99: My Protector

99: My Protector

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

My Protector

A beating heart and an angel’s soul, covered in fur.

~Lexie Saige

My husband and I lived in the wilderness of the northern New Mexico mountains. He was a therapist who worked down in Santa Fe. And at home, I tended the woodstoves we relied on for heat, grew produce in our greenhouse and garden, and watched over a bevy of cats while chopping wood, chasing the line laundry down the hill on a windy day so that the neighbors’ goats wouldn’t eat it, and setting pots simmering on the stove for the evening meal.

Powder Puff was a longhaired calico, mainly black with some white, and an orange spot set over each of her golden eyes. I had raised her from a kitten along with a great longhaired gray cat with green eyes that I nursed to health from distemper when he was just a few weeks old.

Whenever I hiked in the canyon, along the ridge of the chasm, or up into the mountains, Powder Puff would shadow me, hiding in bushes all along the way. She often called to me plaintively, reminding me that I was straying beyond the territory where she felt comfortable, but she would not leave my side until I was once again within plain sight of our house.

In fact, she seemed to shadow me at all times, except when I had to drive to the city to go to the bank and run errands. Once when I returned from one of those trips, Powder Puff met me at the car as I pulled into the gravel driveway.

She mewed at me plaintively as I got out of the car and carried my grocery bags through the gardens on the way to our adobe house. As I strolled past a bed of chrysanthemums, she suddenly stiffened and pressed her body against my leg.

“What’s wrong, Powder Puff?” I asked. A low warning growl came from her throat and, as I bent to see what she was staring at, a thick unmistakable rattle stuck right up through one of the chrysanthemums and shook with a menacing sound.

Startled, I jumped away, called to her to come into the house and made it inside the door. But Powder Puff stood her ground and led the rattler on a frightening series of maneuvers with her jumping over it again and again as it crawled onto a strip of grass and coiled and struck, missing her again and again.

Still when I called to her, she wouldn’t come into the house. I tried throwing rocks at the snake, which only seemed to make it more aggressive. In desperation, I called Tomas, one of our friends at the Pueblo reservation. My husband was due home that night from an out-of-state convention, and I didn’t have any way to get rid of the rattler — could he please help me? Tomas came with his rifle and killed the snake.

After he’d chopped off the head, he let me pet its sleek soft body, more like feathers than scales, not slimy but smooth. I felt bad that it had to be killed, but I also knew Tomas would make use of the pelt and the meat. Powder Puff seemed unaware of the great service she had done.

Several years later, her adopted sibling Sam developed a severe kidney disease. Doctors told me there was nothing we could do, but I couldn’t bear to put him down. I kept him near me in a basket by the woodstove and fed him from a medicine dropper as long as he would take nourishment. When he began to bleed from his urinary tract and stagger across the room, I cried as I told my husband that perhaps the only kind thing left to do would be to put him to sleep. Before we could make arrangements, one night I heard him meowing faintly. I got up and went to see what I could do, but he struggled on spindly legs, staggered toward me and, as I bent to scoop him into my arms, died.

My husband and I waited until the next day to bury him next to the St. Francis shrine in our garden. That night, I lit a candle near the shrine on our adobe wall. To my amazement, Powder Puff jumped on the wall and there she stayed, settled on the wall by the candle until morning came.

For several more years, Powder Puff was my closest companion. Then one night, during a cold and blustery winter, I had gone to sleep. My husband was again out of town, but Powder Puff slept in her bed by the corner near the woodstove.

I dreamed that night that Powder Puff crawled on my pillow and spoke to me — though it wasn’t with words. Rather, it was as if she had shared her thoughts, transmitting them to my mind.

“I am going away,” she said softly. “But you mustn’t be afraid, and you mustn’t look for me any more.” In my dream, she pressed against my face. “Thank you,” she said. And then she disappeared.

When I awoke, she was nowhere to be found. Not in her bed, not in the house, and although I wandered about outside calling her and filling her dish, she did not come. When I went back into my house and began tidying the rooms, making my bed, I saw on the pillow beside my own a wisp of Powder Puff’s hair.

In the days that followed, we searched everywhere and called for her in vain. I never saw her again and we never knew what had befallen her. But I take comfort in the fact that she seemed to know that she was leaving, and in her own way, served as my protector yet again when she said goodbye to me.

~Anne Wilson

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