Eighteen Years

Eighteen years ago, I heard my cat Alley meowing outside.  So I went outside and got her from the pasture and brought her in.

Problem was, a cat was still crying outside.  My daughter and one son, both teenagers, went outside with me.  And there, up in the laundry line tree, was a small black and white kitten.  She was up high and crying. 

I will never know where she came from. She was tiny, certainly no more than 6 weeks old, and we lived out in the country then, acres from other houses.  Perhaps, as had happened before, someone saw our lights and simply left her out there, and she then fled up the tree from my dogs.  Lots of people abandon cats and dogs near smal farms, thinking they will find homes for themselves.

She was beyond the reach of our ladders and our efforts to get her down only made her climb higher. After about an hour, we left the ladder leaned against the tree.  I told the kids we’d have to go inside and just hope she’d come down the tree far enough to get to the ladder.  Our trying to help was only scaring her higher.

So we went back inside the house.  And once in the door, we heard the baby screaming.  To which my son remarked, "Oh, wow, we forgot we had a baby and left her in here by herself."   Which was absolutely true.  She had only been born a few days prior, and I was really out of practice at having a baby, as it had been 13 years since my last one.  My poor little girl had cried herself absolutely red and rigid while we had been outside, intent on rescuing a kitten.  Milk soon solved all her problems and she went back to sleep.  And I went outside to find a half-stunned kitten on the grass.  The little black and white cat had fallen to the ground. 

I took her into the house.  It was a female. Of course.  And the crook in her tail was a birth defect, not a result of the fall.  Once she gathered her wits, she hissed at me, bit me, scratched me, jumped away and fled into the house.  Feral as could be.  Not a cuddly abandoned kitten but one born wild or at least not handled much.

My son’s orange tom cat Ralph took over.  He found the kitten and showed her that humans produced food on demand and were not so awful as she thought.    By midnight, I was allowed to feed her if Ralph was right there. 

In the morning, I discovered that my son had wrapped her in a baby blanket and put her in the crib with the other baby. With the predictable results.  An extra load of laundry later, all was well. And Ralph had his own kitten, something he had evidently wanted for some time.  She slept at night between his front paws with his chin on top of her.  She ate and she grew to a sleek teenager cat, all black with little white paws and a white chest and white whiskers.  My husband said he reminded her of a little girl dressed up in a black velvet dress.  Ralph taught her to mouse and she was good at it.   There were two fence posts by the pasture that gave the best views for mousing. She sat on one and Ralph sat on the next one, and they hunted all day.  At night they slept curled up together. She had little use for humans but loved Ralph; she was never a cuddly kitten but always very self sufficient.

Several years later, Ralph died when he was struck by a car.  Piwacket, or Pi as she was by then, was inconsolable.  She went out and sat on Ralph’s fencepost. She stayed there all day, not hunting, not moving.  At night, I went out and carried her in.  The next morning, she went out and sat there again.  This went on for three days.  At night, I would bring her in and put her on my lap while I typed.  She was like a dead thing.

Then one morning, as I sat down to do my work, Pi came and got up on my lap.  She stayed until I turned the computer off. As the Windows ‘shut down’ chimes rang, she jumped down. 

The next day, as soon as I turned the computer on, she came to help me work. Windows welcome sound, time to go to work.  Together, we wrote Assassin’ Apprentice.  It was her first book, for her and for Robin Hobb.

Today, 18 years later, we celebrated my younger daughter’s birthday late, with lots of family and three kinds of home made cake and flowers on the table, and Pi asleep in the yard.  The last year has not been kind to my old cat.  Her legs are stiffening.  She has lost weight and muscle in her legs and chest, and her belly has become a hard round ball.  She has become senile, capable of getting lost in the back yard, or crying because she is thirsty and can’t find her water dish.  Stairs are her enemy now.  Recently, she has begun to have seizures.  I know that we are running out of time, Pi and I.

But she still loves to find a sunny spot and follow it across the floor as she naps in it..   She still greets my grand-daughter with huge purrs.  She still loves shrimp.  And sometimes, she still comes to the desk chair and yowls until I pick her up and put her on my lap while I type.  We still may have a few stories to write together, Pi and I. 

I hope she will be merciful to me, and that some night, in her basket by the fire, she will breathe out and not in again.  I hope she goes quietly and without struggle.

Thanks for 18 good years, Pi cat. 

27 Responses to Eighteen Years

  1. While I haven’t been lucky enough to have a pet live so long, I remember what it was like when Harpo became wobbly on his legs and needed help to get up. The family hoped that we would find him under a table one morning and that we wouldn’t be forced to call the vet. I’m very glad that I wasn’t home when my parents made the decision to call her.

    I owe you a rather lengthy e-mail. Perhaps I will start writing it the next time I feel the urge to procrastinate.

    – Lisa

  2. I always cry when people talk about their old kitties. Mine is right next to me, purring, with her youngest sister waiting her turn not far away. She’s 14, not really old-old, but old enough that, well, I know it could be soon.

    I had a black and white cat who came to me when I was three, and I had 19 good years with her. I hope you have more time with your girl, adn that it is as good as the time I had with Shirley. She sounds remarkable. Definitely a Cat of Quality.

    Thank her for me, for all of us, for her part in Assassin’s Apprentice. You know that without their help this stuff just wouldn’t get done. My cat swears that’s the truth.

  3. Oh, Pi! This lovely post just made me well up, while Halo licks her paws clean in the doorway. You have a magical cat. And speaking of magic, I hope your birthday girl had a fantastic day.

  4. what a wonderful tribute to what must be a remarkable animal!

    I’m so glad that I’m subscribed to your journal here – your sharp writing comes out even in your non-novelized work and is likewise moving to read.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. i am wondering if she was the inspiration for your cat character in the farseer books. a small part for an awesome character. 🙂 one of the things i love best about your writing is that your non-human characters do not have human priorities – a very hard thing to find and do imho.

  6. Awww, you’re getting me teary.
    And you’ve only done that a couple of times before in your novels.
    Probably because I miss my Jasmine kitty who I had and loved for eleven years.

  7. My cat that I’ve had since I was 7 died recently, 2 days after I graduated college. I moved 6,000 miles this week and I knew I wouldn’t be able to take her with me, so it was sort of good timing that she bowed out when she did, but I’ll always miss her. She was the sweetest little cat. I felt very morbid for taking her ashes with me when I moved. Small furry creatures have a way of twining themselves around the heartstrings. Pi has had an excellent life.

  8. What a lovely tale. Thanks for sharing it with us. I had a lovely orange and white cat named Sara for 19 years. The last year was a struggle. I still miss her coming up to sit with me anytime I sat down. I hope you and Pi write a few more stories together.

  9. What a wonderful life Pi has had! She’s had good family, good friends, adventures and comfort both, and she has helped write books that bring joy to people. I hope when I am as old as Pi and get lost in my backyard and can’t manage stairs that I will have as many lovely memories to think about when I nap in a sunny spot.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing. My parents and I have had a menagerie of animals throughout the years, but usually it’s been my mom who’s been home to bury the older ones. I just come home and they’re gone. A couple years ago though it was me, all alone with our old cat Emily. It was the most wrenching thing in the world to watch her struggling to breathe and I had to go away until she was gone. I couldn’t watch her. I also hope your cat Pi goes quietly and peacefully.

  11. This post inspired me to spend a chunk of yesterday trying to track down a video friends posted of their cat breathing, a close-up of the fur, resting in a sunny spot. (I didn’t find it. It’s buried in the bowels of facebook somewhere, and it seems like an awkward thing to ask them about.) But it turned out to be a few days before the cat died (I think they knew their cat was sick when they took the video), and was very moving.

    A lot of my memories of pets over the years are of them and a sunny spot. It’s a pleasant way to think of them.

  12. That was beautifully written, and it reminded me strongly of my own animal friend, who died 5 years ago. I had “rescued” him from some jerks, and I had (I thought) zero time for him– but we made our way though life in the most bonded way I can imagine. I was single at the time, and twice I rejected a date when he didn’t like him. We argued, we danced… It was amazing. Long story short…. I have done a lot of bad things in life, and a few good– one of the very few things that I feel any guilt about was that I kept him going those last 6 months or so.. In retrospect, it was a selfish and cowardly thing. Sheltie’s don’t like having their ass wiped, or being fed high-calorie mush, or being carried around the block. It’s just not them. Be brave.

  13. She sounds like a sweet adorable kitty cat. You must thank her for me for helping you to create such wonderful written works. I am certain her love and companionship shall forever live on within the hearts that she has touched. It was much the same when my little dog Pepe La Pu (or just Pepe) got to a rickety age. Her fur became more matted and unclean, her belly was full of lumps and her eyes seemed glazed over… she had been there for me through so much… but in the end, I knew that her passing would bring her peace, she could have only been suffering at that point. She will forever be with me.

    On a lighter remembrance, I once had a rather wiley black tom cat, who in his youth found himself stuck high upon the trunk of a dilapidated dead pine. The pine tree had been dead for so long that it no longer had many, if any, branches to speak of. He was so high up that even with our tallest ladder, and my father at the very top, we could not reach him. Naturally our attempts to retrieve him only sent him yet farther up the tree. He had been up in the tree all day and as a concerned teenage girl, I rigged together a catch-pole of sorts. I tied a box (used to hold quarts of strawberries) to the end of a tree trimming pole (a pole with a curved saw at the top), and had my father hold that up to him. Remarkably Salem, said trapped kitty, actually climbed into the box! We were able to get him down safe and somewhat sound. Such silly creatures kitties can be… :3

  14. Wow. That’s an incredibly touching story. I think it is great that your cat has shared that time with you in such a meaningful manner. I lost my cat back in February, she had just turned 14, and I understand what it is like to see your normally healthy cat go into decline in the sunset of their life. Thank you for sharing that with us all.

  15. ghost writing

    This reminded me of a lovely Muriel Sparks novel I read this summer called A Far Cry from Kinsington. An English editor advises writers to get a cat and let it sit on their desk while they’re writing. Makes me wonder how many books we owe to cats.

    I’ve written about my 19- year- old-dachshund Paley – she’ll be 20 this Thanksgiving, but you post makes me want to go back and do her justice.

  16. Pi Cat

    I just finished reading Fool’s Fate. I am normally an avid reader but during the time I have been reading these 9 books I have had University and since then 3 hard years culminating in my Love leaving me. As you can imagine This tale has had a lot of painful parallels but I think I have enjoyed my life inside the book as much as outside.
    Because that is how it has felt. I have lived will Fitz and The Fool and Althea and Tintaglia – the whole bunch for several years now. I feel almost bereaved that they are gone.
    I have the Dragon Keeper ready to sink my teeth into and while checking on the release date of the sequel I came across this post.

    It is a wonderful tale, told well by a master storyteller and it has warmed me. The origin of Pi (the fact you live on a small farm expains a lot about your books) and I will always have the image of Pi sitting with you as you wrote that important part of my life.

    If you have some apricot brandy to hand, here is to Pi

  17. Re: Pi Cat

    About ten days ago, I thought sure we were going to lose her. But whatever it was, she pulled through and is still supervising the office here!


  18. Re: Pi Cat

    Gentle hugs to kitty. I hope she’s feeling better for a long time.

    We just got a kitten (rescued from a storm caused by the ONLY cold front to come through FL so far). His name is Stormy, and I have to tell you that he is learning how to be a writer’s kitty…though still in the apprentice mode.
    I usually have to stop typing to take him off the keyboard every few minutes. =)