The time has come to record the brief but deeply missed relationship I shared with an old, stray, tabby-striped cat whom I dubbed, simply, Tom.
Perhaps, those decades past, it might have been in the spring of the year when he first made his notable appearance in the vicinity of my home. I don't actually recall, but, for some reason, he slinks and suns himself, eats and battles and serenades through my thoughts these days.
All the male cats who have won my respect for bravery and gentleness have been of that variety-yellow and tabby-striped-Tom and Boots, my old, much beloved companion who now waits, if he waits at all for me, on the other side of this life.
At the time when I first noticed Tom, I supported a house full of cats, but I somehow found the money for one more can of cat food for Rudy, the neighbour's cat, each night, per an agreement I had made with her regarding a baby rat she had spared, seemingly, at my request. The making of that agreement could make another story by itself, and this item I will devote to remembering Tom.
Going out to give Rudy her food, I was somewhat appalled to hear a regular snarling, growling and hissing to my rear, over my shoulder. I glimpsed "Tom" in the background; all those sounds of menace were of his utterance. Not exactly calmly as I tried to seem, I continued to dish out the cat food until all was in the dish, turning to stand not facing the dish, I went slowly back to my front door and into the safety of my house.
I was aware that, should Tom have been of a disposition to attack me, as all his vocalization implied, I would have been severely clawed or bitten. Although Tom was a house-cat in size, if such a cat has become feral, his attacks could be severe to wildly elemental. A human always fares poorly, in the naked state, against a feral animal.
There was never a true offering of that. Truthfully, I did not know whether ignoring Tom was exactly the thing to do, so I kept up a monologue of address to him.
This strange cat stayed on my mind, and he made certain that he did, as when I fed the other cats in the house, he could be seen appearing atop a ledge outside a window. Perhaps, to him, he was only gazing at some other cats who were being fed inside the house and who were being treated in a friendly manner by a human being. I am sure, however that this latter was not entirely lost upon him.
Tom continued to roam the area, appearing nearby when I fed Rudy outdoors, appearing at my window many times, fighting another neighbor's tomcat whenever he could. Besting that longhaired, white and yellow cat, he would leave telltale tufts of long, yellow hair in my narrow front porch and scattering, blowing across my yard. The two of them were also to be seen napping as though they were the best of old friends.
Rudy and Tom had noisy confrontations before me, but they were of a different sort, and Rudy often backed easily down, because Rudy was, in true, an old, neutered, female cat, who had forgotten that distantly past fact, also living out life as a warrior in demeanor, the mark of a cat who made her way outdoors, although acknowledging a certain condescending link with humans and seemed to have formed what seemed to be a firm and deep affection for me. At least, there was respective communication between us.
She had apparently extended utter respect as an equal to Tom, extending him free board at the feeding bowl and sharing her can of food with him until such time as I should, possibly, give him his own. But, it might not have been so at first, before I made the latter observation.
One day, I decided that it would not be amiss to encourage his continued presence, and, seeing his eagerly intent observation of my activities feeding the cats inside, I retrieved an old, disfavored bag of dry food from the pantry, I offered some of the contents in a bowl, outside. He approached the bowl but was, seemingly, not eager for this fare.
He rubbed against my legs with what I took as a gesture of thanks, at which I stooped, extending my hand to stroke his yellow fur; however, I was neglectful of keeping my attentions focused on his reactions.
Tom accepted to be stroked for a moment but suddenly fixed his teeth in my hand. It was not a savage attack, although it was piercing, and I think his teeth, perhaps, met at the points through the flesh of my palm. Surprised, I suddenly, sharply shouted, "Hey!" at the treatment I had received, and, as suddenly, he had somehow painlessly released his bite and had disappeared to reappear at the center of the yard, away from me, looking, not fearfully, but apprehensively back at me.
Momentarily, I strode back to the house, vowing not to try any further reward of such ingratitude; however, I soon cooled to realizing the poorness of my offering to Tom. Breathing a prayer that the bite could remain uninfected, I fetched him a can of food to assuage his hunger and allay any ill feelings that our interchange might have engendered. The gift was cautiously but gratefully accepted. When I peered out the back window, he was happily eating.
Tom kept his distance for a while, though he was an almost constant visitor and dinner guest. There were, of course, times, when he was absent, busy at the business of being a tomcat. I found myself unaccountably concerned about his well being as though he had been a pet here. I was always glad when he made his, more-often-than-not battle-scarred reappearance at table.
Twice, that I know of, he had encounters with Boots, my venerable house-tom, neither of which was in the least physically injurious to either of them. To speak the best of both, this was due to wisdom, mutual respect and, in Tom's case, a strange attentiveness to me, also, acceptance of me as friend and authority? At least, on my property.
After having given Boots egress at the front door, per his request, standing there for an interval to check the weather and what I could see of the surrounds to detect whether there might have been another, aggressive cat there on the prowl. Tom was and extemporaneously struck Boots or Boots rolled under Tom in order to gain what advantage his, by then, arthritic body could gain against the sudden onslaught, prepared to rake with his back claws the underbelly of his surprising attacker? A habit of his combat technique.
Acting in the fastest and best manner that I could imagine, I stepped out the door, no further, and shouted, "Hey!"
They actually froze in time, it seemed and remained motionless, both Tom and Boots, as I swiftly seized the moment to grasp Boots under the forelegs, withdrawing him in a whisk from under Tom. When Boots had been removed from under him, Tom came to life, instantly sauntering away from the house as though nothing at all had occurred.
Boots resumed a perch inside after only perfunctorily appearing to desire to go about his afternoon rounds outside. And, I was left to marvel at the ease and fortune with which the situation had proceeded, my having received actual unexpected cooperation from two feline males at the onset of battle.
Attentiveness to the fact that I might have got bitten despite my peaceful intentions required that I pay attention to the momentary attitudes of the two and, further, that I had to act with the swiftness of determination to accomplish my feat and withdraw my vulnerable hands from the predicament.
This may have accounted for the fortune I enjoyed in the action and the success of my gesture, but I suspect that it was more. Boots adored and trusted me and was aware of my presence. As for Tom, I had begun to suspect a prior history of his having been very domestic at one time earlier in his mysterious life. Their next encounter further convinced me of this possibility.
One afternoon, Tom appeared at the front door while I was there and seemed to want to come into the house. I considered this an honor, a gesture of trust and goodwill, so Tom was a difficult party to refuse, although I feared the consequences should Boots make an appearance in the living room. I, however, thought him to be napping in the back bedroom.
As I held the door open for Tom - all the time saying to him that I did not think he would want to stay indoors for long - he poked his head into the doorway, then stepped on in, past the threshold. He paused just inside the door, looking penetratingly deep into the living room.
In these moments, Boots stepped sleepily into the living room from the hall, blinking in the sudden light provided as he tried to ascertain the cause of the opening of the door. He found his domain invaded by the strange tomcat. After expressing a moment of silence in his distaste for the situation as I had developed, he commenced howling, argumentative calls for respect for territory. Tom froze and began to answer in kind as honor among cats demands.
I was guilty of nothing but having felt compelled to extend hospitality; yet, I had found myself at having done so at the expense of inadvertently transgressed against the proprieties I owed to Boots in our shared domain. Guiltily, however, I stood a moment, Instantly my correct course of action seemed to be to step between the line of sight of the two veterans. I sensed the same amount of reluctance to fight from either source.
Boots was a valorous and accomplished tomcat, though he was by then, as I have said, old and somewhat arthritic? As I usually tried not to let myself notice for most occasions. For Tom it seemed that entering my house was more a whim of curiosity than a play to extend his territory inside.
Arthritic or not, Boots was still a formidable tomcat and a winner of many combats, some worthy of stories of their own.
Suddenly, I realized that Tom simply needed a cover for his back, so that he could be assured a dignified, safe and unobstructed exit. I had but to reach slowly behind him, pushing open the screen door, providing him a ready and guarded exit in order to relieve my household of the prospect of confrontation and an end to the mounting tensions.
This was soon and gratefully accomplished. Tom made no further attempts to foray inside my house, because he was truly an outdoor cat, now, a cat of the neighbourhood, owning no master, answering to none. He had, however, displayed to me that he was, to a degree, familiar with the hearth for home and had been a cat of both worlds.
More of his history I never learned. He had no way of telling me more, had he cared to do so, I knew, too, that he had developed a respect for me and for Boots, the old man of the household. His demeanor throughout the aforesaid exchange spoke for him that he was a gentlemanly tom.
Still, he hung around the outer grounds surrounding my house in particular, and the neighbourhood in general, continuing to befriend Rudy and his beloved enemy from down the street? And me, of course? Being missed by me when he did not show up for feeding? Until one, fateful day when I found his crushed body athwart my path on my way to the closest, local convenience store.
I had no idea what had happened to him, by what means he had met his death. Recognizing his breathless body, "Oh, Tom!" involuntarily escaped my lips. Stunned by me sudden discovery, I continued my short trek to the store to make whatever inconsequential and forgotten purchase had taken my out of the house that afternoon.
Also, involuntarily, I made a perfunctory, respectful observation when I passed the form on my way back home, recognizing his colour and size, that I would retrieve a bed cover from the house and return to pick up his body in order to do the respectful thing, that is, to bury him. I sadly concluded that I was the closest thing to a human family that had, up until the present, existed for him and had given him support in this overly human world.
Keeping my resolve, I found an old bed sheet and proceeded back along my habitual footsteps until I knelt beside his broken form. I could now plainly observe the large, sunken area across his ribcage which bespoke vehicular trauma, and as I loaded him carefully on the folded bed sheet in order to bear his body homeward. I noted, also, the blood that escaped his slack mouth, open in the rigors of death.
All along my way home, I was continually aware that bearing his weight was like bearing the form and substance of a small, human child. He had been so muscular in life that his body was quite solid and heavy with density? Of weight and of he density of the life that he must led all the time when I was not aware of him. I wondered whether someone somewhere had mourned him when he had no longer appeared at another house, in his younger days.
Had he been the victim of abandonment by choice or by the chance of his tomcat's wanderlust coming upon him at the inopportune time when his erstwhile human companion had been forced some vicissitude to vacate his residential dwelling where they both had lived? Such idle musings fell from my mind like the essentially idle tears which trickled from my eyes as I bore him on his last course. Tom had seemed familiar with human habitation when he entered my house that one occasion.
Tom appeared a happy cat, on the whole, having had many feline and human acquaintances among us all, here in the neighbourhood with its curious varieties of both species. He had had a hard life, as well, as I had witnessed, seeing him embrace the harshness of the winter months and the gentler months of spring and summer with their attendant worries of fleas and sultry heat amid the relative plenty of love and life.
The story could well have ended there or with the simple burial I had for Tom's body in my backyard, with the help of a friend, who asked me incidentally, whether I had any words to say over the open hole with Tom lying composed within. That sunny day, beclouded only by my sorrow and bereavement, I had no words to say. Seemingly, I had said all I could say when I found his body, crying, "Oh Tom!"
Certainly, as you here now know, I have had many, subsequent thoughts of Tom. I always will, so how can the story end and the last words be spoken, ever?
I have seen him since, in the neighborhood, as any could see him, walking here today. There is never an end you know, and Tom had offspring, you, as well as I, could imagine, noting that he was a fully functional Tom? His behaviour bespoke, as well as the intactness of his perfect, healthy, feline anatomy. He has come again, nor will he ever leave, and more that my memory befriends me now.