AT THE BACK DOOR: In life, you never know who — or what — is going to show up at your back door. There are times to slam it shut and times to open it wide.
When Sue and I bought our San Roque house about five years ago, we acted on impulse, as usual. After months of house hunting, we drove up to the curb, and Sue took one look and said, “That’s it.”
“Don’t you even want to look around inside first?” I asked.
“No, this is it. It has everything I want. A front porch, a long driveway, two-car garage, and a mountain view.” We signed the papers that night between courses in a restaurant, on Sue’s birthday. No regrets.
Our new nest was empty of pets. Our beloved Fred the cat was long dead, and Sue, brokenhearted, had vowed not to look for a replacement. But if by chance some furry orphan found us, well that would be different. Fate would have to scratch at our door.
Sue loved Fred like life itself. I wrote an obituary column about him and was greeted by cards, letters, calls, and emails showering us with cat stories. It was by far my most popular column ever, and I’m not sure what that means.
I accepted the fact that Sue loved that feline more than she loved me. When cancer took him, she placed his ashes in a box on her side of the bed. She carries a creased, yellowing copy of my column and will show it at the slightest urging.
But then, after we moved in, feline fate arrived in the form of a coal-black, ratty looking character with leaves clinging to his tail.
We noticed him skulking around the back yard, clearly not belonging to anyone, keeping his distance from us but not leaving. We figured he must be hungry but was too proud to beg. Any movement on our part would send him scurrying.
“He’s afraid of his own shadow,” Sue observed. And that’s what we named him. Sue started leaving dry food out for Shadow and a bowl of water. He’s never left, arriving for breakfast every morning at dawn and returning at his leisure for more. He’s an old grouch, never showing a scintilla of affection. He arrives from the bushes, shedding leaves, eats, and stalks off.
A few months later, a new family arrived next door. They owned a huge tomcat named Rocco, who immediately decamped and moved in with us. We didn’t lure him over. He just started hanging around on our deck.
This, as you can imagine, created a bit of tension with our new neighbors, a very nice young couple with children who, it turned out, missed Rocco very much. But as reasonable adults, we all took it in stride, as one must do when one’s offspring walks out the door and chooses to enter another. We’re all good friends now, and Rocco has settled in, except that he’s accident-prone.
He weighs in at well over 20 pounds and has racked up some sizeable vet bills. He soon came down with a terrible malady that endangered his life and our bank account.
No sooner was he well than he disappeared. We gave him up for dead, when Figaro came to the rescue. Figaro is a little black-and-white character who also adopted us. Sue was not ready for a third hungry border and did everything in her power to shoo him off.
But Figaro was determined to stay, and stay he did. Where Shadow was the yard grouch and Rocco kind of an easy-going kid who got into trouble, Figaro is a tiny alpha cat. After Rocco disappeared, we found Figaro in the bushes licking Rocco’s wounds. We think Figaro saved his life. Something — a raccoon, according to the vets, a coyote, we believe — had gouged deep bites into his rear end.
Rocco came back from the dead and went back to the vet. Not long ago, a frenzied German shepherd tore into the backyard, and we had a devil of a time dragging him off. Rocco was scared, unhurt, but running out of lives.
So now we have three cats when we never wanted one. But Sue loves them dearly, like needy foster children. But three’s enough. Give us a break, Feline Fate. I hope that Fred, up there in cat heaven, is happy for us all.