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The Observer was not prepared for how attached we became to that cat over the years — haughty rival for Spouse's affections, who spent the first years of his life avoiding Yours Truly like week-old leftovers, only emerging to sharpen his claws on something we liked better than him: the leather cigar chair, the bookbag we carry to all our reporting gigs, the footstool, The Observer's own manpaw, dangling enticingly from the edge of the bed while The Observer slept. Like most of us who are worth a damn, though, he mellowed with age.
He was Spouse's cat, really, christened Mister Kitty, latest in a long line of questionable cat names on her part: Fluffy Tail, Fluffy Booty, and then Mister Kitty, even though we had suggested a cartoon hotel register full of perfectly good names: Monkey and Duke and Goose, Mule and Herbert and Bill Clinton. It's a good thing we had a stake in naming Junior, we told our lovely bride, or the poor lad would have been named Mister Baby for all time. The Honorable Chief Justice Mister Baby.
Mister K, as we said, started out standoffish and weird, skittish and anti-social, but he came around. He was odd, even for a cat. He came home with us on New Year's Day 13 years ago, a few months after we bought The Observatory on Maple Street. There he has remained, lord of 1,100 square feet, eventually growing to baby panther size, belly pendulous as a Bengal tiger's, head that filled two hands, black velvet lump of love to trip over in the dark, the Barry White of all catdom. He couldn't purr, so he sort of grunted his approval. Held court from beneath the Winter Palace of faux greenery and lights and baubles that his Subjects erected in his sole honor every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Never lost his love of lying on newspapers, a habit he gained in the joint, where the folks at the shelter had given him the equally questionable name of Nightmare.
Lazy? Oh, so lazy. But it is a cat's life. Also: loyal; beautiful; living alarm clock; sole witness to three robberies; dedicated nursecat to the sick, sad and drunk; avid spectator of the Tomcat Wars that have raged for years in our backyard and sideyard, Mr. K safely ensconced behind glass but always fascinated with the difficult and dangerous life he had been spared when The Man and The Lady and The Baby Who Magically Became a Man chose him, solely because he was the only cat at the shelter who even acted as if we existed. He was, as we were prone to say to him as he peered through the shades, too pretty for the streets. The Hard Kitties, with their gnawed ears and broken tails, would have eaten him alive. We also said, however, that there was some dog in him, the only cat we've ever known who could be patted on his haunches like a pooch without starting an international incident, who invited gentle tail pulls and tummy rubs. Add to that the fact that he outweighed all other contenders by a good 10 pounds, and maybe he could have held his own, not that we would have ever allowed him to find out. He was, as we've said, too pretty for that rough business.
Other than infrequent trips to the vet in which he clutched the carpet of the car, yowling like he was being sent on a moonshot, a nervous night in a hotel while the air was out one August, and one answered Call of the Wild in which he zipped out the open door, only to be found an hour later, filthy and damp, having squeezed under the door of the shed, Mr. K never left The Observatory in all these years. With Yours Truly and Spouse having spent our entire married life until then in student housing and animals-verboten apartments, he was the first shared pet of our relationship. Junior was young enough when we got him that he can't remember a time without Mr. K under foot. And then: the sneak thief of sickness. A stubborn refusal to eat or drink. And then: one last moonshot, calm this time. And then: the needle stick, a last inch of discomfort. And then: the air goes out slow, like a deflating balloon.
As we said: The Observer was not prepared for how attached we became to him over the years. Afterward, Junior wound up having to prop up his Old Man instead of the other way around. In the midst of that grief, though, Junior managed to say the prettiest three sentences in a row that The Observer has ever heard in our life. Here is what he said: "Time is like the water. You come up for a minute and take a breath, and that's your life. Then you go back down again."
Ain't that lovely? Ain't that the truth?
Maybe someday, UAMS will finally jump Pine and Cedar streets and engulf lower Stifft Station, at last a Meditropolis. Or, maybe someday, they'll widen I-630 to 10 lanes, swallowing another strip of the city. Or maybe someday, The Observatory will simply succumb to the weight of all its long days. Hell, maybe someday the place will find a new family to fill its bookcases and closets and rooms with love. Whatever the case, someday, somebody will put a shovel into the ground in the back yard of a very old house on Maple Street in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States of America, Planet Earth, System Sol. They will turn the dirt. And there, laid beneath time's water with his catnip and blanket and a bauble retrieved from the Christmas box, they will find the bones of a cat. And that person, whoever they are, will never know what the friend they have uncovered meant to the people who once lived there. Which was, of course, damn near everything.
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