Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Problems of Living With A Goddess

by Janis Patterson

I was born a Leo, so it naturally follows that I love cats and have had at least one for most of my adult life. My mother, of course, disliked any kind of indoor animal, which accounted for a lot of our conflicts.

Of all the cats I have had, Sakhmet was the most memorable. Some backstory – sometimes back in the 1940s someone had dumped a pair of Siamese cats out in the country behind my grandparents’ barn. They had stayed and interbred until over the generations a recessive gene had become dominant, resulting in a tribe of pure-black Siamese.

I had just moved into my own place and was determined to have a cat, so – with a little cunning, a lot of luck and a great deal of smelly cat food – I captured a tiny little black kitten. I didn’t know what I was getting. Born feral, she never really domesticated. We lived in an uneasy truce for the next 20 years. I named her Sakhmet after the unpredictable lion-headed Egyptian goddess, and the name fit her to a T. Sakhmet could easily have been the last living saber-tooth!

Her vet, who both respected and feared her, said that she had all the Siamese traits – small feet, a heart-shaped face, a voice that sounded like a baby being skinned – but she was completely black (and never got a gray hair!) with enormous eyes that went from green (happy) to gold (better leave until she calms down).

Sakhmet hated people. I was tolerated because I was the bringer of food, but whenever visitors came to my apartment she vanished. People I had known for years swore up and down I didn’t have a cat, that I merely went outside, gathered tufts of hair from the bushes and rubbed them on the carpet so that people would think I had a cat!

Sakhmet was also the most intelligent creature (including some of the two-legged ones I dated) I’ve ever seen. She could turn lights on and off, loved to answer the telephone and could open any door in the place. I had to keep the front and back outside doors key-deadbolted just to be sure.

This was during the heyday of the dinner theatre, when you could have a buffet dinner and then see a play with some of the older luminaries of Hollywood. I was an actress then and was delighted to be cast in UNDER PAPA’S PICTURE, a piece of froth starring the late great Eve Arden. There are several blogs worth of stories from that play’s six-week run, but I’m going to tell only one.

It’s a well known fact that Miss Arden was a great animal lover, and as we had to spend a fair amount of time in the green room waiting for our cues, we would regale each other with tales of our furbabies. She became entranced with some of Sakhmet’s adventures, but I never dreamed where it would lead.

The play ran over the Christmas holidays, so I decided I would have a great big party for the cast and crew. The party was a success, until someone asked where Miss Arden was. Well, I had seen her and her husband Brooks West arrive, and he was in the living room talking to someone, but there was no sign of Miss Arden.

I went looking. It was not that big a place, so I soon found her, and my heart almost stopped. She was in my bedroom, lying flat on the floor and scrunched about three-quarters of the way under my bed, cooing to Sakhmet, who was doubtless as far into the corner as she could get.

I thought I might die. Not only was Eve Arden (Our Miss Brooks!) under my bed, she was under there not only with a half-wild cat who hated everyone but  a generous herd of killer dustbunnies as well!

It all worked out all right. She just got one clawing from Sakhmet, and it only took a minute or two to detach most of the dustbunnies. For the rest of the play she talked again and again about meeting the legendary Sakhmet. She never mentioned the dustbunnies. Thank goodness.

Once when I had to take a trip I frankly blackmailed a police officer friend of mine into taking care of her at his house. He was a patrolman, over 6 ft tall and very fit, but he was no match for Sakhmet. I came home to find her back in my apartment, with a shredded pillowcase and a tray of food and water just barely beyond the swing of the front door. She had lasted exactly two days at his place before terrorizing his family so much that he gave in and brought her back. For the remaining three weeks of my trip he drove almost ten miles each way every day to feed and water her.

One Thanksgiving I came home to stay the holiday with my widowed mother. I brought Sakhmet because the weather was deteriorating and I wasn’t sure I would be able to get home again to feed her. The three of us ended up being snowed in for a number of days. Before it was over the war between Mother and Sakhmet made me think seriously of simply abandoning the two of them and hiking back to my apartment through the snow. It was only four miles…

Sakhmet always liked to lie on shiny, slick fabric. In the den Mother had two antique chairs that were covered in a glorious satin. Sakhmet loved them. Mother was afraid she would have an ‘accident’ on them. Mother covered the chairs with towels, but the next morning the towels had been scraped off onto the floor and Sakhmet was spread in luxurious abandon over the satin. The next night Mother tried pillows. The next morning they were on the floor. The next night Mother gave up and moved both chairs into the living room and shut the door.

The den was carpeted in a beige shag (this was a number of years ago) and there were definite impressions of each chair’s four legs. In the morning – as neatly as if it had been plotted with a ruler – in the middle of each chair’s impressions was a small, brown gift. Mother said she had been right, that Sakhmet had had an accident. I said no, that was no accident, it was a deliberate! The next day the snow melted – thank you, God! – and Sakhmet and I went home.

Though she was sometimes difficult and often downright weird, Sakhmet was also a loving companion. She would lie on my desk while I wrote and slept every night in the small of my back. She was a big part of my life.

Sakhmet lived for 21 years. Toward the end she was very frail and ill, and I was so selfish I could not bring myself to do the right thing and have her put to sleep. She took the decision out of my hands. I had to be out of town, so Mother – unwilling to have Sakhmet in her home again, though this was many years later – drove the 4 miles to my apartment every day to feed her. Sakhmet waited until I was out of town to die. Mother buried her in the most beautiful part of her back garden and put flowers in her grave.

I’ll never forget the feeling of coming home to that empty, empty apartment. I’ve had many other cats since Sakhmet’s passing, but none have equaled her in intelligence or personality. Or temperament. Unfortunately, all my pictures of her perished in the disaster of a flood caused by a burst pipe, so all I have of her is memories. Sleep well, my dear old friend. I still miss you.


Morgan Mandel said...

Such a poignant, intriguing post! Your furbaby deserves her own book!

Barb Schlichting said...

What a beautiful story. A picture book is in order.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Losing a beloved pet is always difficult ... I agree it would make a great picture book.
Good luck and God's blessings.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I wrote several short stories that starred my daughter-in-law's cat.
Sadly, their cat passed away recently as well. Oh, I'm a Leo too!