He was only three years old.
We who love our animals know from the moment we bring them into our homes that they do not live long enough. Sometimes, we are scoffed at by those who do not understand the worry, the frantic calls to the vet, the dilligent administration of medicines and salves when they are hurt.
"It's just a CAT," they say.
But we know better.
I remember him as a kitten still. I remember going down to the Quaker Hill shelter with my youngest sister, looking in the cages. I remember Joanna trying to convince me to adopt one of a pair of black kittens, tumbling and fussing in their cages. If I could have, I would have taken all of them home with me. My elder cat, Ian, was lonely - we had only just moved to Massachusetts, and for the first time since I'd adopted him, he was an only cat. He wouldn't mind the company.
But you can never take them all home. I loved black cats - always have - but there was something about that orange tabby in the topmost cage that caught my eye. He did not demand my attention, nor shirk from it. He looked at me, his brother beside him, and I brought him out, and he purred.
He became Fox then, no longer "Orange Tabby Male 3 months" as his cage tag proclaimed. He made the trip back to my apartment in Massachusetts on my shoulder, sleeping most of the time, and occasionally waking up to wash my ear - a sibling surrogate. He purred, and treaded small white gloved paws, and told me that he was MY cat.
I wish I could say that Ian greeted him with demonstrations of glee - but he didn't. In fact, it was some time before he would come down from the headboard of my bed, and longer before he would walk anywhere inside the house without growling, low and singsong, deep in his throat. For a while, I was afraid that my elder boy might hurt the kitten - and even considered turning him into an office cat.
The picture at the right shows what happened, suddenly, and without preface. One evening, Fox was hiding under the bedskirts and pouncing... Ian was growling, as usual. And then - a pounce went too far. Ian turned, knocked the kitten over... and started washing his ears.
They were fairly inseparable after that.
If you didn't know better, you would have said that they were siblings, two out of the same litter. Perhaps it was the confinement; they were indoor cats then, by dint of our living on a terribly busy road. They played together, slept together, and eventually ate out of the same dish. My boys, I called them. My boys.
Fox grew into a handsome fellow in a garish sunset-and-blonde tuxedo, white shirt front peeping out from his chest, immaculate white gloves and boots and copper-penny eyes. He purred like a motor boat. When he wanted my attention, he would squeak at me, then spring upwards, climbing me like a tree. He was a lap cat and loved it, but also an Olympic class gymnast in the pursuit of his toys. Ian, dark and mysterious as night, had found his opposing half - my sunset boy.
When we moved back to Connecticut, to a quiet apartment complex, I allowed both to become indoor-outdoor cats (after they had discovered how to let themselves out by detaching the screen windows), and he became a master hunter - supplying me with mice, moles, and (once) a flying squirrel. He grew muscular and glossy, moved with grace and pride, and I wondered that I had ever thought confining him would be in his best interests.
Fox accepted with grace the addition of Quentin, our hound dog. He was waiting for me every afternoon when I returned home from work, rushing from the forsythia bushes with his tail raised, squeaking to me in his impossibly kittenish voice, curling around and around my ankles and then bounding ahead to lead me home. It was his calling and his place, and he upheld his duty to the end.
Until the day that he did not come home.
It was the last day of teaching for me, and I had gone out after school to celebrate. It was when I came home that I heard footsteps upstairs... and my neighbor came down, her face speaking before her words that something was wrong.
"We were waiting for you to get home..." she said. "Are you missing a cat?"
He had been the victim of a careless driver, as near as we can tell. His body was stretched, lifeless, on the grassy edge of the road. The street that I had always thought was "not so busy" was changed forever in my mind - and even now, I hear cars driving past, and I cannot help but think that they are going far too fast. They do not look - do not care - and, for all I know, the driver of the car that killed my boy did not even stop. His collar, with reflective tag, bore his address and phone number, if anyone had cared to look.
We buried him illegally in the woods, and planted flowers on his grave. For weeks I could not pass the spot without seeing, in my mind's eye, my golden boy trotting out of the bushes, tail high, squeaking a greeting to me.
There are people who will tell me, argue with me most determinedly, that animals do not have souls, and as such cannot be granted entry to Heaven. I cannot help but feel that they are frightened, perhaps, of the truth. Perhaps animals do not have souls when they are cast out by man or used cruelly for our own purposes... or perhaps they do. Most certainly, however, those who share our homes DO have souls. We give them ours, to share, to warm. And they do go to Heaven. I must believe that. It would be a poor sort of Heaven for me, I think, without animals to share it with.
One day, I will find out for myself. I can only hope that when my time comes that my Fox, my golden boy, will come trotting to meet me, tail high, and lead me Home again.