by Nancy King
My journey through life as a single woman was changed forever by a phone call.
The woman spoke quickly, as if to prevent me from hanging up. “When I left the restaurant on the New Jersey Turnpike a cat followed me to my car and jumped into it. I couldn’t resist his purrs so I took him with me and had him checked out by my vet. Turns out he’s healthy, neutered, has no front claws, and is a pedigreed cat. But when I brought him home he attacked my two cats. He’s been in my basement for two weeks, howling. He’s really beautiful. Would you take him?”
I’d just returned from four months in Europe, knee deep in bills, letters, and phone messages. Who needed one more thing to take care of? And yet, I heard myself say, “I’m not about to take a cat I’ve never met.”
“Great, I’ll bring him over tonight.” She arrived, loaded down with litter box, food, cat dish, comb, and cat.
Imagine a large, skinny, sleek black animal with long limbs and golden eyes. Imagine a cat that is brought to your doorstep by a woman you barely know, who has called out of desperation, a cat that stares at you so intensely it’s difficult not to look away. Imagine a cat that uses sound as if it were language.
The woman stood in the doorway, ready to leave, not bothering to hide her relief. The cat ignored her as he followed me into the kitchen, then sat, staring at me as I put food into the dish. Within fifteen minutes he had eaten, pooped, and fallen asleep on my lap. So began a fifteen and a half year journey of love and devotion unequaled in my life.
Fumi, Italian for smoke, was too hard to pronounce so I changed it to Funi, but he was so talkative I added Pushkin, and so dramatic, I added Bernhardt. Funi became Funus Pushkin Bernhardt when he deliberately knocked over a vase of flowers, sat on papers ready to be mailed, or played with the keys of my computer. My cat’s response? He would turn his nose up in the air, give me a disdainful look, and saunter away, dignity intact, wiggling his bottom seductively, oblivious to my anger, frustration or disbelief.
Funi hated all four-legged animals: hurling himself five feet into the air, trying get at a tiny dog that was snuggled in an inner coat pocket of a visitor. When he escaped outside, which was any time anyone left a door open, even a few inches, he attacked. He leapt on to the back of a much smaller cat and only gave up when the cat climbed a tree. When Funi could no longer hold on to its back he slid down the tree and circled it with the intensity of a hunter gone wild. Even with a screen door closed, when Funi saw a rabbit outside, he became a black blur, running with so much speed he tore through the screen, running after his prey oblivious to bushes, flowers, and fences.
He was territorial. Visitors were scrutinized and, if found wanting by his enigmatic standards, would bite, not so gently, a toe or nip an ankle. However he reserved his greatest sense of ownership for the pillow on the right side of my bed. If anyone deemed it necessary to lie down on the bed, when Funi was ready to sleep, he would pace the two sides of the bed not next to the wall, meowing insistently. If the visitor ignored this warning, Funi would leap up onto the person’s body and slowly make his way up the body, incrementally increasing the volume of cat sounds. If the visitor continued to ignore Funi, he would creep up to the person’s neck, pause, and make sounds that seemed to be saying, “Get up. Get off my pillow. Now!” If this still didn’t rouse the prone person, my cat would collapse onto the person’s head, and yowl at the top of his lungs, making it difficult for anyone in this position to breathe. Inevitably, no matter the size of the person, the cat won. The person got up out of the bed. Whereupon, Funi curled up into a ball and slept on “his” pillow.
Although I wished I had a relationship with a two-legged, when I felt depressed Funi would jump up and snuggle lovingly around my neck. When I was joyful we danced. He traveled with me to New Mexico, perched on his carry case, watching his old world disappear, looking intently as new vistas appeared. When he entered his new home in Santa Fe, he sauntered into every room, rubbed his cheek against a wall, then settled on my bed and slept, snoring loudly. Funi and I were home.
Nancy King's book Morning Light deals with some of the issues that arise when dealing with a catastrophic illness. You can read the first pages of her novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light, and The Stones Speak. on her website: www.nancykingstories.com. Her books can be purchased from her website, The Trip Shop, on Amazon.com or ordered by local bookstores.
Photography courtesy of the author.
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