Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Monster's Paw

She hid beneath my box of climbing gear.  I worried that the weight of the cams and dozen shoes would fall on her but she seemed happy in her little hole.  I shouldered a back pack and grabbed the box.
“Good bye Monster,” I told Annie. I thought about taking a picture of Annie to send to Kim but I hurried out the door to go climbing.  Annie didn’t budge from her uncovered nest.  It was the last time I saw her. 
Annie and Gus hanging tough in the apartment
Kim received Annie for Christmas.  Kim was 19 and Annie was a few months old, she was born on October 18th.  Before Kim had Annie spayed, she slept in Kim’s room. When Annie was 2 years old and in heat, she purred maniacally.  She didn’t meow, instead she cried out in short barks.  Kim let her out of  the bedroom.  Annie escaped and 9 weeks later gave birth to 4 kittens.  One of the four lives with Kim still.  Gus, the California street lion, meows often. 

Annie never introduced herself but I never introduced myself either.   The grey Persian first noticed the smell of bacon filling Kim’s apartment.  She jumped from her window perch and waddled over to the kitchen. 
“Hello Monster,” I said. She stared at me and then lifted a paw in the air, pointing it first at me and then at the cast iron skillet.  Her flat face and her matted grey fur made me suspicious but I lowered a piece of Applewood bacon to her.  This was how she trained me.
Over time I learned of a thing called Tortitude.  Annie's coloring, a dilute tortoise shell grey with spots of peach, means she's a Tortie.  In an article titled "Tortitude- the Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats", the author of the ConciousCat article says, "In addition to their distinctive coloring, torties also have a reputation for unique personalities, sometimes reffered to as 'tortitude'."
When there was ice cream, bacon wrapped scallops, even wet cat food, the paw came out and pointed in the air.   It was the tortitude and this was her signature move.     

 “Did you notice anything wrong with Annie this morning?” Kim asked me as I walked to the crag on August 13, 2012.
“I grabbed my stuff and headed out the door.  She was hiding on the stairs.  I don’t think she’d been feeling well the past few days,” I said into the phone. 
“I’m at the vet.  I picked her up.  She was foaming at the mouth and wasn’t doing well.”  Kim’s voice sounded strong. “I’m gonna see what the vet has to say.  I’ll call you back in a little bit.”

Annie was born with a fused back.  She walked with a limp.  Her handicaps made her vulnerable they also made her endearing. This year, she turned 12.  Her health detoriated.  Over Thanksgiving, Kim called me and told me that Annie was sick.  She needed someone to watch her. I wasn’t entirely happy about it but Kim needed me.  I drove from Smith rocks in a snow storm to Kim’s apartment.

When I arrived in Berkeley from Smith, I could not find Annie.  She was not on her cushion by the window or on the back of the couch.  I rummaged through the house for an hour, worried that she’d escaped somehow.  I found the little monster hiding under the bed.  She limped down the stairs at a near run when I vacuumed and pawed the air when I fried eggs for breakfast.  I watched Annie for a week while Kim was in New Orleans.  When Kim returned, Annie was better.  When Kim was gone, I would wink at Annie, thanking her for bringing me back to Berkeley.

“It’s easier to watch people die than pets,” Derek Powell told me that August afternoon at Tahoe's Snowshed Wall.  Derek’s father worked as a zookeeper and than later ran a pet shop when Derek was young.  He spent much of his adolescence taking care of animals.  Kim had called me again, telling me that she was going to put Annie down the next day.
“My friend asked me to put his cat down.”  He said at the base of Little Feat.  He did not elaborate. 
“I had to spoon feed a parott before it died.” He added a few minutes later.
Derek works as a paramedic for the San Francisco fire department.  He’s seen hundreds of people die.  He’s never mentioned them but he did talk about the parrot and the cat.

Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to his friend, wrote of his cat Miss Uncle Willie, who was hit by a car.  The accident caused compound fractures and the cat was very hurt.  “It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding.  But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it.”  Hemingway gave the cat some milk and than shot it in the head.   The stoic Hemingway cried.  “Certainly missed you.  Miss Uncle Willie,” wrote Hemingway.  “Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years.  Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.”  The death of a pet is a heavy thing.  They are part family.  

While I stayed in Tahoe, Annie slept on the bed with Kim that night.  She’d stared at the ice cream and raw chicken that Kim had placed in front of her. She did not wave her paw when it came by.  She did not purr.  “Annie just died.” Kim texted me at 4 a.m.

I keep looking for Annie. Though she didn’t leave her perch often, Kim’s apartment is a little quieter these days.  I’ll miss The Monster’s paw.

The Monster rules the apartment

From Harpers Vol. 325 No. 1946

From a February 22, 1953, letter from Ernest Hemingway to his close friend Gianfranco Ivancich.  The letter was purchased last year by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for its Hemingway Collection and made available to scholars this March. The first volume of  The letters of Ernest Hemingway, a joint project of Cambridge University Press and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, was published last year.
Dear Gianfranco,
            Just after I finished writing you and was putting the letter in the envelope Mary came down from the Torre and said, “Something terrible has happened to Willie.”  I went out and found Willie with both his right legs broken: one at the hip, the other below the knee.  A car must have run over him or somebody hit him with a club.  He had come all the way home on the two feet of one side.  It was a multiple compound fracture with much dirt in the wound and fragments protruding.  But he purred and seemed sure that I could fix it. 
            I had Rene get a bowl of Milk for him and Rene held him and caressed him and Willie was drinking the milk while I shot him through the head.  I don’t think he could have suffered and the nerves had been crushed so his legs had not begun to really hurt.  Monstruo wished to shoot him for me, but I could not delegate the responsibility or leave a chance of Will knowing anybody was killing him.
            Afyerwards I was crying when a Cadillac came to the door with a worse psyche than that big one I had to hit.  With him was his keeper.  I still had the rifle and I explained to them they had come at a bad time and to please understand and go away.  But the rich Cadillac pyscho said, “We have come at a most interesting time.  Just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.”
            They were inside the house and so I locked both the doors and sent their chauffeur away.  The one said, “You have a gun.  There is always someone with a gun.”
            So I gave him the gun (cocked) and then he started to make compliments. So I took his horned-rim spectacles off and took the gun away from him and put it away in Mary’s room.  Then I humiliated him as he should be humiliated, omit details, and then the awful thing happened.  He thanked me and his keeper thanked me and said that was what he needed and what he came for. What sort of people are these?
            He was a rich boy, officer in 11th Airborne Div., which never jumped in combat (not their fault0; they would have made the assault in Japan if we had not used the atomic bomb and I suppose they never got over it.

            Certainly missed you.  Miss Uncle Willie.  Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for eleven years.  Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.

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