41: A Friend in the End

41: A Friend in the End

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

A Friend in the End

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.

~Voltaire

Tess, our beautiful twelve-year-old calico cat, was sad. She had recently lost her best friend, Sheba, our sixteen-year-old cat, and was spending most of her days moping around the house. Tess and Sheba had eaten side by side, slept side by side, and groomed each other every day. It was time to get Tess a new friend.

We named him Murray, a gentle sounding name for a kitten, or so we thought. At first, this black, little fur ball delighted us with his typical kittenish behavior: racing after mouse toys, chasing toes that moved beneath blankets, or lying in wait to pounce on unsuspecting passersby. He even had the adorable habit of sleeping upside down on my husband’s stomach, purring ever so softly.

But our hopes for a loving companion for Tess were dashed. Murray wasn’t interested in being her friend. He much preferred to scare her. It didn’t take him long to find the perfect hiding places where he could lie in wait for her to stroll by. Leaping out, he would chase her from one end of the house to the other.

Tess, to her credit, still tried to bond with him. One day when Murray was asleep in a circle of sunlight on the back of the couch, Tess, seeking companionship, or perhaps warmth, crept up ever so gently beside him and curled up as close as she dared. When Murray didn’t move, she inched up a bit further. And then a few inches more. Murray slowly opened one eye, leaped up, and lashed out at her. Tess never approached Murray again.

As the months passed, Murray grew into a strong, muscular cat who preferred his own company. Instead of stalking Tess, he now simply ignored her. His desire for solitude overcame any need for human or feline companionship. The basement became his haven. He ate his meals primarily at night when the house was quiet and everyone was asleep. In the daytime he sought places that were secluded and free from interaction with others.

Not only did he find Tess an annoyance, but he began to act as if we had done him a disservice by adopting him. He hissed and scratched when he was held and swatted anyone who gave him a pat on the head. If I tried to give him sweet talk, he would ignore me, then slowly turn his head and give me that who-do-you-think-you-are look. Murray was fast becoming a curmudgeon.

He was also a slob. In the morning I would walk into the kitchen to find bits of wet cat food clinging to the walls, the cabinets and the sides of the stove. Murray ate with his paws. Scooping one paw into his dish, he would fling the food into the air as though he were catching mice. His water bowl, for whatever reason, would be in the middle of the kitchen, its contents spilled across the floor.

“That’s it!” cried my husband one day, after sliding across the kitchen floor from the spilled water. “Back he goes to the shelter! He is a monster!”

Over several days we discussed this option. But we knew it would not happen. We were responsible for Murray. And who would take him — this antisocial, ornery rapscallion who had horrible table manners and who terrified every living thing that came within reach? No, Murray was ours, for better or worse. And all the while, Tess grew lonelier.

We began searching for another cat for Tess. She was such an affectionate cat and she deserved the love and companionship of a friend. But during that time we began to notice a change in her. She was limping a great deal and seemed to be in pain. A trip to the vet revealed the grim news: Tess had a tumor on her spine and had only a few months to live.

“You’ll know,” said our veterinarian, “when it is time to let her go. But don’t wait too long.”

These are the words every pet owner dreads hearing. Our hearts were broken. As the weeks passed, we watched Tess grow weaker and weaker. She soon stopped eating and lost all interest in everything. Most of her days were spent wrapped in warm blankets on the couch, with us carrying her to the litter box. It was shocking to watch the change in her each day. But it was not as shocking as watching the change in Murray.

During the last few days of Tess’ life, Murray left his basement sanctuary and began to make appearances in the living room. He would sit and stare at the couch where Tess lay. He might sit for fifteen minutes and then disappear, only to return again after a few hours, each time moving closer to the couch. His look and his demeanor suggested to us that he knew we were losing Tess.

I called the vet’s office on a warm May morning. It was time. The sun was bright, the air was clear, and the day seemed too beautiful for such sadness. Our appointment was for 4:30 in the afternoon, closer to the end of office hours when we would have more privacy. Placing her on the living room couch, I wrapped her blankets closer and told her that soon she would no longer be in pain. I told her that I would be with her and that I loved her. As I sat stroking her head, Murray appeared and jumped onto the couch. Tess opened one eye and gazed at her visitor. After sniffing Tess’ head and blanket-wrapped body, Murray circled twice and lay down beside her, pressing up close to her body. Here he stayed for the entire day, getting up but once to use his litter box and then returning to her side.

Shocked by Murray’s actions, I left them alone, coming back into the room every now and then. Murray still lay beside her. Sometimes he would be facing her, staring into her eyes. Other times he would be lying close to her side or stretched across her back legs, keeping her warm. Tess lay perfectly still. Her breath came in gentle waves and her eyes remained glued on her new “friend.” She began to purr.

It’s been two years since Tess died. Murray is still with us, and he still ignores us. I still spend too much time scraping cat food from the walls and cabinets. And I continue to curse whenever I feel that familiar puddle of water seeping into my socks in the morning. On occasion when his behavior is too much, we bring up the subject of the shelter. But that’s about as far as it gets.

Why Murray went from monster to angel is a mystery. Why he remained by Tess’s side in the end, we can only guess. He may be a curmudgeon and a cantankerous recluse; he may test us with his sloppy ways; he may spurn our attempts at affection. But we will never forget the comfort he brought to our Tess, who simply wanted a friend. For that, we can only be grateful.

~Gretchen Nilsen Lendrum

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