I'm writing this on a Sunday afternoon. It's chilly November, although last week was quite beautiful. There's a fire going in my fireplace and I'm doing some TV binge-watching (the hilarious LillyHammer). Harry is on my lap snoozing, and Ruby is nearby. But there's a heartbeat missing from this cozy room: my Lucy.
The first time I saw Lucy she was about the size of a hefty coffee mug. She was born at Mountain Top Golf Course here in Sherburne, the runt of a big litter and easily two times smaller than her littermates. She was sickly, had some sort of respiratory infection, and when I first spotted her she was scampering around under golf cart wheels. The guys at the course nicknamed her "Lucky" because she was nearly run over so many times. I just deleted the "k" and called her Lucy. Gathered her up and took her back to Long Island with me. This was in 2000.
She was a complicated cat. So loving and sweet, a calico who would curl next to me in bed, where in the morning we would wake together. Her walk was dainty, like a little old lady. She was also a bit of a bitch. Once I walked into a guest room and saw her squatting to pee on a brand new mattress. She also, periodically, made her mark on carpets. There were times, I admit, when I thought about strangling her, or taking her to the vet for "the final ride." But of course I never did. I loved her in spite of this peeing flaw, and in fact in the last year she'd been really good. The four of us -- Harry, Ruby, Lucy, and I -- had found an easy peace here on Classic Street. Harry liked the cats -- or at least found them worth an up-close evaluation -- and the cats tolerated him in spite of his barking and sniffing and jealous tantrums when Lucy or Ruby climbed up on my lap.
My cats go outside ("better to die on your feet than live on your knees" and all that), and on the evening of October 27th Lucy, who'd been out all day, didn't come home. Ruby-the-Rebel stays out overnight sometimes, but never Lucy. The morning of the 28th I knew something wrong when she wasn't at the door.
Hope (of course) springs eternal. Days went by as I watched out the window, checking the door compulsively, expecting to see her sitting there on the sunny porch as I'd seen the afternoon of October 27th. My friends imparted cat advice: "My cat came home after 10 days missing!" Another friend's cat had been locked in a garage and was finally freed. But no. Lucy didn't come home.
Finally (feeling stupid that I hadn't thought of it earlier), I posted her photo on Facebook. In five minutes I got a response: "Look across the street from your house; there's a cat's body there," someone said. Indeed. It was my Lucy, there in grass.
I don't know what happened. Was she hit by a car? Or maybe she just gave up and died. She'd been acting "funny" lately, staring into corners and yowling, squishing herself into strange spaces. And she was, after all, 15-going-on-16. When I found her I didn't investigate to see if there was blood. In fact I freaked a bit, ran to my cousin-neighbors and asked Frank to put her in a box for me, wrapped in a towel. Then when I tried to dig a hole and couldn't, I called my friend Mike to do the job. Lots of crying and hand waving and head thrashing ensued, but in the end Lucy came home, and is now safely buried in the back yard.
There is a contract, if you will, that we agree to when we adopt a pet. An understanding that this little creature we take into our homes and treat as a child will probably die before we do. We have 10, maybe 15, if we're really lucky maybe 18 years with a cat or dog. These babies of ours never grow up and move away, never crash the car, never get mad and say I hate you. They love us unconditionally, welcoming us with big eyes when we come through the door, and when they die we're tortured by their absence. I still see Lucy curled on the sofa in my office, or warming herself by the fireplace. I don't see her piddling accidents. I see my darling's green eyes or hear her scratchy meows. I feel her jumping on the bed, though when I look she isn't (of course) there.
I can only hope she died easy. And I suppose I'll get over the absent feel of her brushing against my legs as I sit at my desk, nudging my ankle for love.
My nickname for her, since she was baby, was Lucy Bird, or for short, Birdie. I've called Ruby "Birdie" six dozen times since Lucy died, which I never did before. I suppose that will fade away, too.
There's something funny about all this -- odd funny, not haha funny: a dear relative of mine died on October 27th six years ago. Maybe it was just Birdie's time, and Scarlet stepped in to take her home. So I'm trying to imagine Lucy curled on Scarlet's lap, Scarlet stroking Lucy's beautiful calico coat, the both of them watching out for the rest of us down here.
I like that idea.