Last year, my neighbor stole my cat.
Fang, my fat, sweet, not-so bright little buddy, had started exploring that summer. We’d leave the back door open, and he’d sort of slide himself out sideways, ooze down the stairs, and tip toe into the yard. Then a breeze would kick up and he’d spring twelve feet in the air, do a perfect somersault, and come barreling back inside to not be seen for a full ten minutes.
Eventually, he worked up courage in his little cat heart, and he stayed out there for a moments at a time, breezes be damned. The next step was to go creeping around the yard creepily, staring at birds until they were uncomfortable and had to check their teeth in the mirror. And soon, he was hanging out in bushes, dozing in the grass, and sneaking along the bottom of the fence looking for ways to break out of this joint.
We didn’t know that last part until he came sauntering through the front door one afternoon.
He didn’t appreciate being on lock-down, and escaped the house at every opportunity. To the point where it was starting to hurt my feelings. “You’re breaking your mother’s heart!” I’d yell after him when he once again dodged between my feet and went flying like a fat little rocket down the sidewalk to parts unknown.
Then one day, we realized he hadn’t come home last night. Surely we’d see him in the morning, we assured one another. But no. And then another day and another and I grew frantic and made up signs. It reminded me of how I found him eleven years ago, when I was living in Jersey City. He had turned up at my apartment door, so sweet and cuddly I was convinced he couldn’t be a stray. I printed signs that night to put up in the neighborhood the next morning, and then whoops, September 11th. I spent that week curled up on the couch with him purring (poorly—he never really managed to figure out how to purr correctly) and me crying and watching CNN and if that doesn’t bond you, nothing will.
This time I managed to post my signs throughout the neighborhood, in all my neighbor’s mailboxes on streets in a five-block radius. I called the shelter every day to check after a fat cat with fangs, ridiculously friendly. Kind of dumb? He wasn’t turning up.
“He’s found a good place to hang out,” Ben said. He didn’t believe that because he is essentially a pessimist. I didn’t believe it because I was really scared.
Fang was gone and the weather got cold and we missed him a lot. And then one day my favorite neighbor said, “Is that your cat?” And it was Fang, dodging through the undergrowth and away.
“Oh,” said the neighbor two doors down. “Sorry!” Accidentally she had started feeding him wet food every day and keeping him inside every night and forgot to see if he belonged to someone.
“So why didn’t you get a new one?” said the guy I was seeing when I told him the story.
“A new—cat? Just replace him?”
“Sure,” he said. And while he was so very, very pretty, it was clear that this would just never work.
So. Fang came home. After Ben and I broke up, Fang slept with me and Crombomb every night, all three of us in a row, sometimes some of us on top of others of us, snoring. Them snoring. I never snore. I squished Fang’s belly because that is the weird thing he liked. We watched his programs. We hung out, and his asthmatic purr was one of the best things in the world.
When my two roommates moved in, they brought with them a dog each, and one cat. The dogs had all been friends of cats. The cats were all familiar with and comfortable with dogs. When the sniping started—the barking and the hissing and the batting and the leaping off to safe spots, we didn’t worry too much. They were figuring out their places. They’d figure it out. They snuggled on the couch sometimes. They got worked up sometimes. It happened.
We left for an hour one day, and when we came home, we heard snarling and frantic barking and things falling over and what we found was two dogs tearing my Fang apart. Crom barking at them wildly, jumping at them, trying to pull them off.
The dogs had gotten excited. As dogs do. And Fang hadn’t been able to get away to his safe spot. He was breathing, panicked and shallow, and his fur was shredded and his eyes were huge and my hands were shaking when I wrapped him up in a towel and tried not to hurt him any more than I already had.
At the emergency vet they looked at him and told me he was in critical condition, and they rushed him to the back. “Critical?” I said, when the nurse came back out, and she said, “He could die.”
It is more awkward than you think it would be, considering the business, to start sobbing in the middle of the lobby of the emergency vet. They also have fewer boxes of tissues than they ought.
He lived. He lived for three more days. Torn apart and in so much pain but sometimes, when I stroked down the back of his ear, the silky fur of his nose, he would purr. His silly purr. The vet said, “He’s made it this far. He has a chance.”
We tucked him into my closet, which was his safe spot. The one he couldn’t get to. For two days Sare fed him water from a dropper, and disgusting liquid food from a dropper, and he got himself into the litter box. I slept wrapped around him. Saturday night I tucked him in and left him to check on Crom. I fell asleep on the couch, just for a little while—I didn’t mean to. And when I woke up and raced upstairs, he was gone.
We buried him in the middle of the night, by the side of the house, because I didn’t want him to leave again. And then I had to fly on Sunday morning.
When I came back, I found flowers planted on his grave. And the house is very full, but he’s not here, and sometimes I catch myself thinking, maybe he’s just been stolen away again is all.