Goodnight, Old Man

When he first came around my back porch, he looked wary, skittish, hungry. He’d wait, on guard, on the stairs until I put the food dish down and then re-entered the house, closing the door behind me. I’d watch, from the window, as he scurried to the food, making quick glances up towards me, ready to bolt if I opened the door again.

He made friends with my beloved little FrauFrau. Two black cats, I’d watch them in the alley, as they’d saunter and sniff, lounge and chase. FrauFrau slept inside, of course, but he did not come near me all summer. I covered a milk crate with plastic and put a blanket inside it so that he’d have shelter when it rained. I fed him everyday.

In the Fall the nights grew cold. One afternoon I was in the kitchen with the door open, and he slunk in and plopped down on a chair.

“Hello, Black Cat,” I said, and continued to slowly go about my business.

When Frau went outside, he did too. They ate together, and stayed inside together in the increasing cold and rainy days. I’d pet him delicately on the head when he rested on the chair, careful not to startle him. He ran under furniture if I moved too quickly throughout the house or laughed too loudly on the phone. I caught him at the foot of my bed in the middle of the night (FrauFrau’s body languidly extended near my head, soft belly exposed in complete trust), but he jumped down as soon as I tried to move towards him.

Two weeks in I was sitting on the couch watching TV with FrauFrau, as he surveyed us from the hallway, crouching on the rug. One decided moment, he moved across the room, hopped up on the couch, and walked right onto my lap, sitting with paws underneath him, allowing me to pet him all over. We’ve been fast friends ever since.

I called him Stinky, at first. My mother objected: “It isn’t dignified.” So I instead called him Inky.

The stench came from his mouth. Blood and pus would sometimes ooze out the side of his jaw, but I did not yet dare take him to the vet. I fear he would be too traumatized. He was still apprehensive of other people, and loud noises, and quick movements, and sneezing, and exhaling too fast.

In late Fall I risked the vet visit for sterilization and vaccination. He shrieked—his piercing, panicked call—the whole time. Bad news, though, he has a heart murmur, and the kitty aids and leukemia virus, like most abandoned alley cats. The vet doesn’t know how old he is: his skin is fairly youthful; his teeth rotted and infected, with gingivitis like a geriatric feline. “You never know what they’ve been through,” the vet says about feral cats. I doubt he’d had a human before I took him in. It took years before he warmed to anyone else but me.

He gets his balls snipped and all his teeth pulled (except the fangs) in the same operation, the vet agreeing that his heart murmur shouldn’t have to tolerate two separate procedures. On his return to my apartment he would wiggle his hindquarters as if to jump, feel pain in his testicles, and decide against it, but not without giving me a look of betrayal.

For two years my two black cats were my witchy familiars, and when FrauFrau died far too young, Inky would sleep on me: on my belly, or dip of my hip as I lay on my side, or back. He’d never done that before, but he must have felt my grief, his weight comforting, the feline version of a hug. I loved her.

Within a few years another stray adopted us, or, rather, adopted Inky. This time it was a grey Tabby, friendly, young, full of energy. In the morning I’d open the door to let Inky out and he’d hop up on the patio table and yelp—a sound he never made with me—and the Tabby would come running. I’d feed him, and they’d spend their time together.

The Tabby hardly took any time at all to warm to me. He had friends all over the neighborhood. When I had him fixed and vaccinated, gave him a collar with his name and my number on it, I got calls from neighbors expressing their joy that someone had adopted him. He visits them for food. It’s been quite a few years since then, and, still, my Tabby does his daily tour of the neighborhood and sometimes returns smelling like perfume. So I know he gets cuddles and treats from various girlfriends, the lovable little skank.

Inky and the Tabby loved each other. I’d never quite seen two cats be that close that were not raised together, both aggressively affectionate with me and each other. My cats have never been aloof. They joked that Inky was my boyfriend (always following me around) and the Tabby my step-son (demanding attention and food).

But Inky grew to be a senior. His joints stiffened. He slept even more. I eventually had to stop my lively Tabby from play fighting with him, fearing injury. Our favourite time was early morning, where he’d curl up by my head and rub his nose on my face.

Kitty snot is a badge of honour.

He spent his days sleeping next to me whenever he could, always curled up, body closed off as to be in the least vulnerable position, never quite losing that feral cat suspicion (unlike the sprawling, underbelly-bared, and gloriously unconcerned sleep of my Tabby). Inky would instantly begin purring his sonorous rumble when I reach out my hand for a pet. I once left the country on a six-month research trip, and took a recording of that wonderful resonant purr. I played it on my phone when I felt lonely.

As with all our fur-friends, Inky’s life crept into its twilight years. I knew, for weeks, that his time was coming, but, like all hoomans in love with their kittehs, that it would be difficult. When the vet said he had a growth in his throat that was likely causing him pain, I arranged for a home euthanasia visit the very next day.

He always despised the vet. He cried the whole way there, in the waiting room, during the exam, and the way home. Even routine check-ups prompted him to sulk for a few hours upon return, turning his back to us all as if to say, “Fuck you guys. I need a moment alone.”

So I could not have him put down at the vet. He spent the night sleeping in my bed, curled up by foot or leg, always ensuring he was touching me.

I spent the day sitting with him, cuddling, telling him I loved and how happy I was that he’d chosen to adopt me. When the doctor came to my house with an assistant, Inky was in his favourite sleeping spot on the back porch—a dirty old rattan table, perfect for scratching and sleeping. They relaxed Inky’s muscles with an injection, and I sat with him, petting, for a few minutes, hoping that my Tabby understood, somehow, what was happening to his brother. Then they injected something to stop his heart. I cried the whole way through, tears wetting the fur on his head.

So Goodnight My Old Man, my Inky Dink, my Mr. Inks, the Shrieker and Purr Machine, my Boyfriend and Kitteh. Inky, my Buddy, life was better because of you.