We were at the North Shore in a favorite cabin high above Lake Superior. No phone, no cell phone but the friends up the hill did. They received a phone call from our landlady: Fran’s mother had died in Tennessee.
Fran, my husband, who by then didn’t love the North Shore as much as I did, had no trouble packing up to go. Maybe a little regret at ditching the warblers and night full of stars, but for him, there was no question about the proper route. The funeral was a week hence.
I, on the other hand, chafed. I didn’t want to go home early, but I would. I would come home after four days, He would already be gone, and I would settle into gardening and cat care while he was in Tennessee. No one expected me to attend Lou’s funeral. That’s what sometimes happens in second marriages.
Fran had trouble getting a flight. For three days he was home with the two cats we already had: aged Bart the Brute who used to bite ankles, and leap three times his length after a piece of string. But now spent his days lying around, snarling if you came too close. Bart and newish Tilly-the-terrified, beautiful but lacking confidence.
The day before Fran was to leave, I called from a pay phone to see how he was doing. “There’s a surprise for you here,” he said. “Four legs and a tail. Named Magnolia.” What!? Another cat? Just after he’d been teasing me on vacation about my wanting another critter “to keep Tilly company?”
“I couldn’t resist,” he said, sounding a sheepish. “She was sittiing in a cage at Peg Smart, putting out her paw, and she had the most beautiful cat face. I had to adopt her.”
Right, I thought. Smitten first, but lonesome second. Lonesome for Lou, your nice mom, leaving your peculiar dad for you to tackle alone. Yup, I’m sure this Maggie the Cat is a beauty. Maggie a real cat named for Maggie the human cat in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Maggie the Cat as in Elizabeth Taylor. That kind of beautiful.
I was hot and sweaty. It was July and I’d just driven five hours, the last half on a freeway through sun-wavery fields. Opening the back door, my shoulders weighted down with backpack, I set a cooler on the table and called, “Here, Maggie.” Almost as nervous, I bet, as she was, hearing an unfamiliar voice, being left in a strange place alone over night.
I brought in more gear. Hot, tired, dazed, disoriented. “Here, Maggie.” Another trip, then another. Finally the kitchen was piled with clothes, bags of groceries, cooler, hiking boots, binoculars, bird books. Fran had watered nothing the days he’d been home. Our cat-care trio had gone as soon as he arrived. I went out to water, fill the bird feeders.
When I came back, I called again “Here, Maggie.” There was a faint “meow.” Calling and listening I tracked the faint response to the second floor, to our bedroom, and then under our bed. Kneeling down, I peered into the dark. Light came from a window near the other side. There staring at me was a wide cat face belonging to a calico cat with stout tail and white paws. But what a face! A square of orange sat unevenly over the eyes and nose. Through the left eye, ran the edge of the square. Acat put together by a kid using stubby scissors and construction paper.
This cat looked ridiculous. Not ugly, just goofy. I tried to reach in and tickle her under her chin, but she backed away as if she knew what I was thinking. I didn’t apolotize but I did sympathize with her obvious fear. “Come on out, Girl. Come on. I won’t hurt you,” I crooned. But she only stared at me with glittering eyes. Not hissing, but not advancing either. I left a plate of food under the bed, and a bowl of water.
Later, when Fran called, I told him, “This is the strangest looking cat I’ve ever seen. How could you think she’s beautiful.” Ah, the eyes of the beholder. The yearning of a son for a lost mother, and finding her in the face of a lonesome cat.
He still teases me about yelping “How could you think she’s beautiful.” Originally, there was an edge of pain in the teasing. Now, that’s muted. But still there. We both love Maggie. She knows her place–in the middle between Terrified Tilly and Adorable Julia, the Teenage Mother. Sometimes when she sits up very tall, her ears lifted and eyes very alert, Maggie looks regal. Other people have called her pretty, “What a pretty cat!” I love her, I feel guilty because she’s the middle cat and defers to the other two. I try to make it up to her by playing with her in the dark after the other two have gone to bed. But I think she still knows. We’ve come to an understanding: I love her for her goofty, funny face, and she tolerates my misperception.