She heard voices outside, coming toward the door, and even though she knew none of them was his, she still raised her head and lifted her ears. The voices walked past the door of her apartment, open far enough to see into the dim daylight in the hallway. He had not come back, nor was it someone coming to open a can of food for her, just someone coming home smelling like traffic and roads and other people. She sighed, curled herself deeper into the down vest on the chair by the door, stretched one speckled paw out onto the chair and carefully nestled her cream-colored chin across her wrist, slowly blinking her yellow eyes and watching the sun set through the kitchen window. She was okay, not hungry or thirsty, just lonely, wanting her home to feel normal again.
The day before, some of the other humans in the building, who she recognized by their voices and smells, had noticed the door was open, looked in and noticed her on the chair. She had stood up and arched her back and yawned a meow, sat down and waved a paw for them to come in. They moved on, mumbling to each other.
The next day, seeing the door still ajar and the cat still curled on the down vest on the chair by the door, two of them did step in, cautiously, looking around. She understood their caution as she would have done the same. They called her person’s name, walked gingerly through the kitchen and into the two rooms beyond.
Once it seemed they didn’t sense any danger they came back to the slender dilute tortoiseshell cat sitting on the edge of the chair, looking up, tilting her head beguilingly to one side and then the other, blinking her yellow eyes and slowly rolling and unrolling her tail next to her hip, and petted her so that she stood up and waved tail in the air and purred happily. They mumbled to each other and asked her about her person. She rubbed her face against their hands and purred, reticent. She had no idea what he did when he left, but he always came back.
She had taken care of shredding the dry food bag to get what was left inside, and they pointed at that and picked it up and put it in the can under the sink. Then they saw the stack of cans on the sink, and the can opener. They turned to look at her, one of them holding a can. She sat very upright and opened her yellow eyes to their roundest, looking as eager and thankful as a feline could muster. They got a small dish, opened the can and dispensed the food onto it, gave her a few pets when she hopped down to eat it, then left, not quite closing the door so it could still be pushed open.
When she was done with the food, she found some water in a dish soaking in the sink and had a drink, visited her litterbox in the bathroom. Coming back, she opened the door so she could see out into the hall and better hear activity outside, standing there a while to see if any new scents or sounds came from the door to the outside. Then she returned to her chair, gave herself a very thorough bath, and curled up for a nice long sleep on the down vest on the chair by the door as night fell and the apartment became very dark and quiet.
Just as the sun was beginning to set the following day, she did sense a familiar scent tickling her nose, not his, though similar. She lifted her head from her nap, closing her eyes and bobbing her nose gently at three different angles into the breeze that wafted into the open door. She knew who it was before the person appeared, because this person’s scent was similar to her person’s scent, but was also very familiar to her. They were siblings, but this person had been the first person she knew. The tortoiseshell cat had spent her kittenhood in this person’s house. She reveled in a few memories the scent brought to her memory, still curled on the chair, blinking her eyes.
Her step was light, coming up the wooden steps to the entry door in the back. The entry door opened and her scent rushed in, followed by her face at the slightly open door to the apartment.
“Nikka,” she said, “I always find you waiting, curled on his vest on that chair. You’re so loyal. Is he here?” She called his name into the apartment as the neighbors had.
She stepped in and Nikka stood up in full greeting, getting pets, rubbing her face on the person’s legs and waving her tail happily. She knew this person would also go and inspect the apartment, and Nikka accompanied her, showing her the piles of clothes and newspapers, empty plates lying around, unmade bed, and other such distressing messes that Nikka did not care for, which was why she chose the chair by the door to wait for him when he was away; it had his scent, it was warm and comfortable, and she had her back to all that mess. And eventually he usually came back and greeted her as soon as he came in the door.
They returned to the kitchen. Nikka began some serious shin rubs on the woman’s jeans because it was time for dinner. She did move toward the cans on the sink, picked up the dish on the floor, moved toward the can opener…then stopped and stood there, staring at some spot on the wall. Nikka head butted her shin to remind her of the importance of her task. She looked down at Nikka, but Nikka knew the woman wasn’t seeing her. Then suddenly she was, the woman was staring right at her and smiling.
“That’s it, Nikka,” she said. “You’re coming home.”
. . . . . . .
A Personal Rescue
This story took place in 1992, and the cat in question, Nikka, was one of the kittens in “my first litter”. She was adopted by my brother and his girlfriend in 1987.
I first published this story in November 2015 as I moved my brother from a full apartment to an efficiency, and that move reminded me of the number of times I’d cleaned out an apartment and moved him or his stuff. I remembered that apartment, and Nikka, and decided to tell the story. This year, this time of the year, I am remembering those who have passed, and decided to share this story again.
My brother was a life-long alcoholic. After his brain injury as a result of falling down steps in 2000 with a blood-alcohol level of .356 (yes, that’s possible), the psychiatrist and doctors in his rehab hospital explained his particular type of alcoholism, one that is never cured. I had spent time all my adult life chasing after him, finding him on the street, bailing him out of jail, cleaning up apartments he’d trashed, and wondering how a person could still live after all the abuse he regularly gave himself. He had a seizure disorder and cognitive impairment, partly from the injury and partly the alcohol abuse. In the years since his injury he finally wanted to stop drinking and I did my best to help keep him clean. He did very well for almost ten years, but with no job and without nearly constant emotional support he found his ways to alcohol again. In the few months before the move to the efficiency, and especially in the weeks before, I’d been working on getting some programs together for him and moving him to a new apartment. I wasn’t sure how it would all turn out, but I remembered all the way back to before Nikka and wasn’t hoping for much if I couldn’t get the support network. When I wrote this I’d been thinking about the time during this story that was pivotal, and Nikka, and decided to share Nikka’s story as I’d begun to visualize it when I went to his apartment that evening, and others before that. Creative efforts help me process things like this ongoing situation.
His girlfriend at that time left him because of his alcoholism. I had kept up with him living alone in his apartment, working day jobs as a laborer because his drinking had always gotten him fired, and trying to have a normal life. When he went on this one particular binge—I hadn’t heard from him for a week—and I arrived to find him missing once again, I decided the least I could do if he was headed down this path was keep his cat safe. That, of course, was not my only thought for him at that time, but when someone is on a path of destruction you do what you can, and sometimes you just get out of the way.
My cats have always adored my brother, as I’ve shared here many times, all my families of cats, and even these cats today. He was the one who chose Nikka, then called Natasha, after she chose him as a kitten and he and his girlfriend took her home. She adored him, despite his mess. But after a talk we agreed this was for the best, and he actually visited her now and then. It’s always been a policy that any cat adopted from me could come back to me, even from a family member—my mother gave Sophie back to me too.
Nikka was five years old then, and lived with me for the rest of her 15 years. This is the first draft of her rescue story. I have been planning a lovely portrait of her for years and waiting for that to share her story. I’ll give this story a once-over and share it again someday when I get that portrait done.
My brother died in July 2016, and I cleaned out his apartment one more time.
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These are the cats with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my life. It was through observing their feline grace and their individual natures that I found my muse as an artist and finally decided to get down on paper what I saw with my eyes and felt with my heart. While I render many other subjects now—wildlife, backyard birds, landscapes, people–it all began with these, and the hopeless affection I felt for each of them and all their moods and quirks and manners of affection toward me. This is the gift they gave to me, and I will be forever in their debt, spending a lifetime to pay it off by sharing them with others. Read more, and purchase.
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