mercredi 10 décembre 2008


Chloé in the last ray of afternoon sun
May 21, 2005


February 21, 1999 to December 6, 2008

She's cold, wrapped in a pink towel on my lap. She chills my legs. It froze last night, where she lay dead under a car in the parking area across from the village's only business, a restaurant and bar, Le Petit Diablotin. Since Saturday morning, we had all walked through there, calling out to her, hoping to hear a thin meow from an even thinner cat. Some sign that we could still help her.

The owner of the bar called a little before noon to tell me that he had found our cat, "au moins, je pense que c'est elle, comme dans sa photo. Mais, il faut que je vous le dise," he paused, "elle est morte." I knew.

I had gone there Monday with a note from Chloé and a picture of her below it. It asked whoever might have found her and taken her home, thinking she had been abandoned, so miserable did she look, so thin and weak these last weeks, or who might find her dead to return her to us so that we could care for her, or know that she was dead and bury her. Cry finally.

She was one of three kittens from the same litter that we got when they were 8 weeks old. Sam and I had moved into our 2-bedroom railroad apartment in one of two post-war brick apartment buildings in the center of Greenwich, built by a family recently emigrated from Italy. They were still in the same family. Two stories, two up and two down. We had the lower floor apartment on the south side, full of sun if it had few other advantages. I could only be proud that we were no longer living in the attic of a house, turned into a studio apartment in an affluent neighborhood, even if you did have to walk through my room to get to the living room from the kitchen and Sam's room. It wasn't much, but it was a real apartment. It's what I could afford as a single mother and architect living where the work was.

We settled in some furniture from Ikea, put a couple of rugs too small for the bare wood floor in the living room down, stuff from the garage at my parents' house that wasn't good enough for their house anymore, and we thought that what we needed, what we could have now, what any family needs to be complete would be a pet. Sam wanted a cat. So did I. I'd always had cats, and like I'd teach Sam to ski, even if it wasn't really in my means, because my father taught me to ski, we'd have a cat. Actually, we decided we'd need two. One and another to keep that one company while we were at school and work.

I asked around, family, friends, for anyone who knew of someone looking to place kittens. It didn't take long before my sister called -- that was two years before I had email, a PC at home, imagine -- to say that one of her colleagues knew someone looking for homes for a couple of kittens. I said yes right away, and a couple of days later I received a note in the mail with a photo tucked inside. It was from the woman giving the kittens away. There were three in the photo, two black and white and one white with gray and marmalade marks. They played on a blue and pink flowered sofa, all three on one cushion with room to spare. She asked if we could possibly take the third, as well, for whatever reasons she gave. It didn't matter. We would, and we drove to Philly the next weekend to pick them up, at a meeting point in a hotel parking lot.

There they were, in a large hamster cage. Chloé, Shadow and Nuts. Nuts got off lucky. He was almost named Neil Armstrong by a 7 1/2 year old boy, who had visited the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian the summer before.

"Don't you think it might be a little hard to call him? 'Neil Armstrong, here Neil Armstrong, kitty, kitty, kitty'?" I asked Sam. He thought about it a moment and acknowledged the truth of this.

"What do you think we could name him that might be a little easier?" He thought a second longer and said,

"Nuts." He also had recently received another Beanie Baby from my other sister, the squirrel named Nuts. Naturally, my stepfather had the perfect réplique when we brought him home from the vet later, neutered.

"Okay, Nuts." I had wanted Chloé and Zoé, but Sam nixed that.

"Shadow, Mom. She's black, like a shadow." We had looked at the picture together. She was. Kids get to decide these things. Chloé, Shadow and Nuts.

It was better that way. When Sam started 6th grade in Paris, there were skinny twin girls in his class, Chloé and Zoé. Terribly unoriginal.

Nuts was the first to be sick. We didn't know which of the three of them was peeing everywhere but where they were supposed to, including on my bed from time to time, but mostly on the bath mat. We suspected Shadow, the one who had been the most timid, but the vet found nothing wrong and said that she is a very affectionate cat. Still, they gave us valium for her, in case she was peeing for psychological reasons. We drugged the poor thing for awhile, and gave up. She was out of it, and there was still cat pee on the bath mat.

We finally caught Nuts peeing there one afternoon. The tests showed kidney failure, but he made it from that afternoon in June or so of 2001 all the way to France, to be put down and buried in our garden on May 4, 2004, only a little more than 5 years old.

Then Chloé, just like Nuts.

Chloé was everywhere in my pictures. I spent most of most months of the year these last few years working in what was an abandoned terraced garden, and there was hardly a picture I took in which Chloé wasn't somewhere in it, luxuriating in the Nepata or sun, keeping me company in her own way. It was Shadow who followed me everywhere, like a dog, always just a few feet away.

She was a cat who couldn't live without our affection. She was always like that. The day Sam and I picked them up and drove back to Greenwich, while the two other kittens crouched together in the cage, Chloé stood up on her rear paws and reached to us. She wanted to be held. I am not sure if a cat ever spent more time pressed against her humans than Chloé did, especially these last few weeks at night.

Audouin always said that it's disgusting to have a cat in bed, but Wisp was the first to have the rare privilege when we found her and brought her home. She was so thin and weak, starved. She had spent so many cold, wet nights wherever she could to stay alive. She slept on a towel against me at the side of the bed until she was well. Then Chloé these past few weeks. Two? Three? I don't remember.

"This time you'll let her die, won't you? She's sad and sick. We can't keep taking her to the vet for IV treatments. Think of what it will cost, and she'll still die. Let her go this time."

I didn't answer. I'd do what I needed to do when the time came, and I knew he would let me. Meanwhile, he said nothing about her sleeping on my chest all night. She needed to be there, and for once, she wasn't making me miserable, trying to lick my face all night long. She just curled up and slept, her front paws tucked under her chest, and I barely felt her, that's how skinny she had become. Like Wisp when Audouin brought her home from the woods at the center of the boucle de la Seine, she sort of crouched when she walked, as though her hips and legs had already done all they could to carry her around and were exhausted from the effort.

I watched her eyes. That's where you could see when she was very dehydrated. That's when I knew she was sick like Nuts a year ago last September. A week of IV then, and she recovered enough to go on until July. Another week in July -- the vet cut the price of treatment, very kindly -- and she made it until Saturday.

Friday evening, I stopped at the vet to get more of her kidney diet food. I was overdue. She had been eating the same thing as the other two cats for a little while, and now I can feel horrible about that. Such an easy thing to go buy the special food, and I hadn't done it. I nearly said to the technician that I was going to bring her in for a blood test, almost made the appointment, and the next evening at the dinner table, Audouin looked at me and said, "Have you seen Chloé today?"

"No. Why? Haven't you?" He said his daughter had noticed that she hadn't been around like usual.

"She's gone to die," I said.

And she had. We searched for her, looking under ever bush and hedgerow, in the boat enclosure and where the workers store their tools, in the garage, and in the gardens around our own. We didn't look under the white delivery car across from Le Petit Diablotin, where she had gone to lie down, almost as though she were comfortable on a bit of warm pavement, although no pavement had been warm these last days in a very wet, cold early December, and died.

I can't keep her on my lap. We'll wait for Sam and Audouin to come home, and then we'll bury her where Audouin suggested. Where I changed the soil and planted the rhododendron and the dogwood these last two years, and like with Nuts some four and a half years ago, I will have to fight myself not to go and get her when it is cold and raining at night. Accept that the life is gone, even if it is hard to believe, and with her, another piece of those years when Sam was a child and I was working to make a life full of love for him and me.

Baccarat licked her, and Rapide and Wisp (with whom she fought protracted battles over territory), came to see. Shadow, who returned to the spot where she watched us bury Nuts and slept near it, sat on it, didn't care.

"She died peacefully," Audouin said over the phone, "It's only sad that she died alone, but she died peacefully. It makes me sad, too."

Chloé, like the smooth stone you throw into the still water, and watch the ripples stretch out in wide rings, the reminder of the stone you held in your hand, until they are no more, and all that remains is the memory of the stone.

I'll miss her markings, those curved V's that drew a line from the corner of her eyes to the corners of her mouth. Marmalade on the left, and gray on the right. The surprising purity of the whiteness of her fur, like snow that was always just fallen, and the flame up the middle of her forehead. The site of her in a vacant flower pot. Pressed up against our chests, driving us nuts.

Bye, Chloé. We've missed you already these last few days, and so we know how much we will. You and Nuts.


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