When I first met Maybelline, she was a fearful and filthy grayish mass of matted dreadlocks and mill detritus. Her brother, Pooh, was barely any cleaner, although he purred more readily and didn't spend his days hidden under a bookshelf. The two had been cared for by a ceramics artist in an underused mill.
I can't offhandedly deny the significance of any of this. Even the fact that art supplies were stored under the bookshelf where she chose to hide. Even recently, she would crawl under there to be quiet, brood, evade the annoying and playful others -- perhaps even to recall her antisocial art school days. Long after she had eschewed the unkempt and unfriendly hipster lifestyle and preened herself clean and soft; soft in another, much softer world.
Sure, I'll freely anthropomorphize and poetically endow my animal companions with traits that may or may not be honestly present or possible. (But then again, it's taken me a long while and some serious persistence to stop calling a boat "she." )
Maybelline was the last of the Five Minnesotans, the cats who allowed me to share their quarters with my Beloved. Rescued with her brother from a horrible fate in a plastic bag in a freezing Minnesota park, she could have ended up "the bitter one." But the huge all-knowing tabby overlord Mouse ("...Mouse, king of the house") and his tiny partner Tuki, and the monochromatic polydactyl feral Lucy, and even her own pathologically affable brother Pooh, would all know her as The Defiant One.
If everyone was laying in the sun, she would be behind the sofa. If everyone hid under the bed from visitors, she would be rubbing legs and acting the amiable hostess. If everyone else silently crept in and out of the litterbox attending to necessities, she would noisily scratch the sides and floor, sometimes without even utilizing the facility for its intended purpose. She would say goodbye to all of them, outlive them all. And with each removed dinner bowl, each empty place on the berber in the sunroom, she took stock of every indignity and disappointment, took a deep breath and steeled herself.
Even the new guy, Tommy, knew that he could get away with only so much.
She took the doctors' description of her stoically. She was not ever merely a "grey-and-white short-haired domestic."
She also chose to ignore his prognosis. "A yellow kitty dies," he had said, practicing his utterly incapable bedside manner, explaining the effects of liver damage. Out of sheer insolence and a month of eating and drinking and apparently evacuating bilirubin, she was no longer a "yellow kitty." But she was a much thinner shipmate, relying upon those sinewy muscles that she had developed years before (while leaping about that mill) to take her place on the bed, on the chairs, on the couch.
For years, she sat or lay on the couch between us two servile bipeds, maybe for offerings from snack plates or maybe for warmth.
Which is exactly where she ended up on Tuesday. Dignified and comfortable, she refused lunch and exhaled that breath that she had been holding.
That breath filled with the tastes of chicken and kippers and clay dust and Duluth rain.
And she left her crew alone and together in the New England sun.