New Sunlight for Groucho
A short story by Michael Watson
Author’s Note: This is a short story I wrote when an old cat I had loved died. It’s cheesy, and written from the viewpoint of our other pets as they passed Groucho’s last hours with him. Still, if you love animals, you might cry. I did as I wrote it.
May it be the shadows all
Will fly away
May it be your journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun
Simone moved toward the old cat and looked intently at him for a moment. She knew he was dying.
He sat stone still and quietly in the warmth of a Mexican iron lamp accenting a Texas oak end-table. This once Simone did not covet that good heat the older cat so often sought from the lamp’s hot bulb. She would not insist on his moving as her status warranted. She was—after all—the head cat. But he was the oldest. Almost 16 years, and a rapidly fading ninth life. So just this once…
On the worn sofa next to the end table where the old cat sat unmoving with his eyes closed, a rambunctious blue heeler slept restlessly. She emitted faint barks, ominous grunts, and low growls; her rough paws twitched uncontrollably; and her ears shifted forward and back, forward and back.
Simone allocated this poor pathetic creature only a furtive glance, but one filled with characteristic feline contempt. She knew the dumb dog only caught rabbits in its dreams. And she knew it could never catch her. Dumb dog. And so she slipped quickly over its fidgeting front paws, along it’s soft smelly belly, over its’ back paws and claws all a quiver, and finally to the arm of the sofa, arriving only inches from where the old cat sat—motionless and silent under the light of the old lamp on the older table.
She looked back at the sleeping heeler—still chasing imaginary rabbits, or squirrels, or cows, or CATS!. Dumb dog. She never even knew Simone passed within inches. “You ain’t never caught a rabbit—and you ain’t no friend of mine”. Cats dig Elvis; Simone loved him. She shifted her gaze back to the old cat—black and white with a debonair mustache gracing one side of his face but not the other. A once fine tuxcedo cat, but so thin now. Rail thin and boney. As frail as a fading shadow certain to disappear.
Groucho knew she was there—knew she would come to him one last time. His eyes opened to imperceptible slits. It was all he would grant her—all his waning energy could muster. He had never really ceded any “head cat” power to her…never ever. It simply suited him to let her think she was the head cat. And so he indulged her quirky, crotchety ways—and, as he had known she would, she left him alone to live his remaining cat lives the way he wanted. And he did. And she never figured it out.
Yet now, at the end, here she was. Rudely in his face and staring at him with her Simone “voodoo” stare. Not cool. Not even. And cool had always been important to Groucho.
Eye contact is a big thing in cat culture. Almost ritualistic and full of subtle yet complex signals that can inflame mating, ignite fights, and bluff weaker cats into relinquishing even their food and water—a trick Groucho never fell for. Not one time.
His strategy on eye contact was brilliantly simple. He avoided it at all costs. Never look cats in the eye. And never look humans in the eye. And NEVER look dogs in the eye. It served him well across the passing of each of his nine lives. Thus his had always been a peaceful passage. Stable, uneventful—the way he wanted it.
Until this moment when Simone, who had not paid him an iota of attention in years, traversed the length of the worn out sofa, edging past the dumb sleeping quivering yapping dog, to finally—with stunning cat grace—alight on the sofa’s arm next to the lamp under which Groucho sat content and gratefully undisturbed.
And there she settled, a middle aged tabby sitting arrow straight and intense like the cats depicted in ancient those Egyptian hieroglyphics. And she wanted something. And somehow, Groucho instinctively sensed this was an extraordinary moment when his self-imposed edict on eye contact perhaps should be suspended. And so he did suspend it. His little heart raced, his eye slits grew wider, and his deep coffee brown eyes opened fully to engage the wise gold/green eyes of Simone—the head cat.
What passed between them, in the warm light under the lamp, occurred in silence as the dog slept on. Cat talk is like that, marked by tiny whisker movements, refined body language, intensity of gaze, even fur and claw dispositions. It is nuance taken to the level of fine art. And it happens so quickly that humans, and certainly dogs, never catch it—as cats have always intended.
But still, Groucho and Simone—in the dwindling last hours of Groucho’s ninth life—had a rare one-time exchange. It went like this:
Simone: You are dying.
Groucho: I know that.
Simone: You will find good sun where you are going, and never lack for treats, fishy meats, water, catnip, toys, and love. You can sleep where you wish without worry—and there are no mean dumb dogs. All the cats are beautiful.
Groucho: I know that too.
Simone: I thought you would—you are wise. I always knew that.
Groucho: Thank you.
And it was over, having taken only a fraction of a second. Simone turned and left—passing back by the sleeping heeler who, once again, remained unaware of the fearless cat who passed by it within inches throwing all caution to the wind.
From the mantle above the limestone fireplace, the young cat, Alley, had watched the unusual exchange. She had been Groucho’s friend since the people had saved her from the life of an alley cat by bringing her into their home and naming her Alley (very original). She and Groucho had snuggled with and groomed each other from the beginning and often laid together near the living room windows where the sun streamed its warmth and made catnaps a pleasure.
Unlike Groucho, Alley made eye contact with every form of life imaginable and often conversed with it. She once spoke with a scorpion—before she played with it and then killed it with her quick paws. It asked her why? And she said. “It’s what I do.” And it replied, “I will sting you, you know.” And she said, “So be it” followed by a soft “whap” as her swift crushing paw ended the scorpion’s fourth life (It’s a little known fact that scorpions have four lives whereas cats have nine). She strutted away licking the painful sting on her paw—but not really that much bothered by it at all. She gave a cat chuckle. Being a cat should be fun. And it was.
Alley too had no fear of Simone. In fact she feared nothing. Nevertheless she kept an eye on the “head cat” as it turned and walked back across the sofa. With cat pride—Ally noted Simone’s show of “head cat” bravado as she gave Gracie, the blue heeler, the cat equivalent of an obscene gesture. Groucho took no note of any of this—having been drained from the exchange with Simone he had fallen asleep within a second or two after it ended. Groucho was tired. So very tired.
In the early afternoon of Groucho’s last few hours, the Autumn sun once again streamed in through the expansive living room windows. Outside, frigid winds, the remnant of a fall cold snap, whispered low and occasionally moaned as they moved around the snug home and drove south. The fireplace flue rattled now and then and branches overhanging the roof and whipped by the winds, scraped and scratched. But otherwise, the house was still and silent. Even the dog had finally quieted.
Alley Cat heard the winds and saw the sunlight caressing the soft rugs and casting shadow patterns of the window panes and the blinds. And as the ancient sun moved through its eternal arc and the clouds swept by, the light and shadow play on the rugs changed and shifted. The young cat knew it was time for the old cat and in that invisible cat talk Alley called her old friend to join her in the sun.
Groucho rose, stretched—a long luxurious stretch. And then—with considerable effort–he eased off the table to the sofa. He walked slowly past Gracie the blue heeler who did nothing but watch. He gingerly eased himself to the floor and joined Alley on the rug, in the sun, where it was warm—and bright. They laid there together and it was good as always.
Gracie rose and moved to the sun as well. She stood for a moment and watched the two of them and knew that she was invited into the light as well. She settled near Groucho—her head on her front paws, her sad eyes fixed on the old cat. She sighed.
Simone came around the corner from the kitchen carrying an old sock doll in her jaws. She made no sounds and simply set it down gently at the foot of a nearby chair. The light was inviting, but she stood still and watched the cat and dog assemblage for more than a minute. She considered joining them—just this once. But then she remembered. Head Cat. Image to uphold. Without looking back, the head cat turned and made for her special place under the bed in the master bedroom.
As the hours passed, the light began to fade and the shadows darkened. But in that warming light, surrounded by love, Groucho, the cool cat, the old cat, the Grouchmesiter fell to sleep. And he dreamed. He dreamed of the place Simone had told him about earlier in the day. And, in time, he saw the welcoming light of that place while he dreamed. And he went to it. He went while those about him still dreamed about it and thought about how much they loved him.
The sun was good, all the cats were indeed beautiful, and everything was as it should be.
I think we all—man and beast alike—seek the light, the warmth, and the love. And all of us seek to go to a place where these things are eternal. And when we leave to go there, it’s always nice to be surrounded by those we love and who love us.
We were with Groucho when he went to lay in the light, love, and warmth of a new sun in a new place.
Donna and I think God would not make such beautiful creatures unless he intended them to be with us in Heaven.