Some eight or nine years ago, a long lean overgrown kitten insinuated himself into the lives of my neighborhood. Coal black, big sage green eyes, he had a princely air of privilege and ownership that belied his status as a stray. He plopped himself on my patio and began talking to my girls through the French doors. Christabel and Cindy Crawford were a bit flustered, being older divas and not used to young male admirers. But they seemed to tolerate him and almost look forward to his visits. They would slip around him at the door as he munched a handful of dry food, and soon all would be lounging around the patio, pleasantly absorbing the sun.
A natural charmer, Blackie became a regular visitor to houses for a three or four block radius. He developed a route through the subdivision. One morning, when I was leaving unusually early, my garage door went up and I saw him come to attention four houses away and race toward my house. He got his treat.
Generally good mannered, I had to take him to task a couple of times for walking in and taking a tour of my house. After that, he realized he would only be fed on the patio and was satisfied to wait for me there. Often when I let my cats out, he was already lying on the seat of my patio chair under the oak tree.
He came to know which yards were safe and who offered refuge. Another morning, I pulled out of my garage later than usual and discovered two bruisers of dogs trying to pin him down. He raced to the grill of my front entrance, but the mailman had pushed it inward and so the dogs were able to corner him. I came flying out of my car screaming, which distracted them long enough for Blackie to scoot past and along the back of my front hedge. But they quickly pinned him down at the gate between my house and my neighbor Maria’s. They would have snapped him in two in another minute. Perhaps foolishly, I rushed to his aid and was promptly knocked down in the skirmish. My strident yelling sent one dog running, as Blackie disappeared over my fence. The other Rottweiler-mix trotted a few steps, then turned to assess whether I was worth attacking, but finally raced away.
Shaken and upset, I left the car idling and hurried through the house to the backyard. Blackie cowered in a cleft between my tree and the back fence, covered in slobber but without visible wounds. While I went for a treat and a towel, he disappeared into Maria’s yard.
Returning that evening, I found the small pile of food I’d left untouched. I called to Blackie and heard a faint mew from over the fence. Knowing my neighbor was out of town and fearing the worst, I invaded her yard and discovered him huddled in the rafters of her tool shed, where he’d been all day. Coaxing him down and through the gap in my fence, he returned to the safety of my yard, where he stayed for a few days, until he recovered his bravado enough to resume his neighborhood rounds.
My neighbor Bonnie and I took Blackie to the vet to be fixed, and annually to get his shots. He didn’t hold it against us.
Then four years ago, a new couple moved in a few doors down. Blackie walked in the door to welcome them and decided to stay. Anna and Hector adopted and loved him. He became an indoor cat who occasionally went out to greet his old friends, human and feline. He would still come and wind around my feet if I happened to be working in the yard.
A few months ago, Anna noticed that Blackie returned from his prowl limping. She thought he might have injured himself. On inspection she discovered a lump in the joint of his leg. After a lot of tests and general angst among his friends, Blackie went through surgery to remove his right front leg. He came back looking like a peg-leg pirate.
Miraculously, he seemed to recover his balance and his sense of humor and fun. He still managed to climb and loved sunning himself, but Anna kept him close to home. Then recently they discovered lumps over his kidneys. He became lethargic and Anna discovered blood in his urine, then his gums bled.
He was loved and cared for until it seemed his pain was inexcusable. I visited with him yesterday. petting his almost limp and emaciated body and sharing stories with Anna. A low rumble of a purr and a steady flick of the tail were his only response. His glazed eyes, once green were dark with a slim corona of blue, but seemed to focus briefly and I think he remembered me and enjoyed the slow and steady stroke of my hand. But the time came to leave, and later last night, Anna and Hector welcomed the pet Hospice people who came to end his pain and put him gently and quietly to sleep.
His sweet presence will be missed by many in the neighborhood, but most acutely by Anna and Hector. Goodnight, sweet Prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.