After my sister Rashmee won Chad Sullivan’s cat, Tiger, by beating Chad in a game of Trouble (the Pop-O-Matic gods were on Rashmee’s side that day), there was never a time when we did not have cats.
Tiger, our first cat, was a slim grey tabby. She delivered her only litter—five kittens—on top of a bag of weed-killer powder in our garage. (Four out of five veterinarians surveyed do not recommend this.) We kept one female—a tiny replica of her mother—and called her Priscilla. Priscilla’s siblings—Socks, Boots, and two others whose names I cannot recall—were given away to neighbors and local farms.
Later, a black cat showed up and never left. Tommy had a smoker’s meow—low and gravelly. His fur would often get matted with burrs and we would have to pull them out. At one point, my parents took him to the vet for a full body shave. When they brought Tommy home and I first saw him completely shaven, I was terrified and ran away.
During a summer vacation, I volunteered as a veterinary assistant. One day, I brought home 12 kittens that somebody had brought to the vet to be euthanized. One orange tabby male was a bully. At feeding time, as the kittens would crowd around the bowls of milk, he would push the other kittens away and force his way in. At naptime he would often evict a sibling from her spot.
Of course he was the one we kept.
We called him Morris, or Mo-Cat, or simply Mo. Years later, when Mo-Cat was in his prime, my Malini Aunty would often say that she had a crush on Mo-Cat because he was “blonde and arrogant.”
Shortly after young Mo-Cat’s 11 littermates went off to their respective new homes, a ladylike longhaired Calico wandered into our lives and charmed us into keeping her.
Cottonball always required a soft surface for her sleep. She would never lie on the floor or even on the carpet. It always had to be a couch or a bed, a pillow or a cushion.
Cottonball and Mo-Cat became inseparable.
Sometimes at night we would hear a ruckus on the deck. We would look outside and see this scene: Some intruder—usually an opossum or a raccoon—had made its way onto the deck, attracted by the cat food. The lovely Cottonball would be safely secreted at the far corner of the deck, her back arched, her long fur standing on end. Mo-Cat would be face-to-face with the intruder, the two locked in a tense stare-down, with Mo-Cat growling threateningly to protect his fair maiden.
Chivalry was alive and well on the Souris’ deck.
Surprisingly, Princess Cottonball was a skilled hunter who would often bring home birds, chipmunks, mice, etc.; while I cannot remember Sir Morris ever presenting evidence of a successful hunt.
Though Mo-Cat began as a knight, he eventually became a king.
Outside, he would sit on his throne—a five-foot high concrete column at the corner of our driveway—and survey his domain. From that vantage point he could scan the entire neighborhood, since our house overlooked a valley.
In those days, Mo-Cat was regal and lionlike.
The king had a high-pitched, girlish meow that seemed incongruent with who he was. He rarely used it. I suspect he was embarrassed by it.
Mo-Cat had an uncanny awareness of interlopers. Sometimes, from deep inside the house, he would suddenly trot to the front door with urgency and begin emitting an unearthly, guttural growl. From the sound of it, one would think that perhaps an axe murderer had just stationed himself on our front porch. We would open the door and Mo-Cat would step onto the porch and stare into the distance, seemingly at nothing. Sometimes, you couldn’t see what he saw. Other times, if you looked really hard, you’d spot another cat several hundred feet away.
That other cat’s crime?
Well, uhhhh, being a cat.
Mo-Cat had a way of stretching his body to unimaginable lengths. He also had a keen ability to settle down in the most obtrusive spot possible. If you were in a particular room, he would lie down blocking the entire doorway. If you were working at your desk, he would jump onto it and settle down for a snooze on top of your papers. If you were watching television, he would fall into such a deep sleep on your lap that you wouldn’t have the heart to get up even after your show was over.
Mo-Cat and Cottonball were soulmates. They both died of natural causes about a month apart.
And then there was Chip. Oh, Chip.
Morris was a knight, later a king.
Cottonball was a princess.
Chip was The Queen. The Queen, by the way, was a large, muscular white cat with some black markings.
Chip was with us for 10 years and she ruled over all. Chip was a woman who knew what she wanted and, by golly, you’d better provide it for her.
You could step outside and look around for acres and not see her, and then yell her name a few times, and invariably she would come sauntering in from some distant forest or meadow or stream. You were forced to stand there and wait as she would take her time arriving. After her grand entrance, it would be time for The Petting and Massaging of The Queen, or The Queen’s Feast, or perhaps The Queen’s Nap With The Lucky Human For That Day.
Chip’s time with us was also the time when my mom’s health was failing. Mom was intermittently bedridden during this time. Chip would creep like Sandburg’s fog into Mom’s room, then jump onto the bed. Mom’s eyes would light up, and Chip would march all over Mom’s frail, pain-ridden body, as Mom would coo to her. Eventually Chip would settle in and snuggle somewhere on Mom’s body. And there the two companions would lie, in a daze of comfort and quiet happiness.
To this day I am certain that Chip was the best therapist my mom could have had during those excruciating years.
Ranjit Souri ([email protected]) teaches writing and improvisation classes in Chicago.