Gramps must have had three-dozen or more cats in his lifetime, all named Kitty. They'd appear mysteriously on his doorstep. He always said those damn sorority girls from the college nearby were responsible, dumping their pets, like disposable feminine hygiene products, when they went home to Mommy and Daddy after the spring semester.
The last one, though, was a stray Gramps rescued as a kitten from the jaws of an ornery Bulldog. He clubbed the beast on the noggin with his cane, and it dropped the kitten; he kept right on flogging, until it fled, yelping. He launched a rock at its sorry ass for good measure, barely missing.
He carried Kitty home in his arms, bathed her with a damp washcloth, and fixed her a saucer of warm buttermilk. After that, he couldn't get rid of her. Every time I visited Gramps, I'd find him snoring in his rocking chair, with Kitty purring in his lap. When he woke up, he'd toss her to the floor, and sputter that the last thing he needed, by Jesus, was a flea-bitten cat.
One morning, I found Gramps flat on his stomach in the dining room, next to a partially opened can of Friskies. There was a large welt on his forehead, and blood stains on his T-shirt. He was moaning, but his eyes were closed. Kitty was licking splattered cat food from his trousers.
I thought of administering CPR, but Gramps weighed more than 200 pounds, and I couldn't roll him onto his back. I ran for the phone, nearly tripping over Kitty in the process, and dialed 911. After what seemed like an hour, the ambulance arrived and carted Gramps away.
In the hospital, Gramps repeated over and over to anyone who could hear, "I blacked out. I had a heart attack. I'm no good anymore. Where's Kitty?"
The doctors said his heart was still strong; he just needed some time to recuperate. He was sent to a nursing home, and I bought a stuffed pussycat to keep him company. When I gave it to him, he cried and stroked the inanimate kitten from head to tail.
A week later, on my way home from school, I discovered Kitty squashed in the road in front of Gramps' house. I scraped her up and buried her deep in the compost pile in the back yard, where Gramps used to dig for worms with which to tempt hornpout and perch.
That evening, I went to the nursing home. Inside, there was a smell--like five-day old ground beef that had never been refrigerated. When Gramps inquired about Kitty, I swallowed hard and said she's OK. He clutched my arm, and confided that I'd always been his favorite grandson.
I felt dizzy and my stomach began to churn. It must have been the stench getting to me. I told Gramps I had to vamoose, but promised we'd go fishing together, like old times, when he returned home.
The next morning Gramps died, and Mom burned his stuffed cat. It reeked of death, anyway, she said.
Copyright ©2002 Richard Jordan. All Rights Reserved.
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