As soon as I stepped from the car I could hear the hysterics. The sounds of screaming, crying and carrying on were tumbling down the stairs and through the still closed door into the parking lot, daring me to turn around and drive right back to work.
“What is going on,” I say incredulously as I put down my bags and get the full force of our four-year-old ricocheting into my arms.
“Squeak is dead. Squeak is DEAD! Squeak is dead and daddy wouldn’t let me say goodbye,” Ittybit says rapid-fire through a curtain of tears.
“Don’t you check your messages?” her father hissed over the dinner preparations, tired of dealing with the aftermath of the news all by himself. “I called you hours ago.”
But I was stunned by the realization that one of our neighbor’s many cats — an animal that spent most of her waking life pretending to sleep on OUR porch — was gone.
“Squeak is dead?”
“Hit by a car. She didn’t make it.”
“I wasn’t sure if I should tell her about the cat.”
“Well, I think you did the right thing. I’m not fond of telling kids that their furry friends went to live on farm or just up and ran away. And there’s nothing worse than telling a kid the animal ‘went to sleep never to awaken again’ right before bed.”
I’m not a cat person. But I am, I think, a tolerant person; and as a tolerant person I must admit that there are cats, which, from time to time make me rethink my aversion.
The cats that toy with my affections always seem to be a little more canine than feline. They act like lunatics standing up to and flinging themselves against invisible foes. They beg for morsels of food from my plate or just seem really glad to see me when I return. Even if they’re not really glad to see me at all.
Squeak, however, was the classic anti-cat.
A sweet little calico, she got her name not only from her penchant to 'talk' but the timber of her voice. She was neither timid nor feisty. She was friendly toward the children, and even tolerated our tiny screamer, The Champ, who had also recently started experimenting with affection by pulling furry tails and ears and appendages. She seemed contrary to the very nature of cats: She wasn’t aloof, she didn’t startle easily or seem skittish.
Of course she didn’t drool or bark their heads off with every leaf wafting down from the trees this time of year, but even some dog lovers wouldn’t argue those as a top qualities for their non-speaking companions.
Mostly, she just seemed to like us, not merely tolerate us.
Squeak greeted us each time we returned home by rolling onto her belly in front of our stoop and begging for affection. Even if we were carrying groceries we had to stop and give her a pat, we couldn’t help ourselves. She just seemed to have a smile in whatever she was doing.
I was stunned.
The house was quiet again except for the clanging of utensils in the kitchen and the scraping of rolling toys across the floor. Ittybit was silent, too, drawing a picture to give to Squeak’s owners; an offering of bereavement.
“I can’t believe squeak is really dead,” I said, looking at the picture.
“Maybe tomorrow we can bring flowers and put them on her grave.”
“I think that would be a nice thing to do.”
“And then the next day we should go and buy cat treats.”
“Well … Ittybit,” I stammer. “Squeak won’t be hungry anymore.”
“I know! But none of the other cats play with me. I’ve got to make friends with one of them now.”