(A version of this posting with photos--for a fuller understanding--is on view at "A Curious Man." )
In my last article here, I mentioned how Elizabeth and I cut short our Thanksgiving visit due to an approaching storm and concern about our “adored and elderly friend.” It turned out we were right on both counts.
The day after we returned, dear Flo started showing the first signs of kidney disease. On Monday, we took her to the pet hospital. By Wednesday evening, she was gone.
“There’s something about Flo,” Elizabeth said one day sometime ago, as we were driving off on a weekend trip. I’d said “Bye Flo!” moments before, as she sat looking up from our bedroom floor, her paws tucked neatly under her small, elegant figure, her round, green eyes infused with a gold blush, wearing an expression of . . . sadness at my leaving? Wondering if I would stop to pet her once more or scoop her feather-light body into my arms?
I don’t know and I doubt it matters. Any one of those guesses would be enough. What matters is that when we got home from wherever we’d gone, she’d scramble downstairs, or be waiting by the piano bench, greeting us with the loveliest meow I’d ever heard from a cat, a soft bird-like chirp. Just
by walking in the door, we’d performed yet another of the endless flash of miracles that Flo seemed to believe us capable of: “Oh my gosh! You went away! And then you came BACK!” At times, I could've sworn she was about to topple over from ecstasy.
Once we were walking across the front lawn, arm-in-arm and heard a cat cry. We looked around, puzzled—was that another of the cats who live around the compound?--and then up, and there was Flo, wide-eyed and calling from our second-floor bedroom window.
After a long trip, it might take her some minutes to recollect exactly who we were, but once we’d spoke a our doting endearments while scratching her favorite spots, the luminosity that was there, grew brighter again. (In case you're wondering, she wasn't an especially food-obsessed cat.)
Before out first long trip together, we left Flo at a pet care center in Walnut Creek. When we returned home that evening to pack for our trip, Elizabeth looked around and sighed: “Boy, it feels empty around here already.”
Now, we’re sad to say, this house is empty for good. Everywhere I go in this big box, I look for her. It was always “Flo’s House.” Without her, it's darker and feels like it’s time for us to find a new home.
Flo was seven when Elizabeth introduced us eight years ago on a January evening in 2002. Not long after we all moved in together, we bought a new bed and moved the old one
into the office. Flo, used to the old mattress, moved right along with it. I know it sounds pathetic, but after a couple nights of this innocent abandonment, we closed the office door before retiring. It took Flo awhile to understand many things.
In recent years, arthritis emerged making it harder for her to come down to say hello, always with that sweet mew. We started carrying her upstairs whenever possible. She’d always purr, because she loved to be held, her body a perfect snug in our arms. Soon, she took to staying mostly upstairs, where it was warmer and brighter.
She didn’t talk much. Didn’t need to. Her near-constant purr and daffy wonderstruck look said plenty. What a wonderful world it was to Flo! One darn happy thing after another, practically all of it brought about by Elizabeth and Thomas, the miracle-making gods: We made the wet food appear from
the giant white box in the kitchen and the crunchies from the magic bag! We made the sun come out, just to keep Flo warm! We never failed to make Flo feel good. And she, in turn, made us feel good without even knowing. I’ve never known a cat so devoid of that infamous cat-ego or one who seemed to enjoy Being so much. Unlike many cats, she stayed a kitten to the end.
With her jewel figure and fine calico coat, Flo always looked lovely and “ladylike,” as Elizabeth put it. We often called her a “tchotchke kitty” and joked about renting her out for store window displays. Many a stranger marveled at her beauty and fell for her innocent charms.
It was especially amusing to watch her effect on so-called cat haters. When my friend Greg and his strapping son Erik first came to visit, sneers stole across their faces as Flo trotted down the stairs to greet the new giants who’d come to her house all the way from Arizona. A half-hour later, both men had turned into puddles of goo. By evening’s end, Flo was happily snuggled on the couch between Greg and I as we watched a movie on TV, Greg looking down at her with wry astonishment. (Note: Greg is now a cat owner.)
With Flo, resistance was truly futile. The Borg could have picked up important tips from her about conquering the Star Trek universe, the way she did the affections of most everyone who came through our door. Sometimes a simple photo was enough. It was easy to find sitters around our compound who wanted to sit with Flo when we went away.
To be sure, Flo was a cat. She fiercely loathed other cats and, before we moved in together, was allowed to stay out late to do battle with neighborhood felines. As a bird lover, I ordered her indoors for good the first time I found a dead cowbird by our front door (with a handwritten note on the door pointing to the perpetrator of the foul deed “Flo is now a murderer!”). The house was big, windows were plenty and she never seemed to mind at all. The world remained always wonderful.
Elizabeth raised Flo from the palm of her hand. I came along to complete the set. As Elizabeth and I have no children, you can imagine the towering and plunging waves of grief we’re riding right now. I’ve worked from home for the last five years, and whenever times became stressful and boring, I could always walk into our bedroom and find Flo asleep on the coverlet, often with her paw over her eyes to keep the light out. She always woke up happy to see me. Late in the afternoon, she’d wander into the office, and raise her paws up onto my leg and cry for me to come sit with her. In the evening, as we went to bed, she’d run just ahead of my feet, chirping and glancing hopefully over her shoulder, until my discipline melted away and I picked her up with an “Oh my . . . .” I was about the only person she'd let scratch her tummy.
Every night, especially during winter, she’d spend maybe twenty minutes with her nose in the warm perfumed salt of my armpit before returning to her own corner of the bed. Sometimes, I’d awake at around 4:00 a.m. and she’d hop across the bed to spend time by my side.
Flo truly loved us both. To her, we were gods. The hardest thing about being the kind of gods we were, is that moment when you must recognize that some miracles are beyond you.
Flo seemed to believe that Elizabeth and I could do anything and for many years, she was right. But as she grew ill and I finally held her still form for the last time on Wednesday evening, I had to say I was sorry, that this time, Mom and the Big Friendly Giant had no more miracles to perform for her, this luminous, wonderful creature, now gone from us.
Copyright 2010 by Thomas Burchfield
Photos by Elizabeth Burchfield and Author
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published March 15, 2011 by Ambler House Publishing. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.
Causes Thomas Burchfield Supports
The Nature Conservancy; Africare; Capitol Public Radio