I sit on the couch reading, Kazon in my lap with a copy of Walden resting gently on his frame, Vazra on one side of me with Kako and Grendel on the other, and Loki and al-Zill lie end-to-end on the arm nearest me. The book does little to keep my mind from wandering to the one absent from this scene.
Eight souls count the total of these moments, eight souls in rest and comfort, yet only seven souls remain. Again my mind wanders from the pages before me, the words blurring until they become charcoal rubbed on paper, an unreadable cloud incapable of occupying the space now empty.
Wind rattles against the walls. A cold wind, a biting wind howls by the windows. I hear the photinia bushes scrape their wiry fingers against the glass, their burgeoning red leaves waving back and forth in sunlight that fails to warm.
I slip a small piece of paper between the pages and close the book. There will be no reading today, at least not of any value. I reach over sleeping cats and turn off the lamp.
Somewhere in a faraway land a cat meows, a distant sound barely audible for the wind’s constant rage. My eyes snap to rapt attention looking out toward the patio.
There he sits, his eyes wide and green and staring in with that amazing interest and awe that constantly defined him, and I blink at the vision of him.
It is two years ago, a memory bleeding into the present, for I see him as he once was, as he existed before his rescue, as he lived his life mostly on the patio and in my heart—increasingly invading the latter.
Even as tears begin their march down my cheeks, he meows again…and I am back in that time with him, back in that world.
He talks to me, asks for attention, requests food and water when I’ve yet to put them out. I reach down and pet him, his thick fur soft against my hands, his colors grabbing the sun and turning it into hues only nature could create.
I feel his purr as much as I hear it. The whole of the rumbling moves through my hand, up my arm, across my chest. It is as much a sound as an emotion—for both of us. I scratch his head and under his chin. The purr grows with newfound strength.
He meows again, only this time it’s a year later. He sits on the bed in the dark of morning. I kneel beside him and grant him his wish. He soaks up the petting and talking like a sponge does water, taking it in until he seems ready to burst from the essence of it.
Sunlight has yet to pour over the eastern horizon, has yet to fight through the clouds that threaten to dampen the day. Nevertheless, a great deal of light fills the bedroom. I see him in the inner sanctum, sure and solid and sitting with confidence that floods the room as an overflowing river might fill a town. He glows.
His eyes meet mine, reach out and touch my spirit, and the twinkle of stars contain little of the power he exudes, little of the light that emanates from him. I lose myself in the power of his presence. Even the cool air and smell of rain pouring in open windows do little to squelch the mood.
Then he meows again. It’s six months later and he stands at my feet in the bathroom as I brush my teeth. He looks up at me, meets my eyes, proclaims his need for my affection.
One hand moving a toothbrush to and fro, I reach down with the other and scratch his neck before giving him a good under-the-chin rub. My knuckles eventually move to his ears, something I know will elicit pure satisfaction. His eyes roll up in his head as he absorbs the love and gives back as much as he receives.
I recognize the purr that vibrates up and down my arm, that shakes me from head to toe, that fills a moment with more adoration than can be explained by mere words. Something in me needs that purr, needs that marvelous sound and feeling rolled into a single event.
Food and water stand at the ready just a few steps behind me, though he ignores that and focuses entirely on sharing a moment drawn with love. I can’t deny the artistry that exists, can’t fight the need-cum-want to touch a predator spirit.
His meow tickles my ear. It is three months later and I find myself lying on the bedroom floor as he looks down at me from atop the bed. I hold the camera steady, aim it carefully, and lose the photo for wont of a laugh at the perplexed yet beguiled visage that stares down upon me.
Warm light fills the room from a wall of glass. Sunset creates a preternatural glow about this creature that utterly defies explanation. All of his fur becomes alight with a fire that exists in no other place. And his eyes… His eyes capture the essence of the star that lights our world, and in that essence they create a world unto themselves, a world of contrast and beauty.
The camera falls to my side as I reach up and pet him, scratch his chin and ears and neck. He purrs that most powerful purr, that sound ushering the brightest of lights into the darkest of places.
Then another meow, only this one different from all the others. It’s three months later—four nights ago, and our collective life has been full and rich and marvelous, a place of growing for us, for our relationship, for the buds of friendship that exist betwixt him and the others—and me.
But something about this call is foreign. His voice is suddenly unfamiliar, alien. All my ideas fail to explain his sudden panic, his vocal desperation. The smell of fireplace soot drifts in through the open windows. It smells of endings.
I leap from the couch and rush to the bedroom to find him writhing on the floor, his calls desperate and lonely, his eyes worrisome in their anguish. I meet his gaze only to find he can no longer join me in that sacred place. His voice trails off to a gurgling moan.
I grab the nape of his neck in a handful of flesh. He has powerful memories of this hold, good memories that bring instant purrs and contentment. Not this time, though. Not this time.
Worry fills my thoughts as he continues to struggle. But not struggle.
There is no purr this time, no eyes filled with ardor and amity, no body listless with the power of trust. He shakes and writhes. He flinches at my touch. He bellows silent horror upon the darkening wind that fills our home.
Of all the love I have felt, never has it seemed so terrorizing. One fist full of flesh and the other full of fur do little in providing respite for the tortured soul that succumbs to the attack of an unknown adversary. My tears fall suddenly, drops of salty water seeking refuge in thick, warm, powerful hair.
When his eyes again meet mine, mystical green orbs filled with my own reflection briefly aimed at me, I stop, pause, hold my own thoughts. Then another meow. The same horrified call that came before, only dimmer. And those eyes… They are full of uncontrolled thoughts and desperation, a crippling fear.
I bundle him up in warm towels fresh from the dryer, wrap him in undeniable affection, and rush him to the doctors who might tend the wounded beast. But it is too late.
He trembles in my arms, his body distressed to physical limits as his mind reels from the unseen blows of an attacker we cannot stop. Voice gone, eyes hollow and distant, he seems weak. Even his seizures have tired and look more like brief shivers.
Before I can make the request I know I must make, he calms, falls silent and still, looks at me briefly as though he has discovered a single drop of clarity. Then he breathes his last and slumps lifeless against me.
My tears flow freely as I set the book on the table beside the couch. Staring through sorrow’s fog does nothing to hide the vision of him on the patio one more time, looking through the window at me, asking for a bit of my time with those meows that touched me from the first day I ever heard them.
Then I see him on the couch beside me, talking rapturously as I pet him. Then in the hallway, in the bathroom, on the bed, and finally back on the patio where we first met.
Now each time I walk outside, I look for him—and sometimes I see him, hear him, feel him. I find him in the bathroom eating, the sound of his crunching cheering me as I realize again and again that he is safe, cared for, off the streets. I find him next to the pillows at night resting comfortably as we coast toward slumber. I find him lying in pools of sunshine, belly to the sky. I find him sitting nearby when I grab the cat food, his voice joining the chorus of cats. I find him nestled against me as I sit on the couch and read, my hand always petting him, scratching him, connecting with him.
I see him every day, still in the places we shared, still in the moments we occupied together.