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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

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Meet Eureka. Our 'reka.



The first time my mother came to visit me in Arkansas, I took her up to Eureka Springs for an overnight excursion. Eureka, a popular tourist destination in the Ozarks, is a quaint historic town distinguished by its gingerbread-trimmed architecture, its quickie wedding chapels, its status as a midwestern haven for back-to-the-landers and homosexuals, and its year-round, outdoor Passion Play. The result is a kind of bizarre convergence of gay honeymooners, aging hippies, and bible thumpers. If Eureka Springs had a coat of arms, it would have to incorporate a rainbow triangle, a cannabis leaf and Jesus Saves. It's an interesting town.

The second day of our stay, we ate outdoors at a little Italian joint, Luigi's. A scrawny black kitten was yowling at me from the hedge through our whole meal. It kept yowling as I tried to walk down the sidewalk, away from it. I had recently lost two cats, in the dissolution of my first marriage, and I wasn't over either loss. It felt too soon to be tied down again.

The kitten didn't give a damn. He followed me until the hedge ran out, then stood there, yowling. I stopped in my tracks, and looked at my mother. She just sighed. The cat rode home to Little Rock under her feet. I called him Eureka. What else?

A year later, when we were looking around at places to get married, the quickie chapels in Eureka Springs were high on the list of prospective sites. I called Luigi's to check on availability for a small wedding dinner (we naively thought the deal could be accomplished between ourselves and a couple of witnesses). "By the way," I told the manager, "we found our cat at your restaurant a year ago." I said this warmly, as if confiding that we named our firstborn after him.

"A black cat? You took the cat???"

He didn't sound inclined to cut us a deal. I hung up the phone, and we tied the knot in Little Rock, with a hundred or so of our most intimate drinking companions.

***

Eureka is eleven years old now. He has accepted each addition to our family over the years with equanamity and grace. Starting with my beloved Chesapeake, Bailey, who would submit nervously to nightly tongue baths, and from whose sudden death I trace the beginning of the cat's own decline. Then the first baby, whose first word was "kitty-kat." Later, when we tried to teach him to say "Eureka", he translated it to first person possessive. "My-reka," he called the cat for several years. And then, somehow, as little brothers followed, this evolved into their collective name for him, "Pet-reka".

Eureka has tried to befriend Fanny, the dottweiller, the rebound hound. But Fanny, as has been noted, has self-esteem issues. Hurt people bite people.

A couple of Decembers ago, on a bitterly cold St. Lucia's night, a calico cat came yowling at our front door. Enter Lucy, a typical teenager: rowdy, disrespectful, pushy. Eureka has borne it all with dignity.

Eleven years is not the end of the line for many felines, but our fella seems to have used up most of his lives. Once the king of the neighbourhood (twice, he went missing for weeks on end), he now spends his days inside. We find him in increasingly bizarre hiding spots, trying to keep his old bones warm. He loves to sleep on my ibook or behind the kids' pc. Yesterday, I found him curled up in the bottom of the washing machine, just as I was about to dump a load of towels in.

I think one day soon, he will curl up to sleep for good. He seems to weigh mere ounces, just fur and hollow bones. My three-year-old takes great delight in hoisting him up in his arms and hauling him limply around. "Me so strong," he declares. Always the littlest, I suppose he loves feeling that he can lord it over someone in this house.

Eureka, always extraordinarily gentle and tolerant of children, rarely utters a protest.

Tonight they sat on the sofa in the lamplight, side by side— the very first life that Patrick and I were given to nurture together, and one of the latest.

The baby brought his angel face to hover near the cat's ear. "You're my best friend," he said softly.

These beings came into my life—yowling—and I thought it was going to be all about them and me. Patrick and me. The cat and me. The kids and me. Sets of points, plotted along unconnected, straight lines. Now I see that my life is just one little glob of gossamer in a web that keeps spinning out in all directions. And I'm not even at the center of it.

It's taken me a while. But the cat seems to have grasped it long ago.

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6 Comments:

Blogger patsyrose said...

Thanks to the creatures big and small who drop into our lives along the way and enrichen it.

8:48 AM  
Blogger bluebird of paradise said...

sweet sweet :petricka" he/she will be sorely missed..........
she /he has had quite a wonderful life.
funny how these strange wild creatures become such an intregal part of our life. i often think of my pets as monkeys and marvel at how they have let me share their life.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Carmen said...

That last paragraph is just, well...perfection.

I too had a cat who had been with me for forever--even before husband, and kids, and real life. He has been gone since last Thanksgiving, just as you described--fell asleep one last time. I still miss him.

Thankfully we have a huge, slobbery, loving labrador retriever who is full of energy and infinitely tolerant of the whims of 2 little girls--hula skirts on her one day, laying on top of her the next!

2:48 PM  
Blogger mommyneedsacocktail said...

sniff...sniff...

10:15 AM  
Blogger Maia said...

Oh! What a lovely little tribute!

3:56 PM  
Blogger Glitzy said...

What a beautiful post. I teared up at your three yr old telling Eureka that was his best friend.

9:55 AM  

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