Cat believed that everything was a prison. He was born in the early mid-90s and grew up between Avenues C and D, in a nice vacant lot that was becoming a garden. His mother and brother, now both long since dead, would later move from that neighborhood to, as their circumstances improved, a penthouse just south of Union Square. But: there Cat’s brother fell from the penthouse’s roof terrace, something like 18 floors, destroying a picnic table upon landing and walking away without so much as a limp.
Meanwhile, Cat had moved at a young age just across Tompkins Square Park to St. Mark’s Place and, in the first moment he was left unattended, apparently miscalculated while jumping to the sink from the toilet and broke a hind leg.
In the East Village, Cat lived comfortably for some time with another fine cat, who took ill fairly early in life and then died prematurely. While she was slowly dying, Cat showed no visible mercy or concern and would steal food intended for her. As well he rarely liked any other cats and despite his fairly warm if dignified behavior with all people (though of course he had a very few people that he understood well and to whom he was devoted), the very existence of other cats sometimes sent him into a rage.
Cat was surprised, as he became an adult, to find himself becoming quite hefty. His weight, though, did not prevent him from being extremely acrobatic. He had a habit of waking up atop the refrigerator, because he liked the point of view from there.
Cat would go for years without speaking. And then a period would come when he was rarely quiet at all; then he would decide to be silent for weeks or even years again. He was capable of expressing dismay, affront, pleasure, hilarity, fondness, demandingness, anger, embarrassment, inquisitiveness, contentment, desire, exhaustion and patient tolerance for annoyance equally well in his silent and chatty periods. He never, ever experienced fear of any kind.
Because of his view that there was always something better beyond what boundaries so arbitrarily constrained him, Cat spent most of his life trying to climb over, through and under any possible obstacle, and when that was not possible, he would, in search of new vantages, leap from place to place, from countertop to countertop and fencetop to fencetop. This program of rebellious exercise, combined with summers spent outdoors, began to slim him down. One of his favorite things was at last escaping from his favorite of many prison yards—this prison was a third of an acre of forest and ponds, a place that could quite reasonably be regarded as a refuge—through some new hole to go sit in the dirt and sand down the road, by the bay, among the waving reeds. He liked water in all its forms, even sometimes showering with people. He liked very much to circle a certain swimming pool each summer day, and only once did he misstep and fall in. He was out in a flash. “It was like he flew across the surface of the pool,” said someone who saw this event from a nearby window.
He also likely contracted the first of his many serious ailments one summer a few years back, probably from drinking from his favorite fishing pond. Eventually he weighed just five pounds. At this point he was no longer a young cat. The years had flown by, as they do.
He became acquainted with several veterinarians in this period, each of whom would, in their turn, put on a serious face and a soothing, veterinarian-in-a-movie tone and declare that arrangements should be made—only to be shocked at Cat’s sudden rebounds, weight gain and enthusiasm for new challenges. He licked that chronic disease and then licked the ensuing extreme side effects of that treatment, and a heart murmur, and a destroyed liver, and a number of other obstacles too boring for him to think about much.
He spent much of his whole last year out-of-doors, sometimes in weak shape but more often wildly energetic. He most liked to take long walks on a local golf course, where there were no fences in sight, just broad expanses of rolling savanna. He also spent many mornings hunkered in the bushes, watching everything move. A few months ago he burst into the house with a long and wriggling black snake in his teeth. A short time later, he ate an entire lizard whole. Four days ago he was a white flash seen from the corner of one’s eye, flying between kitchen counters.
He most enjoyed: car rides; barbecue potato chips; cheese popcorn; roasted chickens; pancakes; raw lamb; pumpkin; sleeping under the covers in bed, in the crooks of arms; begging for snacks; stealing food from hiding places; sitting at the dinner table; being held overhead for an “airplane ride” around the house. (He only flew just once on a real plane, in first class.) He pretended to dislike it but he adored being laid out on his back on someone’s lap, his long rear legs stretched out, tail twitching. Most of all, he liked anything with milk: no cereal or ice cream or even butter could be eaten around him in peace.
Even in his last few days he indulged in all these favorite activities and foods with great satisfaction and pride. In his last dark early morning at home, in a sudden extremely weakened condition, while everyone minding him was finally asleep, he left his favorite chair and staggered down to the living room, and then the sun came up and gave him a view into what was beyond the walls around him.
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