It was only a dream. I was serving out food from a tin can for everyone else, and suddenly there was Noodle. Quickly I set her dish down in front of her, and she began to eat. I restrained myself for picking her up for a cuddle -- let her eat first, I thought, don't disturb her. But then I woke up. So I never got my cuddle.
I make jokes with people who ask about her -- Oh, she found a new family, one that serves Fancy Feast, I tell them. I tell them I'm sure she's not dead, and I am halfway telling the truth: I'm halfway sure she's not dead. She didn't end up on the road. She wasn't sick. Unless she was poisoned or attacked by an owl, she's not dead. And she's too big, now, to be attacked by an owl.
She's visiting, I tell people.
We lie in bed. Just now, Q says, I had the sensation of a cat landing at the foot of the bed.
Do you miss Noodle? I ask.
I miss her, too. She used to walk up our legs and stand on our chests just so she could look down on us. Cats are hierarchical animals.
People tell us tales about cats who come home after being missing for months. For a year, one of them. Maybe Noodle will come home.
We have a money-rising campaign for Episcopal Relief and Development based on Noodle's presence on the Farm -- children are to email Noodle their totals of money they've saved in their Pennies From Heaven banks, and Noodle was to write back. What to do? Do we forge Noodle's responses? That seems wrong, somehow, in a church fund drive.
I approach What's-Her-Name, who is experimenting with scratching her own back by rolling around on the neighbor's new concrete patio.
How would you like to help us raise some money? I ask her.
What's-Her-Name continues to roll back and forth. What's my cut? she asks.
Well, it's for charity, I say. None of us are getting anything personally.
"Personally" is one thing and "catly" is another.
It's for the hungry, What's-Your-Name."
Yeah, well, I get hungry. She is sitting up now, with one back leg stretched impossibly out in front of her and up over her head, so she can wash it.
You don't have to do anything. Just lend your name. You're famous, you know.
Used to be, she says. Noodle and that bird of yours bumped yours truly off Page One a long time ago.
I'm sorry about that, I say. But this could be your chance for a comeback.
Like I care. But What's-Her-Name is standing on all four feet now and staring at an ant traversing the concrete as she speaks, a sign of acute attention to our conversation. I think she'll play ball in the end.
It has been a lovely summer, even without Noodle. Both What's-Her-Name and Gypsy have been more attentive -- the psychic architecture always changes in a multi-cat household when one cat leaves. Ethel Merman the Hummingbird comes for several breakfasts and several teas every day. The flowers are lovelier than ever before, and the tomatoes promise a bumper crop.
I miss my Noodle. I never got even a dream cuddle -- I'll be quicker to claim one in the next dream. But there are so many beauties in life on the earth. As long as we are here, there will be something to enjoy, and it is in no way disloyal to a departed love to love again.