EULOGY FOR A LOVELY CAT
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- For more than five years, this was my small family: a happy husband, a happy wife, and a happy little black, white and orange cat.
In the mornings, when Randy brought my tea, Dancer would jump up on the bed next to him and purr.
"We've convened the quorum," Randy would say.
But I'll never see Dancer's little black, white and orange face at the back door, waiting to be let in. Or see her little black, white and orange rump facing the back door, waiting to be let out. Or, five minutes later, see her little black, white and orange face at the back door, waiting to be let in again.
If I ignored her, she would jump onto the recycling boxes on the deck and bounce until they knocked up against the door.
Randy was more susceptible to her knocking than I was. "My role is to make you and Dancer happy," he often said.
Randy was the one who rescued Dancer from what he calls "kitty jail," otherwise known as the Windham County Humane Society. She had a milky right eye, and other people were passing her by.
We were told that she was left by an older woman who called her Precious. And she was precious, a well-petted, smart, loving and demanding cat that adored people's laps and managed to slide under their hands no matter what those hands were doing - talking on the phone, eating, typing, reading a newspaper.
Precious was too precious a name for us, so we called her Dancer, short for Lap Dancer, after a quote from Andrew Vachss.
"Cats are the lap-dancers of the animal world," he said. "'Soon as you stop shelling out, they move on, find another lap. They're furry little sociopaths. Pretty and slick - in love with themselves. When's the last time you saw a seeing-eye cat?"
But Vachss is wrong. Cats aren't sociopaths. They don't deserve their reputation for aloofness. They are intelligent. They are affectionate. They are creative. They are covered in a soft fur like velvet, and they enjoy having your hands run over their bodies. They are a sensualist's dream.
Dancer was a gifted and aware companion. Whenever I left the house, she would run to meet me, scampering, leaping, flying up a tree and then turning her little head to make sure I was watching her with admiration, then jumping down to have her head stroked, then moving away on her own errands.
When I went on trips, she was listless. When Randy's car came up the hill, her ears perked up. They didn't perk up for anyone else's car, just for his.
When I had trouble sleeping, her purring was my lullaby. When I watched television, she would curl up on my lap. I would stroke her head and her neck, and hold her little foot in my hand. When she had had enough affection- and yes, cats can have enough - she would move to the foot of the couch and sleep. But she responded to the click of the remote control. As soon as I got up from the couch, she took my place. I guess she thought I had warmed it just for her. I would say, "Goodnight, little girl," and go to bed.
I've never seen a cat with so many places. My unmade bed. The backrest of the couch when the sun poured in the window. The warm spot on the sofa after television. The top shelf of my closet. The old plastic lawn chair pillow that we kept for her on the deck. The hood of my car. The daybed in my office, next to the wood stove. The firewood box in front of the house - she would stand on it and press her front paws to the window, knowing somehow that I would see her little black, white and orange ears above my computer monitor and let her in.
I would watch her and think, "Nothing says a house has love in it more than a happy cat curled up, asleep."
When Randy and I sat together on the couch, with Dancer purring on the backrest, I would feel as if we were on a magic carpet and our little family was floating in space.
One of Dancer's jobs was to kill any stray mice that might get into the house. She was good at it. Outside, she never killed birds, but she was hell on smaller mammals. When she was young, she ate everything but the tails. Now that she was settling gracefully into kitty middle age - we think she was seven or eight - she only ate the heads. And she was selective. Chipmunks could run right under her nose without attracting her interest.
Because we live in the woods, we trained Dancer to stay in at night. We understood that she was just another member of the food chain - as we all are - and that one day a fisher cat, or a coyote, or an owl, or a hawk, might get her, the way she got all those moles and voles.
Last Tuesday, Randy let her out in the morning. When she hadn't come back by noon, I knew.
I did the right things. I walked down the road calling her name; I heard the full-running brook and the chirping chipmunks, but not her answering meow. I called the neighbors. I called the humane society. I called the local veterinarians.
Her loss has left me swimming in an unfathomable lake of loneliness. I ache for her company. Watching television at night is brutal. Many times I find myself standing at the back door, waiting to let her in, and crying. I look for her in all her favorite spots. I still hear her meow. I watch the chipmunks readying their winter nests in our woodpile and sigh, "Oh, Dancer."
I feel helpless because I couldn't keep her safe. In my dreams she's still alive, curled up on the backrest of the couch, purring.
Goodnight forever, precious little girl.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.