Julie carefully set the
pet carrier down on the
floor of the bus and slid it under the seat, then sat with it behind her
crossed ankles. The bus pulled out smoothly and rattled along toward its next
Across the aisle from her,
an elderly gent
smiled and said, “What ya got there?”
“My cat,” Julie
a really calm kitty,” the old guy
said, “must not mind riding, huh?”
“No, he doesn’t
mind much of anything these
days. . . .” Julie wanted to scream at the nosy old fart, “He’s
fuckin’ dead, ya goddamn moron!” But she just smiled, and
cast her eyes down, and thought about Freddie and how much she loved him.
She was taking him on his
final trip to the
vet’s, this time for what they called “disposal.” Freddie was right at twenty
years old and she’d known this was coming, but it was still a hard thing to do.
Freddie, or “Freddie
the Gimp,” as Tucker had
called him, had passed away in the night. She’d found the big tabby half-in,
and half-out, of his bed, when she got up that morning. It looked like his
stalwart heart had finally given up, and he had just gone on with little or no
pain. And that was good, but now she had this final chore to take care of.
She and Tucker had been
cat people for many
years, so this was not the first time she’d had to deal with the death of a
pet. As the bus clattered over potholes and the brakes hissed and wheezed, she
thought about old Freddie. Thought about the good times.
Freddie had been just another
gutter cat, when she and Tucker came home one night from Lucky’s, their
favorite watering hole, over on West 40th.
The cab let them out into
the rain right in
front of their building and, as Tucker was paying the cabbie, Julie thought she
heard a tiny mewl from somewhere close by. She had dropped the hood on her
raincoat to hear better, even though once her hair got wet, it took hours to
dry and would be frizzy until she could shower and get conditioner on it.
As Tucker stepped up onto
the sidewalk, they
both heard it again. Tucker had never been a pet person, but that was about to
change. He helped her look, and just inside the opening to the old, unused coal
chute, hunkered in the only dry spot around, was the tiny, half-starved tabby
that would soon become “Fightin’ Freddie,” and “Flying Freddie,” and eventually
“Freddie the Gimp.”
“Oh, my God, look
at you!” Julie had scooped up
the kitten and, even though he was half-wild, he had no resistance left in him
and allowed her to slip him inside her coat. He went almost immediately from
shivering to purring, and in ten minutes, he was in Julie’s kitchen, enjoying
warm milk and being lavished with attention.
Like just about all cats,
Freddie was a cat
that understood a cat box and a food bowl with no coaching, whatsoever. She and
Tucker used to joke about Freddie being on his fifth or maybe sixth life. It
was as if he’d done the whole pet/owner routine enough times, he had it down
Over the years—Freddie
had lived to be
twenty—other cats had come and gone, Jezebel, killed by a car when she had gone
into heat and escaped out the door, Tommyknocker, felled by feline leukemia in
his fourth year, and Johnson, who somehow found his way out onto the
fifth-floor ledge outside their window. Johnson had jumped when Julie tried to get
him back inside. Tragic events, but sometimes pet ownership sucked. And through
it all, Freddie was always the man, the
stud, the top dog of cats. And now he was also gone.
If Tucker was still alive,
Julie was sure he
would have shed a tear for old Freddie, but Tucker had beaten Freddie to the
punch, having succumbed to cancer, four years back. It had been just her and
Freddie then, and now that was over.
She supposed she’d
need to get another cat.
Living without some kind of companionship certainly sucked much more than pet
ownership. She reached up and pulled the cord, and the bus started slowing for
As she rose from her seat
and slid out the
carrier, the old guy said, “Take good care of that kitty, now, Miss.”
And Julie, to her own surprise,
say, “I will, Sir. Have a good day
. . . . ”
And that was May the 9th.
. . .
Julie got home a little
after noon and set
about fixing herself some lunch, even though she didn’t really feel hungry. As
she got out bread, and lunch meat, and the Miracle Whip, and some cheese, she
could almost feel old Flyin’ Freddie winding around her ankles, working her for
some cheese, or a bite of ham.
Freddie earned his wings
the way most cats
do—by making those sometimes disastrous, sometimes hilarious, seemingly
impossible jumps that cats do, much of the time with little or no thought
towards what the landing was going to be like.
It was one of those jumps
displaced his right hip, popping the femur bone out of the socket and, in spite
of a skillful veterinary surgeon’s best work, leaving him with a permanent
limp. It was slight, to be sure, and it never slowed him down much, but it
earned him the title, “Freddie the Gimp.” Again, Tucker’s wry sense of humor
Julie sat down with her
sandwich and suddenly
found herself bawling like a little kid, her tears wetting Wonder Bread, and
totally unable to do anything about it. She spent the rest of the day moping
around the apartment, too heartsick to go to work, even though she worked from
home via computer link. Her concentration was shot, and finally she logged on
just long enough to drop an email on her manager, letting him know she was
At about four in the afternoon,
she had another
crying fit when she caught herself putting food down for Freddie. It was
automatic. One of those things you do out of habit, and she was halfway through
the routine, when she realized there was no big tabby anymore, to partake of
the nasty-smelling tuna.
She started to dump it down
the disposal, but
then the word “disposal” crawled across her mind.
like they had said when they took care of Freddie’s remains. . . .
. . . and she carefully
set the bowl back down on the floor in its usual spot and fled the kitchen. . .
. . . and
in the morning, the food was gone.
She had logged on about
six minutes late, and
had her coffee maker going, when she noticed the empty bowl.
I must have dumped
it down the disposal after all. That was what she thought. And that was reasonable.
But it nagged at her all day. Was she certain she’d set the bowl back on the
floor, and left it? Not really.
Too much turmoil. Too much
emotion churning her
thoughts. Maybe there was a rat. Again. One of the hazards of city life. It had
happened before. But that time, ol’ Fightin’ Freddie had scored some major
points. Killed a nasty old rat about half the size he was and posted it right
inside the doorway from the hall for all to admire. And he was admired, and
feted, and celebrated, for a while, too. What a good kitty!
She took a break at lunchtime
and, while she
was drinking a diet Dr. Pepper and eating a sandwich, she looked at Freddie’s
bowls. Water bowl: stainless steel and shaped so it couldn’t be turned over.
Food bowl: plastic and translucent, like Tupperware. She should pick those up,
wash them, and put them away.
But then, that would be
admitting, once and for
all, that he was gone. And she was alone. Really alone.
With a sigh, she got up
and went back to the
living room, where her computer workstation was set up. Took her Dr. Pepper
In ten minutes, she was
lost in her work, her
concentration level blocking out traffic sounds, the upstairs neighbors
bickering (The “Bickersons,” Tucker used to call them), and whatever other distractions
there might be.
A half hour after lunch,
she heard Freddie
flipping his food bowl over in the kitchen. It took three times before it sank
in. Damned cat needed fed. Or thought he did. The cat’s dead.
She froze at her keyboard
and felt the little
hairs on her arms trying to stand erect. Quietly, she rose from her chair and
She stood very quietly and
waited. Bonk! There
went the bowl again. She eased slowly toward the kitchen doorway. Bonk! She
tried to remember all the spots where the floor creaked. But then trying to
sneak up on a cat . . . stupid.
Finally, just as another
Bonk! came from the
kitchen, she stepped around the door frame and saw the bowl, still quietly
spinning and then settling back into place.
She felt the blood draining
from her head and
thought, faint . . . I’m gonna faint. . .
. She yanked out a chair and sat, getting her head down to touch her knees.
really felt her heart arrythmia then, more pronounced than it had ever been,
before. She remembered the conversation with her doctor. Julie, people die from this,
all the time. It’s nothing to fool with.
We’ll need to get you on some meds and get them adjusted and monitor your
progress. . . .
Slowly, everything came
swimming back. The bowl
didn’t move, and everything was quiet. So quiet, she could hear purring.
Freddie always purred when he was about to get fed.
As soon as she felt a little
better, she got
up, stepped across the kitchen, ran the can opener and filled the food bowl.
Then she left the kitchen and went back to her workstation. She was pretty sure
if she stayed and watched the food disappear, seemingly into thin air, she
might just quietly go mad. . . .
Because, well, she was starting
to believe it,
now. All her life she had been fascinated by tales of ghosts, spirits, and
hauntings. Maybe it was the same hope that we all have, that there really is an
afterlife, and that we really do move on to a better place. Of course, in most
religions, it is taught that animals don’t have souls and that, therefore, they
cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Julie, in her own personal
belief system, felt
that “was hoss-shit,” as Tucker would have said. She was quite sure that when
she at last passed over, she would not only enjoy the company of Tucker again,
the only man she had ever really loved, but she was sure all her cats would be
there, too. That belief was what kept the fear of death at bay, much more than
the pronouncements of any preacher.
And so, the months passed,
and every day of
every week, Freddie became more real to Julie. The food disappeared every day,
but strangely, there was never anything in the cat box. She still kept it,
though. She was pretty sure Freddie just came to her place to eat, and that he
did his business, if any, on the other side. And at night, when she was ready
for bed, she would often hear that lusty purr, as the big guy settled in for
the night. Usually, just as she was about to drop off to sleep, she’d feel
Freddie jump up on her bed and settle in, just like always. Freddie provided
. . . yeah, my
name is Danny Rodriguez, and I’m the super at 138 West Eleventh.”
what’s goin’ on over there?”
I have a
lady that lives alone up on the fifth floor, and nobody’s seen her in a couple
days, and I was wonderin’ if you could send a couple officers over to contact
me, so we can check on her?”
can do that. Be about ten minutes. Officers will contact you right out front,
appreciate it. Her cat’s drivin’ me nuts. Botherin’ the neighbors, too.”
cat. Damn thing’s been yowlin’ and raisin’ hell better part-a two days, now. We
need some relief. . . .”
don’t I just send an Animal Control officer, too?”
that’d be great.”
Officers arrived at Julie’s
contacted Danny, who was only too glad to use his passkey. From inside, the
infernal yowling could be heard by one and all. But it stopped as soon as the
key was turned in the lock.
Julie had passed on and
was no doubt passing
the time with Tucker and her cats. She was in bed, and it looked like natural
causes. While the officers waited for the coroner, Animal Control arrived.
The older of the officers,
Cal Worthy, told the
Animal Control guy, “Sounded like a big ol’ damn cat, but we haven’t seen it.
Glad it was raisin’ hell, though. Otherwise, she mighta been pretty ripe, time
somebody found her.”
animal guy said, “I’ll go find it.
Don’t worry about it, I got a way with cats.”
In twenty minutes, the coroner’s
pulling up out front, and the Animal Control guy (who had a way with cats), was
back at the door.
“This shit is way
weird, guys,” he said, “I
keep hearin’ the damn thing, but I can’t find it.”
“Thought you had a
way with cats,” Worthy said.
His partner just stood back and grinned, keeping his opinion to himself.
“Yeah, well, I keep
hearin’ it purrin’, and
sometimes it sounds like it’s right behind me, but when I turn around, it’s not
there. Pretty sure there ain’t no cat . . . or maybe it’s a fuggin’ ghost-cat.
Anyway, I got another call. If it shows up, call me.”
As he headed for the elevator,
“Yeah. Ghost-cat, my ass . . .”
The guys from the coroner’s
office did their
thing. Worthy and his partner stayed out near the door into the hall. When
Julie was photographed, examined, bagged, and tagged, they came out, rolling
been real, and it’s been fun,” the
older guy quipped, “it just hasn’t been real fun.”
Worthy said, “did you guys see a
cat in there?”
“Nah. No cat. Not
that we saw.”
“Okay, thanks, guys.
See ya next time.”
Worthy felt something brush
against his ankle,
as he reached for the door to swing it closed.
There was nothing there, but when they got to the car,
he found cat hair stuck to his uniform trousers.