Janacek was a homely cat—with his mottled brown, gray, white and striped fur—not to mention clumsy, and rather lazy. They say pets resemble their people, so who knows; perhaps that’s why we picked him from the shelter, this cat who had been dropped off, adopted, and returned to the shelter a second time, before we took him home, promising him a happy life.
Janacek was homely and, admittedly unremarkable…unless you consider shedding remarkable; in this he was a Olympic medalist. And eye contact—whenever Janacek wasn’t napping in a sunbeam he kept his eyes on his people. He’d look at us like “Oh, there you are HOB, there you are WOB” and we’d say “Oh, hey stinky cat, hey little man” and this made for a perfect circle of companionship.
Janacek was a homely cat—as in, he wanted to stay home. We adopted him just at the time we started traveling in earnest, and I never stopped feeling guilty about leaving him behind. He would not agree to stay with relatives when we traveled, no, cat-sitters had to come to his highness to fill up his bowls and reply to my worried emails about his well-being. I’ve probably brushed his errant cat hairs from my travel clothes in a hundred cities around the world, always longing to squish up his ears and tell him he was a good kitty.
For a homely cat with a rough start in life, Janacek did well for himself. We spoiled him with catnip toys and let him boss us around. HOB combed him every day (which you’d think would mitigate the shedding….but no.) Janacek’s favorite treat was wheat-grass, though in his elder years it upset his stomach and I could no longer leave it out for his unrestrained nibbling. Nowhere in all the countless poems and stories and plays I’ve read have I ever seen love described as slowly feeding a deaf, arthritic, 19 year old cat individual blades of wheat-grass, but if you asked me right now “What is true love?” this is how I would define it.
There’s a song in Shakespeare’s The Tempest that I’ve been thinking of since Janacek died this morning:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Of course, Janacek was a homely cat; I can’t imagine him transformed into coral and pearls.
People who haven’t lived in cities think we don’t have wildlife, but we do—lots of it. Families of skunks barricade the sidewalk to our apartment building. Possums scuttle off into the bushes when we return late at night. Robins and cardinals and much rarer birds reward our sharp eyes; two days ago we even saw a pair of Peregrine falcons just off Western Avenue.
While I enjoy the challenge of exotic bird-spotting, my favorite animals are the common ones; sparrows, bunnies and squirrels. All the ordinary brown creatures have an essential quality of lovableness. Maybe this is Janacek’s sea-change; he’s transformed into all the hopping sparrows on sidewalks and squirrels fluffing up their tails on tree branches next to subways stations. Maybe living with these homely animals nearby will make me miss Janacek a little less.