When I was a kid I never cared for cats.
I loved dogs – big dogs like Bobby, our neighbour’s smart and gentle collie in the village of Dain City, where I grew up. No kid in the neighbourhood ever learned to skate on the pond behind our house without hanging on to Bobby.
I loved medium-sized dogs like Penny, for sixteen years our reddish-blond family mutt, with his teeth pushed in by a motorcycle and a body that wiggled, danced, jumped and rolled over at the sight of anybody’s outstretched hand.
I loved tiny dogs like Paddy, Penny’s Chihuahua stepbrother who, on a hot summer’s day, would chase circular streams of water from the lawn sprinkler until he passed out. He was killed by a car with those blue “sex” lights that had to swerve across one full lane and several feet into our driveway to hit him. I’m still looking for that car.
I loved dogs. But I never cared for cats. Not until I was married to a woman who came from a family of cat lovers. Naturally I wanted a dog and she wanted a cat. So we did what’s called a marital compromise – we got two cats. When the marriage ended she got one cat and a ’67 Cutlass Convertible, I wound up with Malcolm.
Malcolm was definitely not my idea.
I once had a real cat – a big, tough, fluffy tabby by the name of Floyd, who came when he was called, yammered back at you when you spoke to him, tortured frogs in his spare time. Early on, however, it was pointed out to me that Floyd needed a buddy. The fear here was that without strong male companionship Floyd could turn out to be a mama’s kitten and later, of course, a latch-key cat. The intimated concern was for his manhood – something that I later took care of with two swift swipes of a veterinarian’s scalpel at precisely $17.50 per swipe.
Enter Malcolm medium-grey with short hair and deep, dark tiger-stripe markings around his face and feet. He was full of himself and anything that could remotely be described as food.
He just showed up one day dragging twenty pounds of cat litter and four ounces of homegrown catnip he had hidden in the bag. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a woman leaving the drop-and-run scene who looked suspiciously like my former wife, driving a two-door convertible that was suspiciously no longer mine.
He had big, beautiful, emerald eyes – all shyness and innocence, even when he was bad. Especially when he was bad. Malcolm was long and thin when he stretched out, but he looked full and fat when he hunched himself on all fours.
A run-in with a screen door left his rear end a little crooked so he walked just like John Wayne. For years I’d try to coax him into saying, “Well, circle the wagons, Pilgrim, or we’re dead where we sit!” But he wouldn’t. Malcolm could be really stubborn at times.
When Malcolm ran, his right front leg and right back leg shot forward simultaneously, to be followed by his left front leg and left back leg, just like a standard bred pacer. Essentially that was Malcolm, not talented enough to nail down a speaking part in a western, not big enough to pull a sulky around a half-mile oval track.
Whenever I had friends to the house, Malcolm would drop a dead rodent at their feet, acting every bit the fearless predator – though he’s way too slow to catch a live one; these little corpses had tiny tread marks on them where they’d been hit by several cars.
I began to like Malcolm. To me he wasn’t so much a cat as a cartoon character that had been kicked out of a comic strip for stealing the artist’s lunch.
There was no mistaking Malcolm, however, swaggering like The Duke and smiling with an overbite that would cause a vampire to cry out with envy. We had 18 great years together in a relationship in which I played the role of his probation officer. He purred and drooled and kneaded me like I was the only human on earth he could trust.
Thirty years on I still miss the mischievous little bugger and remember those times well because that’s what pets do for us – they define those periods of our lives when we were blessed by their companionship. Harking back, I don’t think late 70’s to early 90’s. I think of that span of my life as ‘The Malcolm Years.’ Not to be confused with the late 90’s and ‘The Wedgie Era’ or the eighteen stretch of joy known as ‘The Jake Age.’
Pets – they make us crazy and they make us better people. Hug ‘em while you got ‘em.
P.S. You just missed World Cat Day, August 8th. Not too late to adopt a loving little fur ball or pay for the process on behalf of someone who can’t.
For comments, ideas and copies of Malcolm And Me, go to www.williamthomas.ca