Friday, 11 March 2016


Faithful looking down at Sparky, through the glass door.

There is a partial, very, very partial antidote to the lonely, motionless aspect my apartment has taken on since the last of my companions died. I may have mentioned Faithful to you. She is one of the feral cats my building manager feeds on the other side of the building—the only one, it seems, who visits the backyard, which I face. Faithful* and Sparky had a long and complicated relationship, beginning with her beating him to a pulp as often as possible, or at least terrorizing him. 

I found, on the two occasions that I did it, that I felt very unhappy about yelling at her when she was stalking him. I didn’t like adding to the stress of the situation. So I started greeting her enthusiastically instead. “Hello-o-o! How are you?!” This startled her into looking away from him and at me. Sparky escaped, and all was well. But it also meant that she began taking an interest in me. She started slowing down in her progress across the yard to look at me when I came to the window, then later began showing up on my balcony and watching me through the glass. Seeing me pet Sparky and brush him was quite absorbing. But she maintained, and has now for several years, a frightened distance not only from me but from any other person. In fact, we have the most intimate relationship she has so far developed with a human. She will sniff my hand—once long ago even ate a few crunchies from my palm—but is generally happy to gaze at me through the glass and blink. I of course blink back, when I don’t initiate it, as this is cat talk (as I’m sure you know) for “Aren’t we having a pleasant time?”

The ultimate expression of our affection came a year or so ago when I was inspired to scratch her through the glass door. I had held my finger up for her to “sniff”, and she leaned forward to meet it. Then I started scratching the glass and she, to my amazement, enthusiastically rubbed her head on the other side of the door. We kept this up whenever we saw each other till she stopped coming around so much.

The day Sparky died, Faithful, whom I had not seen much for a fair while, showed up two times, in the morning when he was alive, and in the evening when he was not. She came every day for five more days, and then stopped again. I did, in the first day or so when he was still here, let her smell my fingers after I had petted him, to let her know that he was dead. (I have only touched on their interactions here. Although she tormented him in the end I decided she was actually fond of him. Once when he soared over to have a glass-fight she bent down and bumped her head against the door in the same way she did when I was scratching it. Wonder of wonders...)

About a week ago I got up in the morning, closed the window, and saw Faithful bound off the balcony. I wasn’t sure whether she had been peering through the glass looking for me, as she often will even at times when I am hopefully sleeping, or had just been passing through.

The next day I did the same thing and saw her leap up from the balcony chair. I had long since given up on her taking advantage of the cushioned chair I provide there, but apparently with Sparky’s death things, as they always do among cats who live together, have begun to change. The next morning I was more careful, and she continued resting there even once she became aware of my presence.

She has been there for hours every day since then. I don’t notice her there at night, but in the morning she is usually there, and if I don’t do crazy things like sweep the floor vigorously with my corn broom (an eye-poppingly scary sound), she will sleep on for ages, occasionally twitching her ears or glancing over at me when I clatter a bit. I don’t feed her, though in the past she used to like the odd treat. But food is not the basis of our relationship. A relationship entirely decided by her.

It is amazing how calming it is just to see her there. My whole psyche is shaped by the knowledge that there have always been cats strewn through my home and my life. The shape of a cat, the sound of a cat’s voice, the glance of a cat in my direction are all things that have a physical effect on me. I relax muscles I hadn’t even realize were tensed, just knowing a cat friend is around.

So. Who knows how long she will keep sleeping here, but she is midwifing me through this difficult transition, and I am grateful to her.

And by the way. I came home last night and saw a cat fly from the chair, so instantly called out in a soothing way. The movement was lighter, the speed quicker than Faithful generally is. (Though don’t be fooled—that’s because she trusts me. She is an astonishingly fast creature when she wants to be.) The bolting spirit stopped on the breast-high wall that encloses the balcony and turned to look at me. To my astonishment it was not Faithful, but Smudge, another of the feral cats, the only one of the four who is not from the same litter. He sat nervously down and watched. Some several minutes later, he eased off of the balcony and vanished into the night.

What is this? I have never seen him in the back yard before. Did Faithful tell him about the private lounge on the North Side? Did he follow her, hoping to sleuth out where she was vanishing every day? Was it her scent that attracted him?

Anyway, I am getting a little cat action. For which, as they used to say in church (and probably still do), may the Lord make us truly thankful. Such a lovely gift from the feralsphere.

* I call her Faithful, as my niece decided she needed a name and supplied that one. The building manager calls her Balak, a name which I oppose:

The name Balak means “devastator,”[5] “empty,”[6] or “wasting.”[7] The name Balak apparently derives from the sparsely used Hebrew verb (balak), “waste or lay waste.”[8]  (Wikipedia)