I’m allergic to cats. A friend of mine has three or four of them, necessitating mass quantities of Claritin if I want to go inside his house. Don’t get me wrong, I like cats – they’re graceful and beguiling creatures – but they turn me into a sneezing snotty mess within minutes. And did I mention I break into hives? No fun.
Surprisingly, I did share my domicile with a cat years ago. Milo was part of the live-in-girlfriend deal and man, he hated me. So much so, I barely ever saw him. His dander, sadly, was ever present. But, after a few months of cohabitation and habituation, my body somehow adapted and I was finally able to emerge from my antihistamine stoner haze. Milo and I eventually managed to observe an uneasy peace – but he did have an unsettling habit of sleeping in my kitchen cupboard. That led to some interesting mornings. Then one night, as I was reading on the couch, Milo crawled onto my chest and fell fast asleep. Finally, I thought to myself, gently stroking his fur as he dreamed whatever cats dream. I knew the old feline would come around. I’m irresistible.
The next morning, however, after my girlfriend went to work in the city, Milo starting convulsing on the floor, suffering from a seizure. Terrified, I took him to the vet, who told me Milo needed a $2000 CAT scan. My girlfriend said no way. The cat was old, she argued, it was possible he’d get over it, and we didn’t have two grand lying around. Since it was her cat, it was her decision – but I cried my eyes out as I paced the floors of my apartment holding him in my arms. After a while, I lined a laundry basket with his favorite blanket, placed him inside with his favorite toy, and hoped for the best. I’ll never forget how my dog Buster kept vigil by his feline sibling’s side as we waited for my girlfriend to come home. Then, half an hour after she returned, Milo emitted a shriek and was still. His nine lives were up. Luckily for me, I found a pet mortician who made house calls. Damn, and I’d just stopped being allergic to him.
With Milo gone, my allergic reaction to cats quickly reestablished itself and I figured I’d be catless for the rest of my life. Then, a few weeks ago, my daughter excitedly came running up to me. “There’s a kitty in our house!” she said.
“In the living room.”
My daughter is only seven and has a very active imagination. Her bedroom closet’s been full of monsters since she left the crib and she’s had several imaginary friends. So, my first reaction was that Natalie was experiencing a flight of fancy powered by wish fulfillment. She’s always wanted a cat and has never accepted my claims of a medical exemption. But when I walked into the living room, a cat was indeed what I found – stretched out on our Persian rug like he owned the place. Good thing our dog Felix was having a sleepover at “Grandma’s”
“Where’d he come from?” Natalie said.
“I don’t know,” I said, mystified. The cat was wearing a collar with a name tag attached, so I knelt to look. To my surprise, the cat let me. When I read the name, I figured it out.
“This is Cletus,” I said. “He’s our neighbor’s girlfriend’s cat.”
My neighbor recently hooked up with a young woman who lives in Manhattan. I’ve only talked to her a couple of times but learned she had three rescue animals – a pug, a pit bull and a cat. So, I figured she’d left Cletus in Jersey for some bonding time with her new beau.
“Can we keep him?” Natalie asked.
“No, honey, I said. Then I texted my neighbor to let him know the cat was safe and sound. He came right over and explained that his girlfriend had found Cletus emaciated in Brooklyn and nursed him back to health. Since the concrete jungle is no place for a feline, he’d become an indoor cat out of necessity. “But he’s really an outdoor cat,” my neighbor said. “He’s always trying to go outside so we decided to let him roam. He’s doing fine.” My neighbor was raised on a farm so, I bowed to his expertise.
Now, after a few months, Cletus seems to have acclimated to being a “country cat” quite well. He’s also decided to make my house part of his territory. Since my daughter tends to leave the backdoor ajar, he’s a become a frequent visitor. I’ve found him dozing on my bed, rummaging through my closet, sphinxlike on top of the stove, stretched out on the edge of the couch, sunning himself on windowsills and perched on my bathroom sink when I emerged from the shower. Then, when he’s had enough fun, he mews at the door to be let out. He’s also very affectionate and friendly and my daughter’s crazy about him, which worries me. Cletus could go as quickly as he came. But, since he was here now, I decided to enjoy our new friend for as long as we had him. I told my wife Cletus was like a grandchild; we got to have all the fun and none of the responsibility – and no litterbox.
Then, a couple of nights ago, sleep was eluding me. So, I retired to my porch with a small glass of scotch; writing on my computer while savoring the cool night air. Deep in thought, I didn’t notice Cletus had joined me in the dark until he announced his presence with a loud meow.
“Hi there,” I said.
“Nice night, isn’t it?”
Then Cletus poked at my computer, which I put aside, allowing him to curl up in my lap. Sipping my scotch, I stroked his fur and listened as he purred contently – realizing that, in all the weeks he’d been coming over, I hadn’t sneezed once. That’s when I felt the tickling in my brain that I’d been experieincing for weeks – a preconscious niggling I couldn’t quite place. But then, as Cletus warmed my lap, it exploded into awareness with the incandescence of divine revelation.
“You’re Milo,” I said. “Aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry we didn’t get along back then. We didn’t have much time together.”
“Then, just when I thought we were getting along, you died.”
“Where were you?” I asked. “Why did you come back?”
“Listen, after all the shit I’ve been through, If you have any cosmic insights, I’d really like to hear them.”
In response, Cletus slowly uncoiled his body, placed his paws on my chest and brought his nose right next to mine. And there, eyeball to eyeball in the moonlight, he spoke:
“Nothing is ever lost.”
His sleek fur glistening under the moon’s glow, the cat seemed almost otherworldly. Graceful, mysterious and beguiling, he gleamed like a feline ángelos of truths infinitely strange and yet comfortably familiar. As the cool evening breeze touched us with its kiss, I smiled and scratched him behind his ear, eliciting a deep and satisfied purr.
“Good cat,” I said. “Good cat.”
Then Cletus jumped off my lap began scratching on my door. He wanted to go inside but, since Felix was in the house, that would’ve resulted in a nocturnal cacophony that was sure to wake my wife – and she’s not as keen on our part time cat as I am. So, I nudged him aside, went into the kitchen, and returned with a bowl of water and a half eaten can of tuna. Watching as he hungrily devoured his offering, I sighed deeply. I don’t know what happens to us creatures great and small but, at least that night, I was hopeful everything would eventually work out.
“Good night, Milo,” I said, closing my front door. “See you tomorrow.”