09. October 2004 · Comments Off on Marbella Cat · Categories: Domestic, General

The affinity of cats for bloggers, and bloggers for cats is axiomatic; I am myself– in the opinion of William and my daughter– only one more cat away from verging on “crazy neighborhood cat ladyM status, with the current herd of four, all of them Cats of the 1st Order, those which are kept indoors, spoilt and adored, allowed to sleep wherever they like, and fed by hand on chicken and salmon – well, maybe not that last. But Cats of the 1st Order are those which accompany you when you move halfway around the world, whose lives are extended with extensive veterinary courses of care, and whose inevitable death is deeply mourned. Cats of the 2nd Order are those who rate a degree of care, and affection, and for whom you feel a certain amount of responsibility; these cats do not share your life, and are usually just there temporarily, until you pass them on to someone suitable. (Or they may be someone elses’ cat, who just prefers your yard, and to freeload at your back door, like Bubba From Down the Road). Cats of the 3rd Order are all others; strays and ferals, other people’s cats; who ask for nothing from you and usually prefer it that way. Except sometimes, when the planets and stars align, and the mysterious cat god decrees that one of them shall suddenly walk up to you and declare him/herself to be yours.

We do not pick them, you see; they pick us, and it is unwise to go against this great power of the universe. I did, once. We walked away from a charming small cat who had very clearly selected us as his own Very Special Humans, in the clearest imaginable terms. I have felt guilty about it ever since: the place and the circumstances were all wrong, and we had a houseful of cats anyway, and all the excuses in the world. But none of them are any good. I should have packed up the small cat, and taken him away with us. By way of expiating my guilt, I have taken in Henry VIII and his sister Morgie, and Little Arthur and Percival have been gracious enough to select me as their Chosen Human, so perhaps the great and mysterious God of the Cats has forgiven me for spurning the affections of the least of his little ones, late in the summer of the last year we lived in Spain.

It happened during the last week of our summer camping trip, a long loop through Southern Spain; Cordova, Seville and Granada, concluding with a drive along the coastal road between Gibraltar and Malaga. This was the Costa del Sol, the fabled south coast, sometimes built over with expensive new urbanizations, gorgeous modern condos, filling up the spaces between the ancient towns, which were guarded by medieval watchtowers against the threat of corsairs, raiders and pillagers from the African coast, just a short sail over the horizon of the blue Mediterranean.

We had set up our tent on the beach itself, at Marbella. A steep driveway zigzagged down the face of a steep hillside, fallen away to make a cliff in places. The buildings of the campground nestled in a cove at the bottom amongst palm and olive trees; the managers’ quarters, and the bar, the lavatories and shower house, half empty at the end of the season. My daughter and I took a place right along the driveway at the edge of the beach, where we could look back at the lights of the city I had driven through, and fell asleep that night to the soft shurr and wash of the surf, just thirty feet away.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by something, a small weight on my chest, something nudging my face, something that meowed interrogatively. One-quarter awake, I caught the cat by the scruff of the neck, and dumped it on Blondie’s sleeping bag.
“Here – take Patchie!” I mumbled, and my daughter said sleepily.
“That’s not Patchie, she’s at home.”
In the dark tent, the cat mewed again. Half-awake, I rolled over and found the flashlight. It wasn’t Patchie; it was a little half-grown cat, white with irregular splotches of caramel and brown, which had slipped under the outside screened part of the tent, and wriggled through the little space where the three zippers met to close the inner part. It mewed, looking expectantly at me. Obviously, if I wanted to get any more sleep, I would have to do something about this. I rummaged in the plastic tub of supplies for the emergency pop-top can of tuna, pulled off the top and put it down. Small sounds, rapturous tiny meows mixed with the urgent slurping of tuna overlaid the constant music of the surf as I went back to sleep. During the rest of the night, I floated occasionally up to the surface of wakefulness, aware of a tiny weight curled up next to me, contentedly purring tuna-scented breath into my face.

“We’ll call it Marbella,” announced my daughter the next morning over our breakfast of hot tea and croissants from the campground store, “Because that’s where we found her.”
“Him. It’s a him, sweetie, and we can’t take him with us. We’re on our way to Granada, and 600 miles from home, at least. And you know how Patchie is. She hates other cats, if they aren’t her kittens.”
Every reason, every rationale— the kitten might belong to someone else, we had four cats already, the vet bill for this one, where would we keep it while we went sight-seeing, there was no place in the VEV for a litter box— I deployed them all.
“But he wants to stay with us,” my daughter insisted. “He picked out our tent in the middle of the night. We have to take him home.”
And the little cat had curled up on my sleeping bag, perfectly at home, radiating assurance that this was where he belonged, that the crowning achievement— status as a Cat of the 1st Order was in his grasp, and glory and everlasting tuna was his, now and ever after.
“We can’t,” I said, finally “We just can’t.”

And we emptied out the tent and packed the car, to the little cat’s evident distress, and finally struck the tent, with him still in it. We emptied him out of it, and rolled it all up, and he tried to get into the car. I put him out, and we drove away, leaving him sitting disconsolately where the tent had been, no doubt wondering what had happened— he had done all those cute kitten things, selected us out to be his Chosen Humans— and here we were heartlessly abandoning him.

“It’s a campground,” I said, “There are lots of people there. Someone will feed him.” But in my heart, I knew that we should have taken him with us. I could have worked out a way. I could have back-tracked into the town, found a grocery store. But I already was challenged almost to the max, just with driving the VEV across strange roads, setting up camp, the strain of coping with the demands of travel in a foreign country, distanced from every support system, and the constant drain of existing responsibilities. The VEV had twice needed repairs on this trip already; they were small and inexpensive repairs, but nerve-wracking.

But we should have brought him with us. He was meant to be ours, and we drove away and left him, and I have felt guilty about it ever since. And that is why I have four cats, all of who did the honor of picking me, and this time I could open the door and say
“Come in. Stay. Let me open a can of tuna for you.”

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