Johm’s book of practical cats

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer
— from Jubilate Agno, Christopher Smart,  1722 – 1771

Weeks after her mother passed away last year, my wife decided it was time for us to re-cat. The cat of our life had been Arguyle, a mercurial, brilliant, athletically gifted, violent and vastly misunderstood medium-sized tortoise shell who spent 17 years with us in five residences, and waited for me to get home before dying, flashing a single paw in the air when I came in the door and then releasing the last of the light from her eyes and the urine from her bladder, never to stir again. I still see her peripherally, skirting the porcelain bathroom sink that was the only way she would take her water — running, cold.

The New Paltz Animal Hospital — Liz once spied — had written “Watch!” in large, urgent characters on Arguyle’s chart, for she was uninhibited of tooth and claw. But she was tender also, a lap- and chest-cat who would receive affection as long as it didn’t implicate 17 and two-thirds  of a cat’s 25 and five-eighths elliptical zones of rotating inviolable selfdom, in which case there would be blood.


Invariably. Arguyle hissed at everything, and for no obvious reason.

After Arguyle, there had been only Buka, who came to live and die with us at the age of 16, lame and sweet and generally asleep, and Luther, a seasonal visitor from in-family for a few years, a distinguished, and buttoned-down gentleman, handsome and low-maintenance if standoffish.

We went to the shelter to claim us a rescue. Snowflake jumped out his cage an onto my lap. It was a done deal; we had been drafted by him. But Liz’s attention had been directed by Jeff Almquist, one of the shelter’s dedicated volunteers and a former colleague of mine, to a cat that looked more like a dirty towel bunched up in a cage, face buried in the back corner, still and insensate, a traumatized non-interactive lump of cat in total emotional lockdown named Dario.

Liz was drawn to Dario, and I imagine, to his story, whatever that might be. Following Jeff’s lead, she reached into his cage and petted his chin. She thought she felt a reciprocal purr or head-butt gesture of some kind. The next day we took him home, a thick, heavy male cat with a face so squinched and sour we changed his name to Grumper the Puppy Fish.

Dario decamped to my small office. Sometimes I couldn’t find him for days at a time. When I did, he would always been in the same position — face buried in his forepaws and in a corner, composed and motionless like someone who really needs to be invisible and believes wishing can make it so. I would gently stroke him and score a purr. When he did escape from the room in which I write now — we’re still not sure when or how — he moved forthwith into a literal hole in the wall in our basement laundry room, where he based his solitary operations for several months. I had to buy a sheet-rock saw to enlarge that hole so I could lie between the washer and dryer and shine in a light to ensure a different hole in a different wall hadn’t allowed him to escape.

They told us he would come around. It really took some time to believe it, but sure enough Dario began to present. Dario began to allow approach. Dario began to speak. He has now revealed himself to be nothing less than a glutton for affection, though the rules of it are catty and complex, just as you would want them to be. He is a hero to me, an animal who endured horrors we can only imagine and still found within himself the will to relate, the will to receive love. He is, in this time of enforced hunkering, a cat in full bloom and one of my greatest inspirations in this isolation.

Am I wrong to believe that Dario knows Arguyle?

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.