Nine Lives Of Love

Albert W. Caron, Jr.

© Copyright 2024 by Albert W. Caron, Jr.

Photo by Cong H on Unsplash
Photo by Cong H on Unsplash

The tree climbed toward a cerulean sky as sunlight peeked through the autumn leaves flickering like a disco ball between the branches. The bright sun also glistened off the nickel-plated spade resting against the lofty oak.

I crouched brushing away leaves and twigs carpeting the woods behind our house exposing the topsoil rich with composted nutrients. Placing my foot on the short-handle shovel, I began to dig in the soft earth. But my mind wondered back to a day a decade earlier…

After a long day teaching school, I sat at the kitchen table reading the mail. The garage door motor grinded to life signifying that my wife Eileen and our youngest daughter Andrea were home. As the back door opened, I heard a distinctive meow. Looking over I saw the tiny creature clutched in my seven-year-old’s small arms.

Another cat?” I muttered. “Just what this home needs.”

What dad?” Andrea asked.

Oh, nothing sweetheart. Long day.”

We already had two cats and it was all I could do to contain my “joy” at my smiling wife and our youngest excitedly cradling her first pet which a friend’s parent offered her and she eagerly accepted. It was hard to say no to her as the Christmas holidays were fast-approaching. “Well, guess you got one of your presents early,” I said with a wide coat hanger smile. My wife shot me “the look” and I knew what it meant. But what I was thinking was simple: two’s company and three’s a crowd.

I’m naming her Tiffany,” my seven-year-old said confidently. “That’s a beautiful name,” I murmured. I was trapped yet again by another female in the house as I was the only male, human or animal.

Tiffany was a tiny two month old calico with the traditional mixture of black, brown and orange markings. Her fur was short and she had big brown eyes. She mewed softly and drank from a little bowl of milk that my daughter refilled often. Anytime I was in the kitchen and her dishes were empty, Tiffany rubbed against my leg, meowing that she was hungry and I would oblige her. When the Christmas tree was up, Tiffany found ornaments on the lower branches to bat and water to drink from the tree stand.

There was no cool breeze to help me get through this solemn charge that afternoon. I scooped dark soil deeper from the ground. I rested and drew my white handkerchief, dabbing the dripping perspiration from my forehead and cheeks as the sun shone brightly in the blue sky.
Tiffany grew like a weed and skittered around the house and yard. She wanted to play with the other two cats but they were older and much more content to eat and sleep. They tolerated her kitten playfulness but, when they tired of her friskiness, they swatted her and walked away.

Make no mistake, Tiffany was Andrea’s cat. On days that Andrea was sick, she curled up next to her for comfort. When my daughter did her homework in another part of the house, I became the object of Tiffany’s attention. Invariably she pestered me for company because my wife was surrounded by our other two cats. As I read a newspaper or magazine, Tiffany would jump and sit in my lap. She wasn’t heavy and this calico made herself comfortable. Occasionally I would stroke her chin and, like an engine, she purred loudly. My wife looked over at me and commented “I guess she likes you.” Using a double positive I replied, “Yeah, right.” Eileen added, “Scientifically it’s demonstrated that petting a cat can lower blood pressure.” But as Andrea came back downstairs to join us, Tiffany jumped off my lap and went straight to her mistress. I guess Tiffany didn’t want to let Andrea know that she may have enjoyed being cosseted by the male head of the house.

Again I paused to catch my breath and pull my damp t-shirt clinging to me. My shovel struck small stones and rocks nearly a foot into the hole and I put them aside for use later.

As Tiffany grew older she developed some unique behaviors. She was not a destructive cat clawing furniture and always used the litter box. When she wanted to go out, she stretched up at the doorknob with her antelope-like legs, attempting to open the door herself. We thought that if we attached Velcro on the door handle, she would be able to let herself outside where she would bound down the driveway without a care. Tiffany enjoyed the warm weather and stayed out all night sometimes giving me fits. She had some secret place that she would not share with us, even Andrea.
Some days when she was outside, Tiffany would see Andrea coming down the street from school and act like a dog then a cat greeting her and follow her home. Other times when I drove the car into the yard and clicked the remote to open the garage door, Tiffany would run in front and I’d hit the brakes. We thought that one day she wouldn’t be fast enough to dart across avoiding the car but she never lost one of her nine lives.

She remained affectionate and continued to lick my hand throughout the years. Nevertheless, Tiffany remained devoted to Andrea. Over the years I was always second fiddle and I accepted that role. The name given to this calico feline suited her well because she was a gem. One afternoon her cry pierced the room and she walked with difficulty down the stairs to the kitchen. We were traumatized as Tiffany lay down and breathed her last. She crossed the rainbow bridge. We shed tears. Lots of tears. We believe Tiffany had a brain aneurysm. I wrapped her in a small blanket and carried her outside.

Now the hole was large enough and deep enough for my purpose. I dropped the shovel and looked at the fabric which seemed to stare back. Andrea joined me as we lay the shroud holding Tiffany’s remains into the makeshift grave. We paused to say a prayer for a family member who gave us joy and happiness for more than a decade. The tears flowed freely once more and I blinked them away to complete this solemn self-imposed burial task until we lost sight of the blanket covered with soil. On top of the mound I placed the flat stones and rocks on top. Andrea’s small handmade cross marked the location. One never knows if there’s an animal heaven as we walked away with my arm around Andrea.

Although Tiffany’s presence was secondary for me, I will always remember that she gave me one of her nine lives: unconditional love.

Al Caron is a retired inner city English teacher who was nationally recognized in “Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers” four times. In retirement he teaches a memoir course for seniors and has pioneered a highly successful memoir program between a local healthcare facility and Honor Society high school students who interview, record and type these recollections for the residents to pass along to their families.
  In addition he has had three non-fiction stories published. Currently he lives in Marion, MA with his wife Eileen of more than 50 years. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.

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