"Don't be mad," Jess pleaded the second I picked up the phone. "I had to bring one home with me."
I wasn't upset, though selecting a pet was an activity I assumed we were going to do together. When I returned from work that night, I knew within minutes that she had made the right decision.
"I think we should call her Gracie," Jess said. "Because she's gray, see?"
Truth be told, I hated the name at first. "Nova" was the name on her SPCA adoption papers. Why couldn't we just keep the same name? Or call her Luna?
It soon became apparent that Jess had chosen the right name for the right pet. The first night we had her, I reclined on the couch. She climbed up, onto my stomach, her little front paws kneading my chest. She stayed that way until her eyes closed, her purrs intermittently broken by snores, like a motorcycle running on fumes. Gracie. Princess Grace. My little princess.
She was the sweetesst cat. Ever. She'd thread herself through your legs or nuzzle against your cheek at any given opportunity. Maybe, somehow, she knew how close she was to being euthenized by the pound, and her affection was her silent way of saying "Thank you for rescuing me from the shelter." And, when she was happy, she would drool. She was happy often. We could have filled baby food jars with her saliva, had we really wanted to.
Happy as she was, she wasn't content indoors. It was expected when she still had her uterus. In heat during our first few months of ownership, she'd camp by the door, waiting for it to open the slightest crack. Then, off she'd scamper, ass in the air, trolling the neighborhood for a good fillin'. She must have been fairly attractive as far as felines go. One night we had three different toms standing on the bench out front, peering through the bay window at her. It was kind of like the male crowd assembling outside of Bootleggers or Brownie's at two am.
Being fixed didn't halt the inexplicable wanderlust, however. She wouldn't travel far. Usually just a few feet away... to eat some grass. To sniff the mums. Within a few minutes, she'd inevitably grow cold. Or bored. Or both. And she'd mew at the door until she was let back in, to continue nuzzling and drooling.
Last night, I went out for a cigarette midway through the movie "Willow." Gracie came out as well. Damn, I thought, as she weaseled her way between my leg and the door jamb. I went back to the movie.
As Willow was fighting off trolls on a flaming rope bridge, the phone rang. Who the hell was calling at two in the morning? And where was that phone? I found the receiver just as the answering machine clicked on.
"Pick it up guys. It's important...."
"....Vicki?" I asked, a lump forming in my throat, anticipating what I was about to hear.
"Gracie.... Butch.... come over."
I ran over and knocked softly on the front door. Vicki, her eyes already red and streaming, threw her arms around my shoulders.
"Sorry..... I'm so sorry...."
I followed her son Eric into the back yard, flashlight beam erratically bouncing Blair Witch-style, until it stopped on the familiar pink collar.
There she lay, the latest notch in the belt for our neighbor's junk yard dog.
I woke Jess up. We carried her onto our side of the fence, said our goodbyes, and I silently dug a shallow grave in our garden.
Jess searched online and called me this morning. Cremation seemed the better way to go. The cat was exhumed.
Using a clear Tupperware bin seemed a decent means of transport to the animal hospital. On hindsight, though, probably not the best. As the attendant carried the bin to the crematory, a paw was plainly visible under the old shirt we had covered her with. The same front paw that had tugged at the threads in my collar only a few hours earlier, during a happier, drool-filled time.
I bit my lower lip in an effort to remain stoic. Nothing could prevent the tears from spilling out. They left nickel-sized droplets on the last register receipt from the Vet I'd need to sign.
And then, we were home. Vicki came over. I went into the kitchen to gather up some cat food to give to her. Three cans of Friskies. I fight back tears again. If only we had known she wouldn't be around tonight, we'd have given her a tin of salmon feast, rather than the crunchy Iams bullshit she usually ate.
Vicki has something for us as well. Eric had gone into the yard that morning and placed a small tuft of gray hair that he had found into a Ziploc bag. We thank her and place the bag inside the sewing table drawer. I promise I'll try not to cry anymore as I tuck away all that remains of Gracie.
My little princess.