A trio of cats zoomed down the staircase and made a hairpin turn into the living room. A small black cat was in front, a look of determination etched on her tiny face; her anxiety and lack of confidence left her with a constant need to glance over her shoulder at the two larger cats who were in pursuit.
“Would they catch up to her and what will be the consequences if they do” was what her expression seemed to be saying when they scurried past my comfortable place on the sofa, though I do not think she really needed to worry much. You see, her youth and physique gave her a marked advantage over the older and dare I say, chubbier cats that were trying to hunt her down.
“Run Yehudi, run!” the excitement in my voice rang out across the room. At first, my urging seemed to have an effect, the lttle black cat on applied a quick burst of speed and began to distance herself from her pursuers. The tiniest twinge of pride sprouted inside of me, the feeling, a false sense of responsibility for Yehudi’s achievement. The delight faded once the rational side of my brain took over and explained to my emotional self that I had nothing to do with the black cat’s success.
I must admit, it was an exceedingly difficult thing for me, you know, simply being a bystander. Every nerve in my body was twitching and my muscles were in a frenzy, itching to jump into the fray, yet each time I was about to leap into action, Mommy’s words would come back to me in a reminder that I did not particularly care to remember.
“I know you want to play too Cindee, but you are a big dog, and you scare the cats when you get excited.” Those words stung the first time I heard them, yet over time I have been able to think about them and was beginning to understand why she was so concerned. I get it now, but that still does not make it any easier. So, I am reduced to looking on with two parts anticipation and a dash of jealousy.
The felines had disappeared into the dining room for what seemed to be only a second or two and now they were racing back towards the living room again. In a fit of desperation, Yehudi leapt up onto the table with Bella, the grey and white cat right on her tail. Literally. Yehudi seemed to be cornered, finally, but she wasn’t surrendering so easily. With some quick thinking the tuxedo cat laid out an escape route, one that would allow her to elude Bella. Without reducing speed, the small black cat leapt from the table to the coffee bar. Bella followed.
I took in the action with concern. The big grey cat was soaring midair and about to land on top of little Yehudi. There was no way I could not get involved; this was a safety issue I convinced myself. I inhaled deeply preparing to call out a warning to the black cat, but it turned out she did not need my help at all. With a little shimmy and a side step, the young pussycat had managed to move just enough to avoid her huntress, who landed on the smooth surface, skidded across and fell off the other side, landing without harm on all four legs.
The orange cat, who had been watching all of this came lumbering into the living room, his stomach swaying from side to side barely avoiding contact with the carpet. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted to jump up onto counter where Yehudi sat, taunting him. There was one minor problem through. He was not able to. His belly had become a hefty load that prevented him from making such large leaps.
I knew this was not going to end well. Do not get me wrong, I am not a fortuneteller or a medium or anything like that. I am just observant. By observant I mean I have observed many games of tag with this trio, and none of them ever ends well.
That orange cat, he is my best friend. His name Rapi and he is one of the most trusting, loyal, and dedicated friends a dog could have. Unfortunately, he has other traits too, like impatience and a short fuse, and I could tell he was about to explode because his face had that telltale sign. To put it bluntly, it was deformed like one of the vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
“Get down here Yehudi, that’s cheating!” Rapi’s eyes narrowed, his breath came in heaving gasps through his nose.
“I am not cheating, I was going to come down, you just need to give me a chance.” Yehudi stared defiantly at the orange cat, which she was comfortable doing only because of the safety she felt from her place in her unreachable roost.
“Well, I am done,” Bella declared, turning to shake her tail at Yehudi as she walked away.
“So am I!” Rapi’s eyes which already raged with fury flamed a little hotter. He stormed off towards the dining room and a set of big glass doors.
“Okay guys, I think that is enough tag for today,” the sing song voice came from the second floor. All our heads turned to see Mommy descending the stairs, behind her was Daddy doing some bizarro dance thing. The image of a princess and court jester flashed in my brain.
“What a goofball,” Rapi called out in his deep Cuban accent. I howled in laughter, and before long, Yehudi and Bella had joined in as well. Just like that, the tension had evaporated, and together all settled down to watch television as a family.
“As for you my fine lady, I can’t attend to you now but try to stay out of my way, just try. I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too, ah ha ha ha.” I cringed and buried my face in Mommy’s lap trying to hide from the wicked witch of the west.
“That witch is mean.” Rapi said, his statement had managed to express what we all were feeling.
“Right! I mean what did that little dog do to her?” I scowled at the image on the screen.
“I can’t wait until somebody throws water on her!” The words tumbled from the black cat’s lips eliciting a round of heart felt giggles.
The Wizard of Oz was a difficulty film for us to watch. In our vivid imaginations, it was all real. I knew for sure that I would be checking under the bed more than once tonight just to make sure there was no green faced meanie trying to do away with me.
“What’s going on out there?” Mommy’s voice broke my trance. The quizzical nature of her inquiry pulled my attention from the Wizard and shifted it to the window and the red and blue lights that were flashing in through the half-closed blinds to paint a moving Jackson Pollock like masterpiece on the walls.
“Strange it seems to have stopped right out front.” Daddy answered with a furrowed brow.
Before anyone had the chance to ponder the situation any further, Mommy had leapt to her feet and was already leaning forward to peer through the blinds. The way she did it left an uneasy feeling in my tummy. It was all very secretive, and I worried that maybe they had another life as bank robbers that we did not know about.
“It’s an ambulance and it has stopped at Mrs. McMurtry’s house.” I blew out a breath, thankful that it was not the police. It took a minute or so for my overactive imagination to catch up with reality and realize that nobody had said anything, instead they all stared dumbfounded at Mommy.
“Let’s see if she needs any help!” she called over her shoulder to Daddy, who was already on his feet and heading out the door.
“Stay here, we will be right back,” Mommy called over her shoulder before disappearing out the door behind Daddy.
I looked over at Rapi, but he was already staring at me, waiting for direction.
“What do we do?” His voice cracked and his breath was coming in quick ragged succession.
“The window.” I barked. It was not the most confident of suggestions, I mean, to me it sounded like it came in the form of half question half statement, but it was authoritative enough for them because they all dashed forward to claim a spot at the front window.
We were all gathered around the picture window taking in the chaos happening on our neighbor’s front lawn. The cats sat on a table that held several plants, as for me, I found a slim space where I could form an opening in the blinds and press my face against the window pane.
Outside, Mommy and Daddy found an out of the way place where they could engage in a deep conversation with Mr Johnson from across the street.
“Why does Mr. Johnson have Gus?” Yehudi asked, pointing out the middle-aged gentleman who held one end of a leash in his hand with an old Basset Hound attached to the other end.
“Your right Yehudi,” I said noticing that Mrs. McMurty’s dog Gus was outside and that the old basset hound looked like he was about to be sick.
“We don’t know why,” Rapi answered the inquisitive cat with a pinch of saltiness.
That seemed to satisfy the black cat. The rest of us used that silence to re-train our attention to the hustle and bustle of activity happing out on the lawn.
“I don’t think I want to see any more of this,” Rapi groaned then leapt from the table, obviously shaken.
“What’s going on out there?” It was hard not to be exasperated with the little black cat, but Yehudi was just verbalizing what we were all thinking.
“We don’t know.” Bella’s voice was calm. For once, I was supremely thankful for my nemesis. It’s true, the grey and white cat has a way of getting under my skin, or pushing my buttons so to speak, she also has that rare quality of being able to handle tense situation well, which is what we really needed right now.
“No, no, no,” Rapi moaned. I turned to find him hunched over crying in the corner.
My eye’s met Bellas and I pointed towards Rapi with my snout.
She nodded in agreement.
“Look! Mommy and Daddy are coming, and they have Gus with them!” Yehudi had suddenly turned into the play-by-play person keeping us informed on the events happening outside while Bella and I tended to Rapi.
“You have to pull yourself together Rapi, Gus is coming,” I pleaded with him.
“I am worried about Mrs. McMurtry, I hope she isn’t too sick,” the orange cat’s blood shot eyes met mine, setting off a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my tummy.
Up until that point, I was missing the big picture. I thought Rapi was just having another one of his breakdowns. He was a strong powerful cat, but he was extremely sensitive too, and had trouble handling emotional crisis. I thought back to his reaction when I injured my legs and the time that Bennie had passed on to the Rainbow Bridge.
Maybe Rapi was right, what if Mrs. McMurtry was ill? I let the thought ruminate for a few minutes, until the door swung open revealing Gus, head hung low, shoulders slumped and whimpering.
We never did see the end of the Wizard of Oz, instead we all went to work trying to make Gus feel at home. Words were exchanged briefly, yet the melancholy of the evening had settled in like a thick black cloud.
We let Gus have the coveted space in bed between Mommy and Daddy. He seemed to need it more than any of us did. Mommy had run her fingers through his course hair while Daddy had sung quiet songs until the old basset hound fell into a fitful sleep.
I heard the sheets rustle, but it was Mommy checking on us. I quickly closed my eyes and set about eavesdropping on their hushed conversation.
“Poor baby.” Mommy whispered. I recognized the tone and knew that somewhere in the darkness tears were running down her cheeks.
“I know,” Daddy’s hoarse voice cut through the darkness, an undisguised hint of melancholy in it too.
The room became still and silent for a few moments, long enough that I was on the fringe of dreams when Mommy spoke again breaking the spell.
“Does Mrs. McMurtry have any family?” Daddy asked.
Mommy was mute, but I could tell it was because she was in deep thought. A moment passed. Then another.
“I think she has a daughter.” She spoke in a hush, yet the way the sentence rolled around inside my head it almost felt like she was yelling as loud as she could.
“We will have to let her know that we can keep Gus until after Mrs. McMurty’s funeral.” His words trailed off into a deep soulful sigh.
It took a moment for me to fully grasp what Daddy had just said. Mrs. McMurtry was gone. At first It was like being punched in the stomach, then as they started to fade away the sensation of having left my body all together. That is when it hit me. Gus did not have a mom anymore.
As I lay in the darkness, I could hear Mommy and Daddy whispering, but the words were incoherent, they no longer held any meaning for me. They were just words. Inside my brain there I had one solitary thought. Gus was alone.
Gus rose early the next morning with Daddy and the two of them had returned to Mrs. McMurtry’s house to retrieve some items for Gus. While they were gone the cats and I had gathered at the big glass doors in the dining room where I filled the cats in on what I had heard the night before.
“That poor boy,” Bella purred, her gaze fixed in the distance.
“Why didn’t Mrs. McMurtry take Gus with her when she left?” Yehudi asked, her face twisted up in confusion.
“Mrs. McMurtry died. You can’t take someone with you when you die,” Rapi explained in a voice that seemed too gruff for the situation, but apparently not so harsh that it slowed Yehudi down one bit.
“Well, if she died, then were did she go?” the black cat squeaked. Rapi and I looked at each other, neither of us sure how to answer that question.
Bella turned her attention from the back yard and focused it on Yehudi.
“You know how we talked about Cosita and Bennie and we explained how they went to the Rainbow Bridge when they died?” Bella said softly, her eyes studying the little black cats face.
“Um, yeah,” Yehudi answered, her demeanor suggesting that maybe she wasn’t that sure after all.
“Well, that is where Mrs. McMurtry went,” she said with a warm smile and a gently voice.
“But Mrs. McMurtry is a human not a dog like Cosita or a cat like Bennie,” the little black feline began to protest. After she had finished Bella let the silence frow for just the briefest of moments, no more than a heartbeat or two, then answered.
“That’s right Yehudi, but remember, they are waiting at the Bridge for us. Mr. McMurtry was waiting there for Mrs. McMurtry and together they will be waiting for Gus,” the grey and white cat purred.
“Oh, I see. I think,” Yehudi answered, her expression still confused, but a little less so.
“Thanks Bella,” the small tuxedo cat said with a smile.
“Your welcome sweetie.”
“One more thing if you don’t mind,” Yehudi asked, eyeing Bella to see if she was getting annoyed with her.
“What is it?”
“Where will Gus live?”
“I will live with Miss Amelia,” the Bassett Hound broke in. We all turned to look at him, each of our faces flushed with embarrassment.
My attention was focused on him, but no words would come out. I wondered to myself how long he had been standing there and how much of our conversation he had heard. I just wanted to find a large rock and climb under it.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, as if sensing what I was thinking.
“Miss Amelia?” Rapi asked.
“Mom wasn ‘t just my mother, she was Miss Amelia’s mom too!” the Basset Hound began, tentatively, as if he was just uncovering some hidden truth along with the rest of us.
“Miss Amelia is really nice; she would come to visit Mom and I every month. You guys will like her.” His words seemed genuine, and it made me heart feel good to know that he would not be alone after all.
“She is not Mom, but I can see Mom in her eyes and hear Mom in her voice. It will be like having a piece of Mom with me.” His words set off an explosion of emotions inside of me, not just me, but all of us and in a heartbeat, we were all smothering Gus with hugs.
I found a rare moment of solitude in front of the big glass doors. A flock of birds had gathered to sing a sweet serenade to the sun which surrendered to the moon and sunk below the horizon. Another day had come and gone. Gus was with Miss Amelia now. They had left with promises to come back and visit regularly. I would look forward to seeing Gus again.
Everything had changed. Not just for Gus, but for all of us. A myriad of emotions permeated my spirit. I realized that in the blink of an eye I could lose someone in my family. Life is precious and fragile, yet we squander it on selfish thoughts and wasted things. If I had learned anything from Gus, it was that we never know what is going to happen from moment to moment and that I need to cherish all those moments no matter how grand or miniscule they may be. There is a limit to the time that I have and somehow, I need to remember to spend it wisely, to spend it on love.
My life had changed and there was nothing I could do about it. Funny how that is. While I can not change what life gives me, I have the capacity and ability to change what I give to life, and I have resolved to give kind words and unlimited kisses.