Young Rufus had to be put to sleep today. The vet thought he had pancreatitis, which is nasty but a cat will usually recover, with treatment. But he wasn’t recovering, and today an x-ray showed it was something much more serious and far advanced. ‘He’s fading before my eyes,’ the vet said over the phone. I’m glad that at least I managed to take a few photos of him recently, before I knew he was ill. We are twelve again.
Rufus was Henry’s brother. Charlie (simple Charlie, over the road) tells me he used to watch them as kittens, playing together at the end of our road. Then their owner moved away and passed Henry and Rufus on to an acquaintance, who swiftly threw them out again. Henry was straying for a long time. One day he turned up on my doorstep bleeding from a huge bite on the side of his face, and I redoubled my efforts. I have sat outside on a plastic garden chair talking to Henry for half an hour at a time, in rain, wind and snow – often in slippers and a cardigan because there he was – no time to get my coat.
Rufus, in the meantime, had found a new protector, but a year or so later turned up on the hillside’s stray circuit yet again, thin and dirty. I started feeding him as he passed through the garden; he would sit on the outside of the patio doors communing with Henry through the double-glazing. I caught him quickly enough. He was, I think, hoping to be caught.
A regularly fractured heart: one of the hazards of being a cat lady. One long, long – tediously long – life, many far shorter lives: temporary travelling companions; far too many losses.
This is the poem I read to myself at times like this:
THE HEAVEN OF ANIMALS: James L. Dickey
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.
Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.
To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.
For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,
More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey
May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk
Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain
At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.