Love creeps in on little cat paws

Art and essay By Mo Conlan

My cat Darwin is all black, roly-poly, of unknown age. I got him when a friend was breaking up a marriage and household and needed an adoptive home for two cats. Sydney was a dainty female – black and white, willowy, the most intellectual cat I have ever known. Her green eyes were so expressive they seemed telepathic.

She was fascinated by human interactions, would plunk herself in the middle of a party as if she had been invited.

We became about as close as two creatures of different species can be.

Sydney became suddenly ill. I had to put her down. She was so smart she knew what was up, tried to escape. The vet and I had to hold her as she was given the injection.

I do not cry easily. Most sorrows seem too deep for tears. As Dylan Thomas says, after the first death there is no other that flays your heart so deeply. But Sydney’s death opened the waterworks.

I cried uncontrollably, inconsolably.

After proper condolences whispered to me, my friends asked: What is Darwin going to do without Sydney? The two cats had been together always. She was the leader.

Darwin slept all day like a pasha and allowed Sydney to importune me for food.

She was relentless when Darwin was hungry, would seek me out any time of the day or night and loudly demand that I give him something to eat. As for herself, she was an ascetic, an intellectual, disdainful. She could take or leave food.

I wondered what both Darwin and I would do without Sydney.

The first surprise came when Darwin became noisy. When Sydney had been hunting his grub, I never heard much more from him than an injured howl if I accidentally stepped on his tail. Now, he began talking.

At first, I thought he was mourning Sydney – his voice sounded like that frantic, high-pitched rasp that newborns make. I realized after awhile that this awful sound was his normal voice.

He began using it a lot.

The second surprise came when I realized that Darwin was enjoying being an only cat. His personality began to blossom – a sweet, loving little character. What he lacked in intellectuality, he made up for in warmth.

On cold winter evenings I would get into bed – a mound of pillows propped behind me, a thick layer of blankets over me – and open up my laptop computer. Darwin would hear me turn on the computer and come running, surprisingly fast for a short-legged fat little guy, and spring into bed. Sometimes it would take him two tries to clear the bed.

He commandeers my left arm, curls himself into a ball of cat, furry little chin resting on my forearm and snoozes. It means I have to write or draw with one hand.

I don’t mind.

Sometimes he re-situates himself, curls in facing me and extends his black padded paw to gently touch my chin. He searches my face with an adoring gaze – green eyes crenelated like the surface of a strange planet.

He purrs and I tap on the keyboard and we are very snug despite the wind that rattles the windows.

We keep each other warm all winter.

Read Cherryl Chow's cat blog...Paws for Peace of Mind.

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