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Monday, February 07, 2011

The Woeful Tale of the Tailless Cat

One may go through life without a tail but that doesn't mean one has to enter death without one. Over the years i've made multiple references, most of them derogatory, about the tailless grimalkin that has haunted the Coop. Her given name was Tabitha, about the most unimaginative name i can imagine someone can give a cat. i can say that because i didn't name her. We just called her Tabby. Which always struck me as wrong because she was not a Tabby. She was a Manx. A breed from the Isle of Mann that for one reason or another do not have tails. And that's that. Which is why this is the Woeful Tale of the Tailless Cat and not the Woeful Tale of Tabitha's Tail. She was born without one and never knew no different. A fact which might, i think, have contributed to her legendary clumsiness. She tripped, fell and missed more jumps than a drunk gymnast. The only thing funnier than her athletic disasters were her attempts to regain her dignity afterwards. Which might explain why those crazy Manx Islanders bred cats without tails in the first place. Not a lot to do there i understand.

Tabby was a refugee. i don't remember how she lost her first home but we rescued her from a second party who couldn't keep her either. Tabby never played nice with other cats. She didn't fight with them, that wasn't her style. She was far too subtle for that. She just made her presence so unbearable and repugnant that the other cat retreated under a bed and wouldn't come out until Tabby was gone. i imagine her making snide comments about the other cat's breeding and socio-economic status until they cried. Kinda like an alpha cheerleader.

So she came to live with us here at the Coop and with the possible exception of her bedding down ritual (she couldn't lay down without first placidly, ripping apart whatever surface she had deemed worthy for her recline: sofa, carpet, clothing, bare leg...) she was a pleasing companion. And so the years passed like sands in the litterbox, no one sat with idle hands without a fuzzy poke in the arm...until...

Tabby's catapult from grace was almost greek in it's tragedy. Her one character flaw; her inability to suffer another cat's presence; brought about her final catastrophe. When we took in a stray kitten and nursed it back to proper intestinal function, Tabby, true to form, went about attempting to shun the kitten into submission. The kitten however was blessed with a kind of stupidity that wasn't aware of breeding and socio-economic status and was delightfully interested in playing with old cats that didn't want to play. Her tried and true strategies stymied, Tabby would have nothing to do with it... or anywhere that it had relieved itself. As the kitten was polite enough to use the litterbox, Tabby would not. Not when we provided her with her own litterbox, not when we placed a litterbox in the new areas of the Coop that she had chosen, not even after she served a disciplinary period out of doors. Tabby was incorrigible and unrepentant. So after a long heart to heart talk with her one evening, we both decided that it would be best for everyone if she chose to live outside. She also chose shot put ejection as her best exit strategy and so, with fleeting regret, i heaved her as far as i could.

She adapted quickly. Supplementing her diet of cat food with rodents, fowl and amphibians from the local watering holes. When once the boys tied a large rubber spider to a fishing pole to tease the kitten with, we got the idea to go outside on the deck and see what Tabby would do with it. It was a wild kingdom episode. As soon as the rubber spider hit the ground forty feet in front of Tabby she went into a predatory crouch. i twitched the spider once or twice and before i could react, she had crossed the span and pounced! We were properly awed. She became the bus stop companion, following the Ballyhoo down every morning and making use of idle hands. She frequented our picnics and patio sits where she would enthrone herself on the chair next to you and poke your arm to remind you what it was for.

The only thing she couldn't handle were the winters. Turns out the Isle of Mann rarely, if ever, drops below freezing and it almost never snows there. She spent them cussing the cold in Manx and making sure everyone within the sound of her Roseanne Barritone knew of her displeasure. More years passed. She lost her hearing and didn't hunt so much but cussed year round. She learned to hang just outside a window and make metronomic miau until she was fed. If we slept in on a weekend, she might even come to the deck door of our bedroom. She earned the title, Most Annoying Cat in the World and wore it proudly.

i thought, perhaps, in death she had finally deigned to be gracious and kind. i found her on a winter's day where the sun was shining and the temps were well above freezing. She appeared to be sleeping in the open with a tarp pulled up like a blanket. She could very easily have died under the brand new deck where i never would have been able to reach her but would remember she was there until the day she finished decomposing. i thought, could it be? Had she made her passing as easy as possible?

Then i started digging. The pile of stone i pulled from her grave grew larger than the pile of sloppy, wet clay i had to shake off the shovel. Dignified and subtly cruel to the end. Touché my old nemesis, touché.

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