Pyro lives with a former model in the large yellow brick house across the street. Her modelling heyday was in the 1980s. He is a little over twenty years old. For a cat, that is old indeed.
He is a traditional cat, who spends much of his time outdoors, at least, in the better weather. After my wife's ancient feline, Midnight, died, Pyro would hang out in our yard. I would sit on the front porch to read, and he would bound across the street to visit. If he was left out in winter, as occasionally happened (the former model runs a business on the outskirts of town), sometimes he would come into our place.
Then young, street-raised Slim moved in with us, after being rescued by the former model during a late winter storm. We didn't give her the name. The former model's son and his buddies called her that, because living wild left her underweight. She bloomed to health once we adopted her, growing a couple of cat sizes in the first summer. She and Pyro became friends. They'd hunt together. The pair of them would lounge on our back porch, or in Pyro's yard, with its resident dogs, a good-natured German Shepherd and a Shepherd/Rottweiler cross who terrifies neighbourhood kids and other animals, but accepted the presence of his own cats.
The pure-bred German Shepherd has reached a remarkable 15 years and has cancer. She will be gone next week.
Slim died in an accident, July 7, 2014.
Artemis moved in next, a wild thing who never fully adjusted to domesticity. When we first showed her the yard, Pyro turned up to meet her. He walked cautiously, appearing around the corner. She growled and hissed in, I assume, the specific manner of cats who have seen things. He walked backwards around the corner, like a cat from a cartoon, and generally stayed away after that. She died a year later, from feline leukemia. He had grown to avoid our yard by then, though he would occasionally, cautiously approach us in the street.
My wife has always done some gardening, flowers and herbs. COVID-19 spurred her to do more. We built a raised garden box, to protect crops from the rabbits that populate the hidden places of our neighbourhood. We have raccoons, too, but they seem happy raiding compost bins. The skunks prefer insect grubs. But the bunnies would make a salad bar of the various lettuces, kales, bok choi, and other vegetables we now grow in the box. We've also got onions and developing tomatoes, elsewhere in the yard. The blueberries and eggplant will be ready later in the season, We're trying to cultivate strawberries, but the squirrels and birds think we're hosting a free Strawberry Social.
So we're in the back yard a fair bit now, and Pyro will stop by. Last night I petted him for some time, and he seemed perfectly happy.
But he's old. Frail. Earlier this month, he sat and largely ignored a rabbit that was cowering near one of our trees. He remains a common sight in our neighbourhood, walking his old route or resting in the ex-model's yard with her dogs. I don't know that he'll be with the street much longer.
I phoned Carson.
Carson has an affable personality and a beard that greyed long ago. He could play a sea captain or a lighthouse keeper, if he was inclined to act rather than just watch theatre. He watches a lot of live theatre. He taught high school math for years, and once helped coach the football team. He wasn't one of the main coaches, the ones who plan plays and yell at people for fumbling or bleeding, but the sort who collects data and handles administrivia. Later, he worked with the high achieving students, organizing an annual awards banquet. That school still hosts an academic awards event, but the banquet faded into history after he retired.
The year I got married, he invited me to a local patio at the start of summer and we talked and had a pitcher of beer. The tradition became annual, usually during the final two weeks of June, Other years, depending on weather and our plans, we would postpone until later in the season. He has travelled a good deal in retirement. For a number of years, he volunteered annually in Pasadena, California and helped prepare floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade. He always had something on, and that meant we had to keep our meeting-time flexible. I'm surprised we managed the traditional end of June as often as it did. We'll have to postpone this year. He's in his seventies now, and cautious. He still walks and bikes a good deal, and he tells me that he strolled by the place we meet earlier in the week, now that their patio has reopened. He questions whether they're following proper social distancing requirements. It just isn't that kind of place. We talk tentative plans for later in the summer, and end the phone call.
When I met him for that pitcher, twenty-two years ago, I already thought of him as an old guy. I realize, as I click to end our call, that I am now the age he was then.
I've seen both my parents pass and lost a colleague this year. Five members of my Grade 8 class, at current count, are dead. The present pandemic stats look pretty good where I am but, elsewhere, they're less than promising. We're only now seeing the toll the virus is taking in the poorer parts of the world. The U.S. now boasts an infection rate comparable to Italy at its worst.
I've buried three cats. One of the dogs across the street will join them shortly.
I hope Carson and I, like the The Sandman and Hob Gadling, can meet for that pitcher for years to come.
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These don't really fit into this journal, but I've had two announcements in the last two days:
My niece passed her NCLEX-RN this week. She's now a real nurse, not just a we're-letting-you-practise-because-there's-a-pandemic nurse.
My book, The Con, has a release date: Friday, November 13, 2020.