Tag Archives: cats

Goodbyes. Hellos.

Warning: Animal death discussed.

About a month ago my Ripley Cat started going off her food. In fairly short order we discovered that she’d been hiding a large bony tumor in the fluffy hair along her jaw. She came home from the vet on pain meds. Last Monday her life ended.

Ripley came to us seventeen years ago as a week old kitten. Abandoned by her feral mother on the side of the road, she fit entirely in the palm of my hand. I fed her with syringes at first, then bottles. I named her Ripley because things were touch and go at first, and I wanted a tough enough name to get her through. What better namesake than Ellen Ripley? She came to work with me in the library, my compassionate library coworkers ignoring the large cardboard box by my desk, and helping us hide when administrators dropped by. As a bigger kitten, she would climb her way up onto the bed, and burrow under the blankets to the foot of the bed, causing us to wake at night terrified that she might have smothered there.

As an adult, she hated strangers, and talked to me in a creaky door stutter of a voice, and greeted me, always, by sniffing my breath. She had a long good life, and we were certain she would outlive us all through sheer determination. She would have, too, were it not for pain. As terrible and hard as it was to say goodbye, there was a moment as I sat there with her when I realized all the pain she would ever feel in her life was already behind her, and that made everything else bearable.

Death has visited us frequently in the past few years. We’ve said so many goodbyes that it’s become hard to remember that the world is made from more than loss, in all its many forms. The truth is that death is only one of the transitions that brings grief. We’ve dabbled in many of the others as well.

The other day a pigeon landed on the roof of our garage. This is noteworthy because we live in the woods, and pigeons are exotic birds here. This pigeon was very handsome, and somewhat bumbling as he hopped in the maple, and then came down to the walkway. My husband went out to look at him, and the bird followed the stone path down to the steps and waited there. My husband picked him up, and my daughter found a box, and we tucked him in it with food and water.

What do you do with a tame pigeon, particularly when you are not prepared to care for it? If you are lucky, you know a child who has recently lost one of her pigeons, and you drive to her house, fingers crossed, hoping against all reason that the bird in your box is hers.

It was not. But the bird in the box was beautiful to her, and she was delighted to see him, to examine his face, his tail feathers, to explain what type of pigeon he was, to admire everything about him. To take him in. And for a few minutes, standing there in the twilight, learning about the world of tame pigeons, I watched her and thought this is what utter joy looks like.

One pigeon goes. A different one returns. Beloved aunts and uncles pass away. Beloved nephews are born. Our paths through the world are always paved with goodbyes and hellos, even when the hellos feel so much rarer.

In keeping with that, we have a new family member. We are her third home in her short life. As a firm believer in the magic of three, I know that this home is the one that will count. She has the body of a little leopard, and the stripes of a tiger, and very little patience with things like typing at the computer rather than adoring her. Those are just the things we know so far. Hopefully we will have another seventeen years or so to learn the rest.

We love you always, Ripley.

We welcome you in, Coco.


Being here

I started to write this a while ago, then set it aside until I read this post by Widdershins at the Clarion blog. It inspired me to dig mine back out. It’s nice to find that sometimes the conversations I have with myself are being had by other people as well.

Write what you know is one of those rules tossed about as either brilliantly true or completely ridiculous. On a literal level, it’s simpler to write about things you know. I find it much easier, for example, to write about the life of a midwife, even one in a refugee camp, than to write about a mechanic rebuilding an engine. It’s more than just an understanding of the process–it’s knowing the language and the intuitive responses that aren’t likely to be covered in an instruction manual.

But I’ve never hunted anything in my life, and I still wrote a novelette about a woman who lived to hunt. Everything about her life I drew from things I do know. I’ve tracked and studied animals, I’ve camped in a shelter I built myself, and I’ve worked with dogs and horses. I understand what it’s like to sleep outside at night, to explore the banks of a river, to feel a heavy rain on my skin.

Those details give me confidence when writing about something I haven’t experienced myself. Hopefully that confidence extends to the reader as well, allowing them to believe what they read, even if it isn’t a literal truth.

There’s more, of course. There’s the emotional framework of a story. The tools necessary for building that come from being alive in the world, from listening and watching and feeling. It’s what makes one story about a mechanic different from twelve other stories about mechanics–the motor that drives their particular set of actions.

Why have I been thinking about writing what I know? Because I’m a little frustrated about writing a novel about travel to places I haven’t been. Yes, I can look at pictures and read descriptions and watch videos. The trouble is that visual resources lack other dimensions, and written ones filter place through another writer’s senses. Smells, sounds, how the air makes your skin feel, the pebbles that your fingers can’t help but reach for…these things are deeply personal.

Place is a character that longs to shake your hand, to look into your eyes. I won’t have that intimacy this time around. It’s been forcing me to think about how important place is to me as a writer. My interiors are often weak–the number of times I’ve had to go back and add the contents of a room is embarrassing–but I could spend days writing about the world outside of doors and walls.

I could simply stick my protagonist on a plane or a train, or have her spend her time in chain motels. It’s not what I want for her, or for the story. I need her feet on the ground, the air on her skin. I want her to reach for those pebbles that feel right in her hands.

This will be interesting experiment.


This life

I have two or three things that I’ve been trying to pull together into coherent posts, but life continues to get in the way. This week has been tied up with, among other things, getting to the point of saying goodbye to our sick kitty, only to discover that she’s not quite ready to go. It’s been a rollercoaster of the worst kind, though I have to admit that at one point I couldn’t stop thinking of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and “Not dead yet!” If you haven’t seen it, I’m afraid I’m totally incapable of explaining it right now. In any case, Lazarus Kitty is here for a bit longer, apparently.

“This Place From Which All Roads Go” is now available at Daily Science Fiction. I have to say that I really didn’t know how it would be received, and it’s been wonderful to hear some positive things about it. Thanks!

This is one of those weeks where I would love to hear some good things, writing or otherwise. I am feeling very grateful today for a warm house, and for the way the hemlock boughs my daughter hung outside my window swing in the breeze. I’m feeling good about the new stories I’ve been working on.

Tell me, what’s keeping you going these days?


The coming end

The bio I generally use for publications includes a statement that I live with a menagerie of elderly animal. The average age of the pets in my house is fourteen (and in adding up their ages I came up with a sum of, yes, forty two). It’s all achy hips and deafness and cloudy eyes around here.

They’re all wonderful too, these aging friends. Two of them are cats. I’m not a cat person. I never planned on having cats. When I worked for a vet, I always wanted to work with the dogs, not the unpredictable cats. But the first one came when I found her abandoned at a friend’s barn, and the second when my brother-in-law found a week-old kitten by the side of the road. They needed homes, and I needed someone to look after, and so we ended up together.

Our oldest is nearing the end of her life. It’s been a good one, aside from a few blips. She’s been here since she was six months old, and she’s seventeen now, and as she’s gotten older she’s gotten more and more social. She talks–she’ll chirp at us when we enter a room she’s in–and she has four white feet and a calico coat, and she used to smell like hay and sunshine.

And she has failing kidneys. It may be that she’ll continue on this way for some time still, but we’ve definitely rounded a corner. It’s been a hard year for saying goodbyes. The cumulative weight of them is a little overwhelming at times.

On a day like this, a perfect fall day when the sky is full of popcorn clouds racing through the blue, and the sun shines in on the couch where she sleeps, and we sit there side by side, her purring while I rub her ears, we are adrift between that inevitable end and all that has come before. Somewhere, in some lazy fold of time, this is where we will always be, on this couch, in this sunshine, watching the world go by.