For the Love of Julia

Her tongue is warm and rhythmic. We’re sitting flank-to-flank on the back- deck bench, my hand on her back to keep her from sprinting off, though she shows no sign of wanting to because, instead, she’s laving my arm with her insistent pink tongue. What other creature in the world loves my salt enough to clean it over and over from the back of my hand, wrist, lower arm?

“Don’t let that cat lick you,” my persnickety father used to warn. “Who knows where its tongue has been.” Well, there is that. I don’t let her lick my face, at least not more than a few swipes.

Julia, herself, is quite sleek. When either of her human companions steps out of bath or shower, Julia is there, waiting to be “wetted.” She gets almost dripping wet and immediately dries herself with her tongue. She doesn’t have to wet herself. We do it for her. And she returns the favor. This has proved an easy way of getting Vaseline into her.

Julia hacks. For maybe the first five years of our residence together, she hacked up globs of hair and food. Hairballs. Even vets recommended Vaseline. Our other two cats reluctantly lick if off their paws. Julia takes it from the side of my arm.

A year ago, the hacking changed. Instead of bringing something up, she crouched down, head extended like a snake, and wheezed. Asthma? In a cat? The vet had to do an x-ray. The only remedy was steroids. Already she was plump. Steroids would have made her fatter. We tried a diet.

Almost impossible. She loves to eat, or let’s say, she doesn’t wear off her food. I’m afraid the asthma is slowing her down, but she was getting fatter even before.

Julie spends the night in bed with Fran. Or rather on the quilt Fran throws over himself as he sleeps in his recliner. Bad back, recliner bed. After several years of this, he doesn’t sleep well if she isn’t there to warm his knees. “For the love of Mike!” my father used to swear. I’d say, “For the love of Julia.”

Beautiful, sleek Julia. Even strangers meeting her for the first time comment, “Tuxedo cat.” Or “Kitler.” This bestowed because of the white that starts at the tip of her nose and swags down her cheeks and onto her chest, with a spot of black right above her mouth—Hitler’s moustache. If any of our cats were a killer, it would probably be her because as far as we know, she is the only one who ever knew the outdoors. But in cat years, that was long ago, and probably in cat leagues, far away.

Puss in Boots, she is also, with her four white paws below the sleek black tuxedo. A fancy-dress, ready-for-the-ball cat. Now we twirl together in a slow dance of sprightly, warm affection, until she excuses her and heads toward solitude.

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