John and Jack found Clarabelle for me at the SPCA in the spring of 2000. After my college cat, Mia, died in 1999, I needed to wait awhile before getting another. Mia was special and I’d had her for close to twenty years. I was also working as a long-term sub in a large high school and had no time or energy to tame a new kitty. But, I had my request in to the cat network—that unseen force of the Universe that links up the right people with the right strays. I wanted an older cat, a tortoise shell, and preferably a female.
Clare was a beautifully marked torty, close to a year old, spayed, and de-clawed on the front. Because of all that, I have always thought that she got lost one day and never made it back home—that she wasn’t abandoned. I wouldn’t de-claw a cat, but I have to admit that my wicker chairs still look good, and for that I am grateful. She has lost almost all her teeth over the past eight years. They just rotted and fell out. Despite her lack of weaponry, though, she can keep dogs at bay with her growl and her glare, and she recently caught what I might call a school-age bunny rabbit. Lucky for the rabbit, she couldn’t kill it, but she brought it half-way to the porch in her gums before dropping it on the ground.
Clare visited the farm a few times before we moved here. When we came out for a week in summer, or for four-day weekends, I would bring her along. She would have to sit on a towel on my lap for the car ride. The last twenty minutes on the way here from the city is up and down and all around, and poor Clare would puke every time. When she is on my lap, it isn’t as bad as when she is in her carrier, so I would brave the coating of cat hair and the discomfort of keeping my legs in one place for over an hour for her benefit.
In fact, I have always bent over backwards for Clare, and have let her get away with just about anything. Jack notices this and calls me on it. “If the dog curled up on the clean laundry for a nap, you’d go crazy!” Yes, I would kill the dog if she did that. But, how can you be mad when you come upon Clare all curled up in a ball with her paw shading her eyes in a basket of laundry that she had the curiosity to find on her own? And when you say, “Clare, what are you doing in there!?” she lets out a little purr and moves her paw so that she can see who it is, then scoots around on her back and offers up her belly with the soft yellow spot. Who could resist?
And the accommodations for the car sickness were worth it, because Clare loves it out here. She is in heaven. On one of the first nights here after the move, she and I were both sitting on the front porch watching fireflies light up the dusk. I was in the big red chair and she was sitting just at the edge of the porch. It was one of those moments where we looked at each other at the exact same time. She turned her head and I glanced down. I swear she had a smile on her face. She blinked once in the slow, communicative way that cats do. In the way that says, “I am satisfied.” And then she turned her head back and resumed contemplation of her good fortune.
Colette says that Clare is “the perfect cat.” I’m not sure exactly what that means for Col. For me, it means that she has a pink nose and green eyes. She has a yellow patch on her chest with a darker yellow stripe in it. She has round black paws that remind me of the stockings on French can-can dancers. And she talks. You can ask her a question and she’ll respond with a scratchy little “mah” that sounds just like “yeah.” And come winter time, she is the best lap warmer around and will put up with much shifting of weight and rearrangement of books, coffee mugs, etc.
Clare’s farm life consists of lolling about on the porch of the cabin, stalking insects in the tall grass, exploring the old barn and other outbuildings, cackling at the wrens when they are nesting near the porch, and making forays underneath the cabin where she picks up cobwebs that hang comically from her whiskers until I pull them off. Oh, and eating at regular intervals. She is what we call in the horse world an “easy keeper.” A small handful of dry food and one third of a can of wet keep her nice and round. And, I wouldn’t have her any other way.