Monday, July 25, 2005

Who Could Put a Name on You?

I could, for starters.

And the name was usually: "Ruby, no!"

Sometimes it was "Ruby, get down!"

Often it was "What are you thinking?"

Trouble was, he answered. You'd call him up for getting into something he wasn't supposed to be into and he'd look at you and give you a short, sharp "meow!"

I wish I knew what he was trying to communicate. I suspect it was a mixture of defiance and repentance. He could toe that line as easily as he could scramble across the top of a fence.

Things he did just for shits and giggles in his cat world:

-We lived on a busy road with a double yellow line and everything from Harleys to Semis blasting along at top speed. He usually stuck to our land or the woods behind our lot for roaming territory unless of course we were out in the yard. At that point, he would dash across the road and then dash back just to see our reaction. There were train tracks about a quarter mile behind the house. I'd hate to think of what he would have done had he known we were watching there.

-He didn't differentiate warm and cool very well. This led to a lot of brushing up against lemonade glasses in summer and him standing with two front paws in a full cup of coffee in winter. We learned to love free refills.

-He did differentiate regular cat food from specialties such as, oh, canapes fresh from the oven while guests were over. The moment the canapes were put on the counter to cool, he made kitty tracks to and through them. Don't worry, we tossed them right away.

-He picked the same night I brought home a new car and its associated new car smell to get nailed in the face by a skunk. It scared him so much, he hid for two hours before I could coax him out into a tomato juice bath. Of course, the best hiding place for a cat, as every cat knows, is under a car. Never did like driving that Ford when it rained after that.

-He chased golf balls chipped his way. Stopped when one took an errant bounce back at his nose. I stopped playing golf shortly thereafter.

-He could be unimaginably brave. He was out one night after dark. We lived in a little city neighborhood where pets sometimes got away from owners. I went out looking for him, calling his name and soon heard the unmistakeable clicking of dog toenails on pavement. Into the pool of a streetlight wanders a fairly well formed German shepherd. He stands there for a moment, looks around and then digs in and takes off. My first instinct is that he's gotten a radar lock on the cat and I've got a vet's emergency visit coming up. Until into the same pool of light steps Ruby. Chest out, tail up, chin in the air. The dog wasn't chasing, he was being chased.

-He couldn't catch a cold, prey-wise. We once had a mouse in the house for over 30 hours. He was hopeless. He could, however, open sliding screen doors to let himself and lesser-brained cats out at night. Taught me how to track domestic animals in the dark.

-He hogged the bed. He used to stuff himself into the small of your back or the bend of your knee or he'd sleep on your feet. When he was younger, he thought that feet were meant to be chased underneath covers. Bought a lot of Band-aids and Bactine during those years.

-He did not share his food with others. They however, shared their food with him. Usually under duress.

-He purred to beat the band.

-He was, in being handled, as close to a dog as any cat could get. You could pet him, gently slap his sides, scratch his belly when he was rolled on his back and rough house the way you'd expect to with a dog.

He used to jump up on the dinner table for every meal. We tried locking him in an adjoining room, he'd pound on the door and howl. We would take him down off the table, he'd jump right back up again. We finally and inadvertantly came across a solution. I had brought a nerf gun home from work (too long a story to tell here). You charged the thing up with air and fired foam darts. Once I fired a dart and hit him. From the distance separating us, the impact was roughly like a gentle poke. Didn't matter. Ruby had figured out that I could now project power from afar. Fear of being hit turned to fear of being shot at turned to fear of hearing the gun being pumped up with air turned to fear of seeing the thing in the first place. After ten years, we finally started to enjoy sit down dinners.

Ruby was also getting older. But that wasn't such a strange thing as we had two other shelter cats three and two years his senior. Together, the three of them were settling down into a comfortable life of three hots, a cot, a cuddle and a scratch. Not a bad deal. Repeated vet visits confirmed that they were all healthy and life was good.

Then life went downhill.

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