Nick the Cat: Christian Reflections on the Stranger [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Roberta C. Bondi
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Combining her storytelling skills with theological insights and reflections, Bondi here tells the story of Nick, a stray cat, who weedled his way into her family's life, home, and heart. At first almost nothing but a pathetic bag of torn, matted bones, Nick arrived out of the blue, but won their hearts, and under the care of a vet and the Bondis, regained his health, a home, and much affection. His coming and going, his health and its decline, his insanity and death are gently told. Nick's presence prompts Roberta to reflect on the unexpected way grace comes into our lives, how we push away the Other, be it stranger, one who is sick, a person of different orientations and beliefs; on evil and mental illness; on suffering and the atonement; on the unexpected nature of love, on the training of the heart and mind and the discipline of the Christian life for dealing with otherness; on the pervasive and persistent nature of sin; on the nature of embodiment, mortality, and loss.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2003
1 The Coming of Nick
It was one of those stifling hot, soaking wet, sunny afternoons, ten years ago this summer. Nobody could breathe; nobody wanted to move around. Our old house lacks central air-conditioning; on a day like that, the window units don't stand a chance against the combined sun and humidity. Surrounded by limp piles of paper, sleeping cats shedding onto my desktop, and dripping glasses emptied of their iced water, dazed of eye and glazed with sweat, for hours I had been trying to work at my computer under a fan that made my study a wind tunnel without cooling it. Richard, who claims his Sicilian roots make him impervious to the heat, had been out in the yard for several hours mowing the lawn and hacking back the dark green ivy which is always threatening to pull apart both the driveway and our small, red brick house.
At four o'clock, I had been unable to sit there fruitlessly any longer. Trying to imagine what the two of us could bear to eat later on for dinner, I dragged myself out of my chair and carried my empty glasses to the kitchen.
Sicilian roots not withstanding, Richard was there before me. A worse mess than I was, his dark curls were matted down, and his face, arms, and legs covered with little bits of grass clippings, loose dirt, and even twigs. His T-shirt was soaked front and back, and there was a particularly disgusting patch down toward its hem where he had wiped some mud off his hands. He gave off the aroma of a hot, dirty male.
He also had a small bowl in one hand and an old cup in the other, both of which he was about to carry outside.
"What are you doing?" I asked this filthy man, who was my husband of twelve years or so.
Richard hadn't heard me come in, concentrating as he was on trying to open the kitchen door with his right elbow at the same time he was attempting not to spill the contents of either dish that he was carrying. "Please?" he replied, jumping a little. That is what people reared in Cincinnati say when they don't understand what you've said.
He looked half crazed. As I rushed to help him, I prayed the heat hadn't gotten him as it was getting to so many others.
"Tell me what you are trying to do," I asked him once more. I watched him furtively from the corner of my eye to make sure he was all right.
Richard shook his head without answering. He was glowing with heat as he tried to blow a particularly itchy piece of dry grass off the tip of his nose where it had stuck.
For the moment I gave it up. I would find out soon enough. "Whatever you're doing, just let me help you with it," I said as I brushed the grass off his nose. I elbowed him aside and opened the inside door for him, then the one in the laundry room that goes into the backyard.
He was panting slightly, his eyes glazed with the yard work he had been doing and probably with dehydration. "Thanks," he said. With me behind him, he maneuvered himself out without spilling the water in the bowl or the dry pellets in the cup. "Sick cat. Out back," he grunted out an answer.
"Sick cat?" I replied. "Who? Where? With what?" What cat was he talking about? Julius and Romana, the two cats who lived with us, didn't go outside. Right now both of them were on the other side of the house, trying their best to cool off, sprawled out like cat-skin rugs on the red tile floor of our screened-in front porch.
As far as I knew, both raggedy Julius, who was small and black with white paws and a white patch on his chest, and beautiful round-eyed Romana, who was shiny and black with a plushy thick coat, were perfectly healthy. Earlier that afternoon the two gray-striped neighborhood tabbies also had appeared to be in the peak of health: I'd seen them quivering with anticipation as they crouched stealthily next to each other on the bench by the hydrangea bushes behind our house. They were watching intently as the ground feeding birds hopped among the ivy to look for the seeds that had fallen from the feeders above them.
I walked out the back door, therefore, to see for myself what Richard was doing, as well as to keep an eye on him in case there was something wrong.
I followed him up our driveway, watching at a distance as he set the dishes he was carrying on the cement under the chin of what was clearly a sick, crouching animal of some sort. The good-sized creature was hunkered down miserably on the concrete turnaround next to the side of the garage. Richard was murmuring something to it that sounded, from where I stood, like encouragement.
What kind of animal was he trying to feed? It might have been a possum; we have a lot of the big, homely creatures passing through the wilderness behind our house, but it wasn't. It wasn't a large rabbit, either -- the ears were wrong -- nor did it appear to be a raccoon. Surely, Richard wouldn't be feeding a rat! Whatever it was, it was ugly. Except for some felt-like mats of what looked like grayish-brown carpet padding on its cheeks and jowls, it had lost every single hair of its coat. Its bare skin was dead white, covered head to tail with new dark red cuts, bites, and terrible scratches. Its ears were notched and torn, one of them in so many places that it looked as though it were tipped in fringe; the other ear appeared actually to have been pierced in several places. The animal was filthy, it smelled awful, and it was hard to look at.
When it raised its head to stare at us with its huge yellow, big pupiled eyes, however, there could be no doubt that it was, indeed, a cat. It was not too injured or too hungry to look intently -- and it seemed to me, hopefully -- into our eyes and purr. This was no ordinary purring, either. Rather, it vibrated for us like a gas lawnmower on a summer day. It was the loudest purr that I had ever heard.
The wounded animal struggled to stretch out its head to Richard to be petted. It was too sick to butt its forehead into Richard's hand.
I moved forward unthinkingly to pet it, then caught myself and drew back. I would gladly feed and bring water to this sick creature, but I couldn't afford to touch it. Not only was it clearly diseased and most certainly dying; I knew myself well enough to recognize that petting the animal would give me an emotional connection to it I couldn't afford. Our household had two cats already. There was no more room, money, or energy for something so pathetic, so full of needs, and so close to death as this one.
Oblivious to my reluctance, Richard only moved the dishes closer to its mouth as he talked to it, urging it to eat and drink. At last, continuing to purr, it lowered its head to the water. Its long pink tongue lapped noisily.
"What do you imagine happened to it?" I asked Richard as I watched it drink. "What is it doing here?"
The cat having begun to respond to his attention, Richard was able to answer at last.
"I think it's just old and got into a fight it couldn't win," he said, looking thoughtful. "For some reason, it's picked out our yard to die in. It won't hurt us to bring out water and food for it since it's lying here, anyway."
I shook my head doubtfully. "Okay," I said, "it's yours." I wanted no part of it. The dying cat would have to be Richard's project.
Two hours later I found myself sneaking out to the garage to check on what the cat was up to. It was lying in exactly the same place and in the same position as it had been earlier. This time, however, I noticed some scratches I hadn't seen before, as well as many scars from disasters or successes in the past. Briefly, I wondered what had happened, besides old age, to the unattractive animal before me to put it in the condition it was in. Though I could see that it was starving, I couldn't imagine how being hit by a car would account for its injuries or its hairlessness.
"Were you attacked by another, larger, younger cat?" I asked it as I crouched down next to it. "Was it a pack of wild dogs? That's what happened to Rose, the cat next door, a lot of years ago."
I remembered the awful winter night when we were awakened out of a deep sleep, the hair standing up on the backs of our necks, by the snarling, growling, yipping, and high-pitched yowling coming from the front yard of the house next door. Richard had rushed out to investigate. A pack of dogs had something in their midst which they had cornered and were torturing. Richard waved his arms and shouted. The dogs ran off at once, and there was poor Rose lying on the ground, head down, eyes glazed, and her tongue hanging out, her fur bloody, torn, and wet all over from their slobbering mouths.
The present cat in the driveway didn't tell me what had happened to it. As it had before, it turned its yellow eyes upon me, and stared intently into my face. Again, it tried to rub its head against my leg. It was purring loudly.
Uneasily, guiltily, once more I stood up and I backed away. When I glanced into its bowls of supplies, I was startled to find them both empty.
"You ate all your food and drank all the water," I exclaimed in spite of myself. "How did a dying animal like you manage to do that?"
Of course, the cat didn't reply. He only turned his head to follow me with his eyes, purring louder as I walked back to the kitchen in search of more water and something tasty a sick cat could eat and might perhaps enjoy.
And that is the way Nick first arrived on our property. For a very long time he was not a cat I wanted. With all the other hard things going on in my life, such as my needy aunt's unexpected move to Atlanta, my friend Sue Ann's divorce, our anxious daughter's transfer to a dorm at Emory, and my own overbooked, under-rested schedule, I had no extra concern or energy to commit to a creature in such need, even for a short time. Still, even if everything had been as calm as water I would not have wanted the most perfect cat in the world because we already had two other cats living in the house: though I can't seem to live without them, cats make me sneeze, my eyes swell shut, my head clog up, and my nose run.
Copyright © 2001 by Abingdon Press