Kittie Howard

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Cheshire's Tale

Before today's story, I'd like to warmly welcome my new Followers.  Thank you, from the heart, for showing an interest in my stories.

And bear hugs to those of you who've stuck with me these past months. 

To everyone I'd like to say that if you don't see comments from me on your blog, please leave a comment so I can link back to you.  Some profiles lack a link.

When the Geek Squad set up my blog last July, there were Those in my orbit who expressed surprise that I would do such a thing, that I should settle into my years and crochet afghans.  Well, I did crochet afghans, six, to be exact, one as a gift, and five for a charity that benefited a Katrina relief program.  So, now, back to blogging. 

Thank you for your concerns about my smashed finger.  You truly lifted my spirits!!  Because, trust me, there were moments when I was quite angry at myself for being stupid not to watch more carefully what I was doing.

But a positive side of waiting is that I had time to think.  About today's story.  It's a ghost story.  I was a bit nervous about sharing a ghost story.  I'd rather be in Blogville than a Looney Tunes cartoon, if you catch my drift.  But what I wrote is what happened.  And, as President Clinton once said, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."  And, so, I will.

So, Mundo I hope you enjoy this post.  Mundo is a Follower who lives in beautiful Indonesia.  Perhaps you've read his comments.  Mundo commented that my post about Wendy hit home, that Wendy could have been his cousin.  That touched me. So, when Mundo requested a ghost story (he blogged about perhaps having a ghost near him), I decided to let my healed fingers rip across the keyboard.

* * * * *

The ball of downy white fur mewed softly.  Moist blue eyes, sweet and trusting, turned toward my coos.  When a tiny paw reached for my finger, I cradled Chessy in my arms and rocked her asleep.

My little kitten grew into a brown-faced Siamese with sapphire-blue eyes and pointed ears.  Soft mews became stronger, never shrill, more like a feline drawl that floated on Hawaii's gentle breezes. 

Especially in the afternoon. In 1971, with few buildings air conditioned, afternoons meant the island paradise felt suspended in slow motion.  Birds circled lazily in open blue skies.  Bees snoozed in tropical gardens. A mellow sun streamed through open windows. Breezes off the Koolau Mountains carried the sound of silence into our Kailua apartment.

Chessy had been my Valentine's Day engagement gift, a bundle of joy that had added a kaleidoscope's sparkle to the diamond on my finger.  And while my fiancee, a captain in the United States Marine Corps, worked at the military base near Kailua, Chessy and I utilized my free time from teaching trice-weekly adult education classes to explore the lush stand of trees and flora near our apartment building.

My agile Siamese loved the spirit of the hunt.  Nothing stirred natural instincts like a mouse scurrying among the leaves.  Nimble paws ran and jumped ahead of the mouse, and, with back arched, blue eyes ablaze, ferocious hisses drowned pitiful squeaks.  Until the hunter walked away, not interested in the kill.

When a lone bird came into view, Chessy crouched low, brown and white markings the perfect camouflage, muscles taunt, ready for the lunge.  Then, she'd meow.  And the bird would fly away. 

Chessy possessed a hunter's appetite but an angel's heart.
Sometimes we'd sit in the shade by the apartment complex's pool, Chessy on one lounge chair, me on the other, umbrella up, under an overhanging tree's branch.  I'd fold over the towel beneath Chessy for additional shade.  As I did for myself. 

Since we were usually the only visitors, my pool-mate objected to lying around with nothing to do except watch me read. I worked to ignore a mewing brouhaha.  What I couldn't ignore, though, were the dramatic Sarah Bernhardt flourishes where Chessy covered narrowed eyes with a paw and howled.  So, we'd leave, the victor's tail up, blue eyes triumphant.

Chessy followed me everywhere, tail up, eyes watching, nose sniffing or paws racing when I'd break into a jog.  And when Chessy wearied of adventure, she'd stretch on the forest floor and stare at me, until I scooped her up for the return trek.  But the clever beauty would squirm free and sprint ahead with Olympian resolve, all the while glancing back to see if I followed.  I did.

Like every feline who'd ever walked the earth, Chessy had her tricks.  We understood each other perfectly.

Of course, with Hawaii being the land of Aloha, love snared Chessy.  I returned from an evening class to find her and another Siamese sprawled on the bed, their paws circling into coy flirts.  Startled by the intrusion, the suitor raced through the apartment, out the louvered window, and down the steps, never to be seen again. 

Unfortunately.  For this muscular dude wasn't a surfer bum but a prized show stud who'd fled masculine Nirvana for Chessy's modest pad. Fliers promised a $200.00 reward for the gorgeous hulk's return, a fortune in the days of cinder block bookcases.

However, the next day's scheduled visit to the veterinarian's clinic revealed Dick and I were expectant
grandparents, the exact opposite of the visit's purpose.

At my exasperated sigh, the vet apologized for not operating when I had requested and waived the appointment fee, an appreciated windfall that led to financial dreams:  How pedigree kittens could pay off a school loan, give us a honeymoon trip to Australia and New Zealand, perhaps buy a real bookcase. 

Oh, but the dreams were big - no, huge! - for Dick and I were young, and love swirls in dreams.  Those magical dreams where hearts thump and eyes sparkle and life's energy pulsates through your very being, those magical dreams where you look into open blue skies and think, Oh, God, yes!

However, the blessed event momentarily dashed fanciful dreams.  Chessy gave birth to five wiggly meows.  The sleek beauty had indeed fallen for a surfer bum, a live-for-today Tom with bold, black and white Aloha shirt markings who had strutted into the neighborhood. 

But Dick and I fell in love with the babies, just as Chessy had.  She doted on her kittens, smothered them with licks and warm nuzzles, and, just as Chessy followed me everywhere, five black and white kittens learned to follow their mother throughout our two-bedroom apartment. Soon, like goslings, the tonga line ventured onto the lanai (balcony).

Fortunately, Dick and I had five friends who wanted kittens.  For once the kittens reached the lanai, Chessy grew aloof, almost turned on her babies. 

After the kittens departed, I thought the apartment felt empty.  Not Chessy. She jumped onto the green sofa and meowed for me to join her for a nap, as she had done before the babies were born.  Relieved to be free, Chessy stretched her long, muscular body against my side, put her head on my shoulder, and fell asleep.

As such, time passed.  Dick and I married. The Marine Corps decided we'd move to Virginia.  And this was fine, except we didn't know what to do about Chessy

She had developed the annoying and destructive habit of not using the litter box.  Toiletry deposits appeared in shoes, behind the sofa, on the sofa.  We (and the vet) tried everything to break this habit, but stubbornness prevailed. 

Even though Dick loved Chessy dearly, I sensed she had become jealous of him, the husband who left on deployments that lasted weeks and returned for brief days.  For there were times, on the weekends when Dick was home, that she had meowed for us to take a nap, only to watch me leave with Dick.

When I closed the lanai door, Chessy would curl into a tight ball, face hidden, her back to the world.

But, at evening's end, when Dick and I pulled into our parking slot, we'd see our watch-kitty waiting patiently for our return (for she knew the sound of our car, could exit through the louver window).

The three of us would walk toward our second-story apartment, the light evening filled with meows about where we'd been.  But when we reached the steps, Chessy would stop. I always carried Chessy up the steps, her sweet face nuzzled into my neck, her soft purrs the perfect sundowner.

So, the day before we had to schedule Chessy for a flight to the Mainland, for we had no choice but to leave Hawaii, Dick and I sat at our small kitchen table and debated the options.  A friend with a large yard desperately wanted Chessy

Just as desperately, we wanted to keep her.  But her toiletry habit had become impossible.  My heart tugged.  As much as I loved Chessy, I wanted her to feel free, not restricted to what a townhouse offered.  For we'd be living in a cramped townhouse at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia.

Our decision was that if Chessy used her litter box in the morning, she'd fly to the Mainland.  Just to make sure Chessy understood the ultimatum, I turned to my feline shadow and admonished, "Do you hear that, Missy?" and burst into tears.

The next morning, Chessy had used her litter box.

For 14 years, Chessy moved with us, whenever the Marine Corps issued orders, and there were many moves among the various bases and installations. Chessy adapted to Dick's erratic schedule.  Dick learned that Chessy like to have her ears scratched. And, so, the years passed. Chessy, like us, acquired a few grey hairs, suffered dental problems, and nursed aching muscles.  But we adapted.

Tired as she may have been, Chessy always greeted guests and followed them into the living room, watching, waiting, sometimes talking (as Siamese do) until the party's crescendo overwhelmed feline sensibilities.  Our hostess would then retreat to the kitchen for party treats:  five shrimp (boiled without salt, then peeled) and nine small potato chips.  After a big water slurp, eager paws raced upstairs, jumped onto the bed and slept the party off.

When my husband wasn't deployed, Chessy slept at the foot of our bed. 

During most deployments, Chessy slept curled up with me, as she had in Hawaii, with her head on my shoulder. 

When her body ached, though, and she had to stretch -- for Chessy now had a kidney problem -- Chessy would lie in the center of the bed and wait for me.  Meows encouraged me along. 

Finally, I'd turn off the lamp, snuggle under the covers, and reach for Chessy's extended paw.  When she felt my touch, she'd meow softly, curl her paw around my fingers, and I'd drift off to sleep.  And I was blessed.  Because whatever the military threw at me, I could handle the challenge. The night's demons never shadowed my sleep.

The vet assured us Chessy wasn't in pain and could live for months with a decent quality of life. But her failing health meant she couldn't accompany us on the long haul.  We had Marine Corps orders for back-to-back overseas tours:  Six months in Rome, Italy, and three years in Nairobi, Kenya. 

I sobbed buffalo tears when Chessy flew to my sister's home in Houston, Texas.  Before Dick and I left for Rome, I'd call my sister to hear Chessy's meow. I'd hang up the phone and try not to cry, not to sob tears that gushed from the soul, rolled down reddened cheeks, and splattered the tablecloth.  But I did.  Every time.

Still, life had to go on.  Our first year in Nairobi, Kenya, we joined friends for an Easter service at a traditional African church.  Traditional, that is, in the sense that the steepled church had a mud brick floor; open windows where white crocheted curtains fluttered; old, hand carved wooden pews with a patina that glistened in the morning sun; and an African choir that sang in Kiswahili.

It was during one of these hymns that the morning's peacefulness gave way to a sudden tremble.  I felt dizzy, nauseous, and broke into a sweat.  Concerned, Dick asked what was wrong.  My hands were cold; my face was ashen.  I didn't know what was wrong.  I didn't know why tears suddenly fell.  I didn't know until later.

Because, while the choir sang, Chessy had died.

At the news, I was devastated, pained beyond tears, hurt where I didn't think hurt existed, to the very core of all a warm paw had touched.  I ached -- do you hear me? -- I ached to hold Chessy one more time, to see her tail up, to know she was happy.

Gradually, though -- as anyone who has mourned knows -- I picked up life's thread and wove Kenya into my days.  When the time came to leave, I felt nostalgic before the plane lifted up.  If ever there had been a place that had nurtured my sense of freedom, it had been Africa, a curious statement, I know considering some of the continent's Orwellian habits.  (But live in Africa and you will understand.)

And, so, we returned to Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. environs.  At this point, very accustomed to moving, I soon had boxes unpacked, except for two boxes of miscellaneous items in the bedroom.

Knowing that we'd move again in a year, and ready for a mid-morning break, I flopped onto the bed. I debated whether it was worth my time to unpack the boxes when a shadow on the floor in the near distance caught my attention.  Curious, because sunlight filled the spacious room, I sat up.

I didn't know what to think when this shadow, now brown and white, swirled into the shape of a cat, and looked about, as if a transformation had occurred.  But, no, the room looked the same:  Dresser over there; comfortable chair in the corner; boxes where I had left them.  The sun streamed peacefully through the windows.  Nothing moved.  Except the shadow on the floor.

And when this cat ran in circles and jumped and caught its tail and rolled on the floor, I knew what was happening and relaxed into the moment.

So when this brown-faced cat jumped onto the bed and moved towards me, I held out a hand to touch a paw I couldn't feel but which shadowed through my hand.  I then felt a whoosh of air as the cat jumped over me and onto the floor. 

I watched as Chessy walked into the wall, tail up, and disappeared.

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