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...for the cat, Gilbert
I always thought I liked cats.
Apple and Annie were the first. They kept me company and cleared my first little shop - in Brooklyn, near the East River - of mice and waterbugs. When I left that shop they came home to live with us.
Soon followed by the brothers, Tiki and Bob (he of the six toes and menacing visage), ill-fated Laura, fierce Ollie, who would not come in the house, and Roxy, a tortoiseshell and everything that portends. All good cats, proper and genuine representatives of their species. Each in its own way.
I liked them all.
Then, one day...
He just arrived. Young, small, gray and white. It was as if he smiled when he saw us. A beautiful street urchin striding lightly up the walkway to the porch of our little house. He would alight, unbidden, in Jessie's lap, awaiting her hug. Perfectly content.
We hadn't enticed him with food, or promises of a good life. He just picked us out.
I'd never met such a friendly cat.
But I didn't really want another one at the time. We had three. I mentioned fleas, that he might not be healthy. And he did seem quite content to just visit us, stay a while, leave.
But when Dan called down to the basement that day - I was drafting in my little office - and alerted me that the gray cat was hurt, I knew we would have to do something...
"He's cut. It's pretty deep. I think I can see through his leg," Dan shouted.
And he was cut. And it was a very deep wound.
"It's not going to be easy to get him into a carrier," I cautioned. "He might be scared. He might scratch if we try to pick him up."
I couldn't have been more wrong. He was utterly docile.
Jessie was working as a receptionist at a vet's office then. So we took him there. They patched him up and assured us he'd be fine.
"But, " the vet advised, "He can't be out on the streets now. Not with the bandages. He's got to stay inside for a while."
And that's how Gilbert joined us. As Karen said, "he walked up the stairs and into our hearts."
He was with us for 15 years.
It's not like he was perfect. He urinated in the wrong places when he was young. Caterwauled at night when he was old.
But he had this uncanny ability to insinuate himself into your arms, into your heart, making himself comfortable and making you comfortable, too. It wasn't that he demanded attention. He just seems to have expected it, and was quite content to wait if it were not immediately forthcoming.
Once, when we had to board the cats for a few weeks, we returned to find Gilbert sitting on the owner's lap. Even they remarked how friendly he was, how ingratiating. They kept the other boarded cats in cages but Gilbert - they had let him roam their house, living with them, sharing their easy chairs and couches. He was so relaxed. At ease.
I don't know why he was like that. Maybe his intense attachment to humans was a sign he was a very "needy" cat, as Dan once patiently explained to me. Maybe he had been ignored by his mother, weaned too early, or taken away too young.
But I do know this: Every night for the last 10 years of his life he would hop up onto our bed, settle into the crook of my left arm, with his head on my shoulder, and sculpt himself into an exquisite arrangement of limb and languor. Perfecting our place in existence.
Sometimes, I can still feel him, sleeping.
I always thought I liked cats. Gilbert taught me that I love them.