Don't Ever Pick a Fight With Tiger

Tiger: Tabby. Male. Orange, striped fur. They got him from some random shelter. He was my father’s cat from his childhood. A big old tabby, thirty pounds at least, that ruled over the other cats on the block, picking fights with whomever he pleased. He was quite a lady’s man: father to most of the young cats on the block and nobody was allowed on his territory, as the neighbor’s collie discovered. That dog didn’t even see the flash of orange that streaked from behind the blueberry bush to attack with wild, slashing claws. It clung on for a good minute, then raced off again. Neighbors called later, angry and wanting that cat dead. My grandma told them to keep their dog off her property and hung up.

Tiger went off and never came back. Probably finally picked a worthy opponent to beat up.

The Outdoor Kitty: Breed unknown. Gender unknown. Black fur. Momma lured him into the yard one day and gave him Fancy Feast cat food. She convinced my father to build him a small hut of sorts behind a boulder. That cat never let us touch him.

Gangrene started in on the bear claw wound slashed across its eyes and then one night he didn’t come home for dinner. We heard the coyotes yowl loud and a scream wild and unearthly bounced long off the dark-barked trees. Then, nothing. We went outside and the sky was empty of stars and even the small peepers in the trees were silenced. The pack of coyotes moved out the next day. We never found the body.

Sadie: Bengal. Female. Bronze, tiger-striped fur. A legendary cat, Sadie was completely convinced that she was still some jungle panther. She’d creep, sphynx-like, after just about anything that moved, toy mouse, beam of sunlight, dust motes, bare feet, a casual hand dangling, hair, string, a live mouse, a squirrel, an unfortunate sparrow. My dad would put on three heavy wool socks and he’d play wild with her. That cat played like she was killing.

She leapt off the balcony arms outstretched towards the fan on our cathedral-style ceiling and missed. And they say cats always land on their feet.

Milo: Breed unknown. Male. Pure, black fur. Momma found him downtown next to a garbage can on a bitter February day, a skinny little kitten with fleas gnawing at patches of pink skin, ice crystals in his whiskers and a frostbitten tail that fell off. He got fat quick though. Never wanted to go outside again. Milo was in love with Anabelle, our regal Main Coon. She disliked him, though, and spurned his sly advances, smacking him hard with her paws. Milo never retaliated.

He died young. We had to push the insulin-tipped needles into his skin day after day until his heart burst open: flood of red that we never saw filling his body, leaking, slipping, weaving between his lungs and liver and stomach.

Anabelle: Maine Coon. Female. Long, feather-light, grey and white fur. Anabelle was the first cat my parents owned and they brought her home, crawling with fleas. She was very much a Victorian lady, frightened of just about anything. We’d hear claws slipping across our oak floor nearly daily when Sadie would leap at her from atop the white kitchen table or from behind the shadow of a chair and Anabelle would go crying upstairs to hide under my parents’ bed. I don’t think Anabelle ever realized it, but she was a good hunter. She just never knew what to do with her kills, staring at them, wondering, perhaps, who could’ve committed such a barbaric act?

She got old. Very old. Her fur was a hazy grey by the time they found the tumor. Right above her left eye, the bulge of skin hunched over like a cranky old man to cover her eye. And so, one fine day, when I was away at school, momma took her to the vet and Anabelle never came home again.

Fred: The cat we never knew. Found his small white grave’s cross a few feet away from the small plot we claimed as our pet cemetery. He could actually be a dog, a squirrel, a guinea pig, a mouse for all we know, but, personally, I feel that he’s a cat. His is the only grave I bother to brush the brown slug-covered dead leaves off of anymore.

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