Eleven and a half years ago, our son Harrison graduated from high school. That summer, he was left alone for a week while his sister, dad and I went out of town. We returned to a house wiped clean of any evidence of partying and a fluffy gray kitten to add to our menagerie of two dogs and three cats. (While we were gone, he’d encountered someone outside a restaurant with a box of kittens.)
We had more than enough cats. Harrison was, technically, the owner of one. As a child, he’d been given a short-haired, half feral kitten that he named Indiana Jones Riley. (Indiana turned out to be a girl.) He argued that Indiana was far from friendly and he’d always wanted a fluffy gray cat. We explained that he was going off to college in a couple months and we’d be stuck with it. In order to sway us, I think he finally said please or something nice. But I really don’t remember.
He named her Pancake. Laine called her Lily. I called her Harrison’s Parting Gift.
Lily was a feisty little thing that hated physical contact. In an effort to domesticate her, she was required to eat while sitting on someone’s lap and being petted. It didn’t take long before she begrudgingly relaxed. She lurked about with jaunty confidence, and tortured our two older females with surprise pounce attacks. Laine’s male cat Figaro would have none of that, whacking Lily with a paw whenever she got close. I nicknamed her Little Sister—the obnoxious baby of the pack.
When it came time for her to be spayed, the vet discovered that, under all that fluffy fur, Little Sister was actually a Little Mister.
Over the next few years, as the older cats died off, Little Mister reigned supreme. Our two large dogs gave him a wide berth whenever he strutted about the house. He was a talker and not shy about asking for what he wanted. “I need food!” “Let me in!” “Let me out!” “Pet me!” “Stop petting me!”
Two years ago, we were given a puppy and Little Mister’s dictatorship came to an end. All Lucy ever wanted was to establish a playful relationship with him. All he ever wanted was for her to go away. My efforts to integrate them failed. Relative peace was finally established by erecting a baby gate on the stairs. Little Mister spent his indoor time upstairs, safe from intolerable puppy energy.
On an early evening nearly four weeks ago, I put him out. He’d been sleeping all day and company was coming over. If he didn’t go out then, he’d insist upon it later and wake me in the middle of the night to get back in.
Before going to bed, I opened the front door, expecting him to rush in, scold me for leaving him out for three hours in the wet cold, and race upstairs with a chirp which translated, “I’ll never speak to you again!”
He wasn’t there. I called and called, but he didn’t show up. It wasn’t the first time he’d failed to come home. It was no longer raining. He’d probably show up howling in the middle of the night.
But he didn’t.
It was the week of Christmas. We had a house full of people and activities. I was concerned about Little Mister, but consoled by the knowledge that he’d sometimes disappear for two to three days at a time. On our walks around the neighborhood, Lucy and I looked for him. Several times a day, I’d open the door and call his name.
As time went by, I wondered if he’d been ill. For the past few months, he slept a great deal. Unless it was three o’clock in the morning, he rarely demanded to go outside. I’d have to hunt him down in the afternoons to put him out where he’d usually spend less than an hour.
The day after Christmas, Laine suggested we check the Humane Society to see if someone found him. I agreed, but wasn’t surprised when he wasn’t there. Little Mister would never, ever let a stranger capture and transport him.
It’s an odd feeling to have a pet disappear. I’m sad, but not emotionally broken. Over the years, I’ve experienced the heart-wrenching grief of watching five dogs and three cats deteriorate to the point where they had to be taken to the vet to end their suffering. I suspect Little Mister wandered off to die, but carry the hope that he’ll return. A tad of wishful thinking allows me to fantasize that he found another home—one with a sweet little lady who doesn’t have a puppy and lets him lounge on her lap all day.
At times, I hear his chirp at the front door only to open it and find the porch empty. Whenever I go upstairs, I anticipate him nestled in the middle of the bed. I miss his insistence upon being petted as I read at night, wrestling his way onto my chest, between my face and book, purring and drooling.
I’ve finally washed his bowls, taken his remaining food to the Humane Society, and removed the baby gate from the stairs.