Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Gift from Phoenix

or perhaps A Letter From the Clearys' cat.*

I was doing a little deep cleaning today getting under the heavy furniture when I found this. I knew immediately that the poor lizard had been a gift from our cat Phoenix. Phoenix went in and out the cat door during the day and we frequently came home to perfectly uninjured birds flying through the house.

A number of times I would awake at 2 am and hear the cats running through the house playing with one of the pack rats she liked to bring in. The pack rats are slow moving and not very bright. I'm surprised that they aren't extinct. They are a size between mice and rats and look like the mice in a Beatrice Potter book, minus the clothes. They always look like they are smiling. I'd get up at night and catch the rat in a box and let it go in the woods. Any rat that I can catch in a couple of minutes is no match for a cat.

Neither Phoenix nor my husband cared for the other cats, but they loved each other with fierce intensity. Phoenix once spent an entire week in bed with my husband when he was sick with the flu. She loved to sit on his shoulder while he watched TV.

She liked to flop on your face at night--you couldn't breathe. We were afraid that she would flop on our infant son when we first brought him home from the hospital. We kept him in the bassinet in our room and locked her out. We needn't have worried. As soon as she figured out that that thing was alive, she was terrified; and later, maybe a little jealous. After he got older and became mobile, she would leave any room he entered.

Then one day, when he was eight, he called me with a quavering voice. "Look, Mom." Phoenix had climbed into his lap. Obviously, he had grown large enough to be one-who-should-adore-her. And from that day, she expected him to adore her.

Phoenix was named because she "rose" from the ashes. As a kitten she wandered up to my mother-in-law's house with singed whiskers, a spot of hair burned off one side, and singed feet. There had been nine grass and house fires in the area and we never found out where she came from.

She was fourteen when a tumor took her from us. Although she was not young it still seemed to us that she was taken before her time, and our grief was deeper. Yet I know that there can be no heaven without cats. Somewhere she rises again and for her there are green hills, trees, meadows, a warm spot in the sun, and a soft bed.

And maybe a pack rat or lizard.

*A Letter From the Clearys is a short story by Connie Willis that was published in Fire Watch. If you haven't read it, you should. The collection won the Nebula for the best science fiction in 1983. Connie Willis has won six Nebula awards and six Hugo awards, more than any other author. If you have read it, then you know why I subtitled this post.

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