Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Dec 13 2012 12:15 PM

HERB BENHAM: New cat? We're in the maybe phase

By The Bakersfield Californian

Cats can be like the rain -- sometimes they sneak up on you.

Rain, like cats, may not be in the forecast, but each can appear without permission or fanfare.

"She's heavy," I said, after picking up the black-and-white stray that had taken up residence at our neighbor's house.

She was heavy. This was no ordinary stray. Often, strays are skin and bones. This one was more like the whale that washed ashore in Malibu recently.

Heavy or not, she was cute. Cute, soft and an armful. She was ready to come home with us, our neighbor having committed to another cat and not wanting a second one.

She was ready but were we? Callie, our cat of 18 years, died in August. That's not so long ago.

Were we ready? Sue wasn't, still holding a torch for Callie and maybe a kitten. Me, I missed the one-way conversations Callie and I used to have that you are glad no one else hears lest they think you are becoming unhinged.

Sue was like a woman I met recently who had a satisfying 35-year marriage and didn't think another could top it. Callie had entertained, cuddled and earned her cat food a thousand times over.

Callie's absence hadn't been all bad. Her last year was not her best and it's a relief not to clean, feed and arrange for neighbors to do the same when you leave town.

Still, there have been so many moments recently when I think of her, like the one most recently when I was centering the tree in the Christmas tree stand, a task executed while on one's back that never gets easy.

Callie saw this exercise as an opportunity to visit and play. She would lie next to me, seemingly amused at my huffing and puffing.

Hard not to miss coming home after work and having Callie there on the sidewalk rolling over in greeting.

I picked up the black-and- white cat. I didn't need barbells or a bench press bar. Eight reps overhead with this cat would have been workout enough for anybody.

I picked her up and walked in the house and set her down. She went from the old living room to Sue's office and then the family room, where she began sharpening her claws on the blue denim couch.

Don't do that. Not with Sue right there. Consider this a tryout and an opportunity to show your best behavior.

A name helps. Once you have a name, it becomes harder to say no. However, what name would that be because pets almost name themselves or suggest a name that makes it seem as if it were preordained.

If the name appeared, the sales process would be easier. I could say something like, "Of course, we have to give Marshmallow a home." Or Oreo. Or Buttermilk.

She was more a Marshmallow, a toasted one, than an Oreo. Neighbors had named their late cat Oreo and it seemed disrespectful to put Oreo back in play. This cat was definitely not a Buttermilk.

The neighbor, who already had a cat, put a bowl filled with cat food on our front porch. I had the sense that if I worked it, he might throw in a six-month supply of Meow Mix and a scratching pole.

She's not Callie, she's like four Callies stacked up. She also has no meow; she's almost hoarse. Maybe it's from being homeless and not being happy about it or that's what I could tell Sue.

A few days ago, friends gave us dried blueberries. That's it. Blueberry. She's round like a blueberry and blueberries don't say much either.

Blueberry is inclined to visit after dinner. We talk and I tell her I'm working on it. Callie left a paw print, which has proved hard to fill.

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