close. In other words, the final sunset of my existence expired; my earthly time ran out.
It seems I had immutably reached the mysterious end of my checkered life, because finally I found myself beset by a progressively debilitating illness, from which, due to my advanced age, no recovery was possible.
My lady was terribly distraught and immersed herself in trying every possible remedy (sparing no expense), in addition to offering me all manner of gourmet treats and delicacies; but, sad to say, all was in vain, although I will always be grateful to her and the man for their extreme efforts. My lady truly suffered, agonized with me, as I had suffered with her. Indeed, never, in any lifetime whatsoever, will I forget her loving kindness and tears of grief, not to mention the soothing sounds which helped me surrender to submergence into the unknown, and the tender words of comfort with which my last weeks were surrounded.
My wish is that we may forever find each other, she and I, throughout our eternal cosmic journeys of latency and manifestation. And, in my present repose, I feel that her wish is the same.
— 12 —
But what of the narrative we were engaged in? Should it stop here, leaving the rest untold? It is not for me to judge what value my recollections may or may not have for others, but such an abrupt ending seems somehow inappropriate.
However, now I must communicate with my lady from this other dimension in which I find myself, which fortunately I am able to do, insofar as she is willing and open to receiving me. And yes, she said, yes she will. Yes.
Therefore, let us go on with the story, in this novel manner, as one millennium gives way to a new one—one age to the next—let us go on .. onward ..