A Few Words About A Furball
(Photo by Lee Martindale)
He came into my life on Valentine's Day 1986 - a roughly
five-month old bundle of gray, black and white. Of all the
young cats in the adoption center, he seemed the most laid-back,
happily responding to the get-acquainted overtures without trying
to sell himself too hard. And he had the loudest purr of any cat
I'd ever met. The center had named him "Joker", but a steady diet
of Heinlein and a dark grey spot on an otherwise pink nose
renamed him before he was home. Pixel.
He adapted to change fairly readily, and in the course of his life,
I put him through a few. The addition of a "little sister", whom
he tolerated, and with whom he made up the Laurel and Hardy of
catdom. Changes of residence (5 in all) and changes in human
co-residents (not as many). He took them all in his impossibly
For most of his life, Pixel was one of those cats who evaporate
when strangers came in, and took his own sweet and deliberate
time making friends. The running joke was "I have two cats...
really!" There were only two exceptions to his disappearing
Both took place in 1989. In the first incident, a fellow I knew
only casually dropped by for some reason I don't remember. Instead
of his usual routine, Pixel took up station between me and the
visitor - stiff-legged, back arched and GROWLING. In the second,
I was being picked up by a date, whom I directed to the couch
while I went to get my coat and purse. When I came back to the
living room less than a minute later, Pixel was curled up on the
date's lap, purring and otherwise thoroughly content.
In both cases, Pixel turned out to be an excellent judge of
character. I ended up having to explain to the first man, shortly
thereafter and rather physically, that "no" meant "no". The
second man was George.
The cat who came into my life on one holiday left it on
another - Thanksgiving 2000. And I think I knew that I was
saying Goodbye when I said goodbye on my way out the door to
another con appearance. Pixel allowed me to pick him up and
cuddle him (something he never did), and his purring was quiet.
When I left because I had to, Chiya, the "little sister" he
tolerated, was grooming him. He was purring again, softly.
Pixel was an indoor cat all his life, chittering at birds and
watching the world through whatever became his favorite window
wherever he lived. His last "favorite window" looked out over
the back yard, to a spot between a big tree and a rose bush.
I often see Chiya at that window now, chittering at birds and
watching over the spot.
(Photo by George Martindale)
A few days after Pixel's passing, I called George at work.
"I'm worried about Chiya. She's alternating between staring out the
window and hunting the house for her brother. I'm worried about me,
too. It's too quiet around here to write. And I was just over at the
city pound's website, they're awash in kittens and cats and begging
for people to come adopt."
"You want to adopt another kitten, don't you?"
"I was thinking two. The pound's open late tonight. Can't we
just go look?" So we went to "just look"...with one of
the cat carriers in the back of the van. (Does my husband know me
The pound was, indeed, awash in felines of all sizes, ages and
types. Including the undisputed biggest cat I'd ever seen outside
of a zoo; at least 30 lbs. of gorgoues orange beast that would, I had
no doubt, turn Chiya into a handball in nothing flat. And then we
saw these two little faces peering out. The tag said they were nearly
three months old, both females, and littermates.
We looked at all the available adoptees, but we kept coming back
to the two little females. And brought them home.
Mistletoe is the grey and black tabby. She reminds me a lot of
Pixel; she's already very long-legged and she's going to be tall.
She's also very talkative, and has brilliantly green eyes. Eggnog
is built low to the ground, with a long body, short legs, and amber
eyes the exact color of her markings. She's the quieter of the two;
we only hear her tiny voice when she wakes up alone and goes looking
for Mistletoe or us.
The settling-in process went fairly smoothly, with Chiya
establishing herself as "alpha cat" with lots of growling and hissing
but no bloodshed. She "tolerates" the kittens, much as Pixel
"tolerated" her. We've all survived the rounds of shots and spaying.
(George became an instant favorite with the vet's office staff, who
thought a big fuzzy guy with an adorable kitten on each shoulder was
"cute".) And it is no longer "too quiet to write".
Cute kittens have a way of growing up into handsome cats, and mine
are no exception. Here are "the girls" two years later.
(Photo by George Martindale)
A Few Words About Another Furball
(Photo by Lee Martindale)
Twenty years ago, when Pixel was about a year old, a fellow
that my then-Significant Other worked with found himself the unexpected
grandparent to a litter of kittens. This coincided with a decision we'd made
that a second cat would be a good thing, and so it was that we found ourselves
standing in this fellow's garage, watching five six-week-old spring-loaded
dustbunnies bouncing around and being adorable. The sixth one was sitting
squarely in front of us, calmly looking up at us.
She was about half the size of her siblings, and she looked like
nothing so much as a tabby dandelion puffball. What she lacked in size,
she more than made up for in attitude, evidenced by the look she was
giving us that said, very plainly, "You're laughing at their antics, but it's
*me* you're gonna take home." My S.O. reached down and picked
her up, putting her in the palm of one hand and raising said palm to a
eight that put him eye-to-eye with its passenger. She sat there in perfect
calm for a 30 seconds before she leaned forward and licked his nose.
I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley at the time. The kitten's
diminutive stature caused her to be dubbed "Chiya", an endearment
from the Darkover novels meaning “little girl”.
Pixel didn't take too kindly to having a sister, and the introduction
process went slowly. It took a couple of weeks, but finally Chiya and
Pixel came to the understanding that Pixel was Alpha and Chiya would
be tolerated as long as she remembered that. Somewhere between then
and the end of the relationship, the two became inseparable, as we found
out when we tried to split them up. I ended up with custody of both, for
which I will always be grateful.
Chiya was a cuddle-slut, pure and simple. If you made a lap, she was
in it. She never met a stranger, and any visitor was a new opportunity to make
a new friend. Two things made that a foregone conclusion with all but the most
cat-averse or allergic: size, build, and manner that, until she was close to
twelve years old, made people think she was a kitten less than a year old,
and a trick she had of purring in anticipation of being petted, because *of course*
you were going to pet her. She soaked up love like a sponge and thrived on it.
And gave it back many times over.
Pixel's passing and the adoption of Mistletoe and Eggnog, when she
was fourteen and starting to act her years, had an almost miraculous effect.
She established herself as Alpha, a role she'd never gotten to play before
and relished, and she started playing again.
A few months ago, she started to decline. She didn't appear to be
pain, and continued keeping the youngsters in their place, patrolling the
house, and crawling up into George's lap or mine even when her hipjoints
stiffened and movement became difficult. But it was evident that her years
were catching up with her, and that the skein of her life was running out.
Then, one day, she stopped eating, and the day after, she refused water.
We did the only things we could do; we cuddled her, talked to her, and
told her it was okay to let go.
Chiya The Perpetual Kitten, constant feline presence for twenty years,
passed beyond the veil at just after 9am on August 9, 2006 - peacefully in
her sleep, without distress, and surrounded by love. Pixel has been reunited
with his "little sister", and the spot between the big tree and two rose bushes
that she watched over so faithfully since Thanksgiving 2000 is now being
watched over by Mistletoe and Eggnog.
Rest in peace, little girl.
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