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Tale of Two Cats

Out on a Limb

by Kathryn Boughton

It is the New Year and a time for new beginnings. Today I am resurrecting an old friend, a column I have written for various publications over the past quarter century. Out on a Limb is not a political column, it is not necessarily humorous, nor does it deliver advice—rather it is catholic in scope, embracing any idea niggling at the back of my mind, any subject that has captured the public’s (and my) attention, or anything observed that tickles my funny bone.

Today, I am choosing that final category and want to tell you a story about two cats, outcasts who made their separate ways to my door more than a decade ago and in doing so found true love—not with me, but with each other.

They are an unlikely pair—Tip, tiny, feral and pessimistic; Eric the Red, large, bluff, full of bonhomie. Tip is coolly distant, unwilling to accept human blandishments of affection. She sits quietly, her front feet placed precisely together, toes neatly covered by her tail, and eyes us with disdain. Eric melts at the touch of a hand, tends to sprawl inelegantly in chairs and craves all the finest in proffered tidbits (Cabot Private Reserve Cheddar Cheese and sliced turkey luncheon meats being particular favorites).

Tip’s reserve tilts toward coldness with most of the world, but not when it comes to large, red-headed tomcats. She was the first to come into my house, impelled by an open door, the smell of food and her own starving condition. It took months for her to emerge from under furniture to sit at the periphery of the family, but when she did, she developed an immediate yen for Ponce de Leon (known familiarly as Pounce), a big, not very bright, Norwegian Forest Cat then living with us. Pounce was very old, not the least bit amorous and thoroughly irritated by the advances of a tiny tiger sourpuss. Fortunately for her, Pounce soon passed to his reward and was replaced by a much-younger look-alike. Her eye immediately shifted toward that brilliant sun god.

She followed Eric everywhere, rubbing against him, washing his ears, lolling in front of him, trailing her tail seductively under his chin as she walked by. I thought, surely, she was courting rejection once again, but, amazingly, he warmed to her advances. He washed her face and ears in return, slept cuddled against her, deigned to let her drink in his magnificence.

There evolved a remarkably human-like relationship, one with both the comforts and irritations of a long-established partnership. Eric, it turns out, is a male chauvinist. He sometimes loses his temper with her, striking at her and making her cry. There follows a brief separation before she comes cringing back to him. It is a classically “abusive” relationship. I can almost hear her saying, “Oh, Eric, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.” I’ve tried to counsel her about this, but she won’t listen.

If Tip is sleeping on our bed and he comes in, he will not walk upstairs to see if she is there. Instead, he calls repeatedly from the stairwell until she, blinking sleepily, stumbles halfway down the staircase. Then, with a gesture that clearly says, “There you are,” he goes up the stairs with her obediently trotting in his footsteps to retire for a nap.

Tip, however, has real grit in her personality. She will attack large dogs that seem to threaten her cowardly lion, and just recently she demonstrated some real pique when he stayed out too long. I came downstairs one morning to find her immensely agitated. She came in from a night outdoors but would not eat, wanted to go out, came back in, wanted to go out again. I soon realized that Eric had not yet made his morning appearance. As Tip continued to agitate and the clock ticked on, I began to worry. Had something happened to him?

Throwing on some shoes, I followed her outdoors. She immediately struck out across a field, stopping every few seconds to look back at me. “I can’t believe this,” I thought. “We’re playing out a scene from ‘Lassie.’” But, as we approached the brook, she lost focus. She seemed not to know how to proceed. So, I made a large loop though the fields looking for a yellow victim and found nothing.

I went back home, intercepting Tip returning to the house. In she came and back out she went, still agitated. About a half-hour later she returned. Her tail was slightly puffed up, but her attitude had changed. She was calmer and hungry, immediately devouring her breakfast and retiring to her corner in the office, where the heated floor warms her dour spirits.

Within 10 minutes, Eric appeared, hale and hearty but very late. This time, there was no enthusiastic greeting from his admirer. She remained curled up on the floor, even when he went in to see her. The coolness did not last the day, but for the moment, she let her resentment simmer. He had worried her too much and was left to retire to his metaphoric doghouse—alone.