We make the bed very carefully, tugging at the sheet under the coverlet, so as to smooth it out without dislodging the cat sitting on top. Kate looks down at her feet with forebearance. She rarely makes eye contact.
All that's going to change. We had a talk about it in bed last night. I began by picking her up and bringing her under the covers with me. She squawked, as she always does when you pick her up, but settled down and began to purr as I stroked her head.
"You should make some New Year's resolutions," I told her. She purred, but said nothing.
"You should start by resolving to get fatter." Kate has become very bony in the last year. She goes in at the sides now, rather than pleasingly out, and her shoulder bones show sharply under her beautiful fur.
"And not to cry for breakfast until 5:30. You don't need to eat earlier than 5:30." The purring ceased briefly, then resumed.
"You're so good about taking your pill. You're the best pill-taker I've ever known." I give her a nuzzle, my nose buried in her neck fur. She's patient and good about her pill, even better than Santi, the Mahatma of cats. He was awful about his pill. But with Kate, you pop it in and there's a little gulp. Gone. "Your pill is going to help you get fatter." I already think she's getting a little rounder. Q does not. "She's as bony as ever," he says grimly.
"You should look at people. Make eye contact." Fat chance.
"You should resolve not to hiss and howl when someone gets in your space." That would be What's-Her-Name. "Just let her come and go. She's only trying to annoy you. Don't let her see it bothers you."
But answer came there none. Instead, Kate gave a little snore.
I do not know if she will take any of my good advice. Not many people do. It was nice of her not to retaliate, not to suggest that I get thinner when I advised her to get fatter. Kate isn't the only one who needs to relax a bit when others invade her space.
"And I'll give you some fish oil with your glucosamine." Kate's been crying out sometimes: sudden, guttural wails whose reasons we can't determine. They sound like she's in pain, or deep sorrow.
I thought it was pain. Arthritis, like mine. But maybe it really is deep sorrow. Maybe she knows that she's getting ready to leave this life. Because I don't really think she's getting fatter, and I'm not really sure the new pill is going to help her get stronger. Eventually, we come to the end of this life. Kate is seventeen. Maybe that's her sorrow.
Maybe that's why she's so much more cuddly lately. She never liked me much, vastly preferring Q to anyone else, but now she seeks me out at night for a nuzzle, and sleeps beside me for the better part of half an hour before leaving abruptly for her chair in the living room.
Something about this time of year makes us resolve to do all manner of thing better. Almost all our good intentions will be history in a week or two. But there is also that other aspect of this time of year, the part that taps us on the shoulder and whispers that our lives are speeding away, faster and faster, evaporating as we speak. That there is not much time left. That soon we will be gone.
At the end of the year we remember the other years. Look at photos of people who are gone. See our young selves -- they, too, are gone. We marvel at them. Was that party really sixty years ago? Was I ever that young?
Yes, comes the answer from the pictures. You were. You still are. I'm still here, inside you, your 18-year-old self. But remember, we are leaving soon. Good-bye, good-bye.
Kate cries for breakfast. I look at the clock as Q gets up to feed her; 6:30. Not bad. We learned yesterday that there is such a thing as acupuncture for cats. Maybe it would help her crying out, if it's about arthritis.
And if it is about leaving this life? Will it help that pain?
Ah. The only remedy for that sorrow is a life well lived now. "Love well that which thou must leave ere long," Shakespeare wrote, and he was right.
Don't let a day of the new year pass without marking it, because it will be gone when it is over. Put into your days the things you want there -- no one else will fill them for you. Anything we have can be taken from us at a moment's notice. Some of the people in our old photographs are dead already, and one day we will be, as well, and no one knows when.
But today is ours.