The two cats, Santana and Benito, turned 21 this year. Though they are litter mates, they look nothing alike: Santana was an immense grey tiger tabby, and Ben is a tuxedo cat, black with white shirtfront and cuffs. Ben is the one who quacks like a duck. It must be said that these days Santana makes no sound at all: he continues his earthly life only in the past tense. He went home to Jesus a couple of months back.
I had been advising him to do this for some time. 21 is plenty old enough for any cat, I told him. I brought it up every time he peed or pooped on the floor -- cats don't do this when they're in good shape, I told him. I suggested he go to Jesus when he yowled reproachfully over nothing, which he did all the time: Santana had an aggrieved, nagging sort of meow. He always sounded exasperated. I spoke earnestly and often to him of heaven. He would reply with a string of complaints as long as your arm.
I met someone whose sister had a cat that lived to be 27, and I read about one that lived to be 37. Forget it, Santi, I told him. Don't even think about it. I think I hear Jesus calling your name.
I said things like this to him for years, but it appeared that Jesus didn't want that cat. Didn't want either one of them. I couldn't say I blamed Him, really -- they got us up at five in the morning, demanding breakfast. They taught themselves how to break into our bedroom. They had long ago arranged our schedules, our living room furniture and even our bed linen to suit their own convenience, so we had to cram ourselves into the tiny spaces they left between them when we wanted to sleep. They cost us an arm and a leg at the vet's office. They relished throwing up on our oriental rugs. Life was good for the cats, and I wasn't sure they'd add anything to heaven that heaven needed. Santi was old, but it didn't look like he was going anywhere. Certainly it didn't seem that he was suffering: he lay in the sun, drank water, ate a bit, stared at people. It didn't seem that life was especially burdensome. On the contrary, these were the good years.
Nothing lasts forever. Time rolled on. Santi grew bony. He did less and less, sleeping even more than a cat normally sleeps, which is about 16 hours a day. His coat grew raggedy and sometimes his head trembled in a strange way. Soon, he began in earnest to signal his own end: no food, no water, no activity. We wrapped him in a towel and drove him over to the vet. A sedative to put him under and a needle to the heart, and Santi belonged to the ages.
What will Ben think, we wondered as we went home? They had been together all their lives. For 21 years they had slept rolled up in a ball together, yin and yang cats. With their rough, efficient tongues, they had given each other daily baths. They shared a water dish. Certainly Ben will miss his brother.
If he does, he gives no sign. I have attempted to discuss his loss with him a few times since the event, on the theory that it's good to talk things out, but he shows little interest in his own bereavement. His brain is the size of an almond, I am told. Perhaps it can hold only the present. Perhaps there isn't room for more than that. A patch of sun, a drink of water, a long nap -- these things suffice for Ben. The pang of memory, fueling so much in me, fuels nothing in him. Sometimes I envy him his simplicity.
Ben is 21 also, of course -- they were litter mates. He is stronger than Santi was, but I see his shoulder bones in sharper relief than formerly, and he has lost weight. He still quacks a loud reveille at five in the morning, so it doesn't look like Jesus is ready for him just yet. Nothing lasts forever, though. We shall see what the winter brings.