The Kilala

Terry Mulcahy

© Copyright 2023 by Terry Mulcahy

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

When my father died in 1987, I inherited his two cats, Charlie and Chrissy. He named them after characters in the TV show Charlie’s Angels. I had them for a long time. About 1996, Chrissy died of stomach or liver problems one day while I was working. I buried her in the yard where I lived at the time. I marked it with some bricks. The veterinarian had wanted to take her up to a hospital in Santa Fe for very expensive treatments and follow-up drugs, but I didn’t have that kind of money. The other cat, Charlie, lived much longer. After I married my second wife, I took Charlie with me and established him in my wife’s house. I hated to move and leave Chrissy there. She was dead and buried, but still I grieved for her. Charlie lived with us for many years.

In 2000, on my fiftieth birthday, as I thought I was waking up, I saw my father to the left of the end of the bed, in the small corner formed by the closet and the wall. He looked as I remembered him, but he was many years dead. I knew that, but he was right there, big as life. As first, I just stared. Then I said, “Hey Dad, what have you been up to?” Such a dumb thing to say. He said nothing, but he smirked, the smirk that was a big part of his personality, and appeared to look past me for a moment. Then he turned and walked to my right, along the bottom edge of the bed. As I turned my head to follow him, I seemed to open my eyes. I was still staring at the small corner where I’d seen him, but he wasn’t there or anywhere. The closet door was partly open, exactly as it had been a moment before - same exact clothes hanging there. It was a dream? It sure had been detailed. It was light already, so I got out of bed. I looked where I’d seen my dad look, and there, under the bed, was my cat Charlie, my dad’s cat. I hadn’t thought about my dad any time recently, and I hadn’t known the cat was there. I couldn’t imagine why I would suddenly have a dream like that. It freaked me out for days.

Charlie woke up and followed me to the kitchen for breakfast. The dream, if such it was, stayed with me. Charlie was fine, and I never had another dream about my father. All was well for a few years more, until one evening I realized I hadn’t seen Charlie for hours. I went looking and found him in the small bathroom in our bedroom. He was acting strange. There was a nasty-looking liquid coming from his eyes. I wet some tissue and wiped it away. That’s when I realized his eyes were gone.

I was shocked. Can a cat’s eyes dissolve? Was there some disease that destroyed eyeballs? He was a cuddly sort, always on my lap and usually on the bed with me at night, so I would have noticed if he had been sick. I wrapped him in a towel and sat with him on my lap for hours. It was late in the evening, and I didn’t know what to do. He seemed OK, except for the eyes.

settled down, and slept. At one point he woke up. I petted him. He purred. He stood straight up and stretched his back in a high arc. I was so happy. He lay back down and went gently to sleep as I petted him, but he never moved again. I buried him in the yard. Some time passed but I grieved for Charlie, and never stopped wondering about his eyes. A couple of years later, at the house of my wife’s friends and neighbors two houses away, I was sitting with the husband who was complaining about cats shitting on his backyard lawn. He had a pellet gun and said he shot any cat he saw in his yard. He bragged about being away to shoot them right in the eyes at night because of the way cats’ eyes glow from reflected light. It took me a minute to make the connection. Charlie had been dead awhile. I walked home by myself. I never mentioned it to my wife because the couple were close friends of hers, and we saw each other often. I thought about calling the police, but I didn’t really have any evidence.

One day, a beautiful calico cat showed up in my backyard, nursing a litter of little fur balls. They kept to themselves around the corner of the house. The kittens grew up and wandered off. I was happy the momma cat stayed. I had her spayed. The veterinary clinic said to keep her inside for a while. I had to keep her in the pet carrier, as she wasn’t used to being inside. She’d gotten used to me and the yard. When I finally let her out, she seemed fine. She stayed nearby. A few days later I found her dead in my wife’s vegetable garden, a victim of bad surgery?

I was sad, but sometime later, another pregnant cat showed up. This time I put food out every day for her and then for her kittens when they got old enough. I planned to offer the kittens for adoption when they were ready, after at least three or four months. My wife did not want cats living in the yard anymore. It was fun to watch them develop. They mostly hung out on the patio outside the sliding glass doors. The mother cat kept them in line, and I watched as she taught them all to hunt. She would bring an injured mouse to them, and let them learn how to catch it, and that it was food.

I don’t know why people think they can remove kittens from their mother right away. You really can’t. Some people wait for eight weeks, but veterinarians say that is not nearly enough. They are at greater risk for developmental, social, and health issues. I could see that. At first, of course, the kittens had to feed from her teats, but then she showed them the dry food I had been putting out for her. After that, she began their training for the hunt, how to pee and shit away from their food and sleeping area, and eventual independence. It was beautiful to watch.

One day, while the kittens were still very young, one of them had managed to climb on top of a six-foot-tall fence I’d recently completed. There were pickets on both sides, but there was room enough, apparently, for one of the cats to get inside. I had to undo the screws I’d used to fasten one picket, and he tumbled right out, unharmed. However I found another kitten dead in the pile of wood I still had alongside the fence. Two pieces were construction timbers, very wide, long, and heavy, and I had set them on bricks, upright against the fence, rather than lay them flat, where they might warp. The kittens must have been playing on the boards and knocked them over. One got squashed, and I hadn’t noticed it missing. This kitten I’d just saved ran back to his mother, meowing loudly, not interested in having me comfort him.

I didn’t plan to keep these cats long. I wanted to have them adopted, but my wife kept insisting I get rid of all the cats. I reluctantly agreed, and got a trap. I put the food in one night, and sure enough, mother and kittens were in it the next morning, except for one. I decided I was going to keep him. He was a striped orange cat, identical to my dad’s cat, so I named him Charlie II, but just called him Charlie.

Fast forward one year. Charlie II had learned to come inside for food, and sit on my lap. One fine spring day, another pregnant cat showed up, and I saw Charlie II playing with her. He was neutered, so I knew he wasn’t the father, but they sure liked each other. My wife let me know this time I couldn’t keep the kittens around for long, so after they were weaned, I trapped them and sadly took them to animal control. In the drop-off room, they got loose before I could get them in a cage. They were very lively. They were jumping almost to the ceiling and bouncing all over the place. It was really sad, because, at the time, they would likely be euthanized. But not the mother.

She was very young herself. I read once that cats can have litters at six months of age. She was very small and thin, so I made the assumption she was about a year old, possibly less. I fed both cats outside for a while, but eventually I moved the food indoors, slowly moving it further away from the door, until they were happy coming in to eat together. I never got around to calling her anything but Girl, for another four years. The oddest thing of all was that she had the same colors as my dad’s female cat, with nearly the same pattern. I had both of my dad’s cats back!

Three years later, I was divorced. My wife got the house; I got to keep my pension. And I got to keep both cats. She said they gave her the evil eye. When they came in from outside, they’d give her a wide berth. She was scared of them, and jealous of the affection I gave them. Once I had them settled in at my rental house, I noticed one day that they were scared of my broom, something I’d never threatened them with. I was immediately suspicious of my ex, since she used to put me down for opening those sliding doors for the cats to go in and out. She laughed at me for doing that. And she thought it was stupid that I got down on the floor to play with them. That seemed like odd behavior to me. She had never had pets, and had actually pushed Girl, the new cat, away, when it tried to get onto her lap. Charlie was always on my lap, so Girl thought that was a good idea too. After my wife had freaked out and pushed it off of her legs, Girl never would get on my lap, ever, no matter how much I coaxed, or if I picked her up and put her on my lap. She would just freak out and jump down immediately, so I stopped trying.

Meanwhile I had a friend, a workplace acquaintance who met me every Friday for lunch. We had some things in common, like a love for reading, especially Sci Fi, and Japanese graphic novels called manga. We also loved Frito Pies in the cafeteria, but sometimes we’d go for the long walks to a restaurant for Greek gyros or for Chinese fast food. She told me about a manga she liked that had been made into a TV series, available on DVDs. In fact, she lent me a set of those videos to watch at home. There was a huge flying demon cat in the story called Kilala. I could only watch them when my wife wasn’t at home, or was out of town, as she controlled the TV I’d bought for her, and hated both Sci Fi and animation.

After my divorce, I renamed my female cat as Kilala. It fit. She was still a bit wild, and never allowed herself to be picked up. In fact, getting her into a pet carrier when I moved resulted in bloody, itchy cuts all over my arms. I took her straight to a vet clinic to be chipped.

Over the years my work buddy and I had swapped many books and even Marvel comics. I found her fascinating herself, but while I had been married, I knew better than to touch forbidden fruit like that. Actually, after the divorce, when I’d moved into a rental house, I invited her to come see the new place, and although she said she would, she never did. Once, we had a conversation about the new Marvel movie that was opening, Silver Surfer. We both said we were going to see it. So, I asked if we could go there together, or if I could meet her at a theater, but she appeared shocked that I had even asked her, and responded that it was inappropriate. I didn’t continue the conversation, as I was walking her back to her office, and we’d arrived. I never understood the “inappropriate” remark, since I was divorced. But she was young, and I was not. She stopped being available for lunch. ‘Nuff said, as Marvel’s Stan Lee used to say.

So, my cats became my whole family. Charlie and Kilala had a pet door, so they would come and go as they liked, after we got settled in the new place. Actually, the first time I let Kilala out, she disappeared! I was frantic for a while, feeling like it was my fault due to moving her to a new, unfamiliar neighborhood. I imagined her trying to return to my ex-wife’s house, getting eaten by coyotes, or because of the wide river, using the Rio Grande bridge where she might get hit by a car. It was a long way to go. I didn’t expect to see her again. Still, I called and whistled for her every day. But after nearly three weeks, I hadn’t quite given up, so I put flyers all over the neighborhood, and in stores, asking people to call me, even if they had just seen her. I also put some up all over the 83-house compound where I live. A day or two after posting the flyers in my compound, just after I’d gotten into bed, she just showed up at the back door, which was in my bedroom. As I opened the door, Charlie jumped on her. I thought they’d lick each other and rub together, but, no, he mounted her immediately. That, I thought, was inappropriate at that moment, so I pulled him off so I could feed her. She never disappeared again, and the two cats were inseparable.

In fact, they always came in at night to sleep with me, even after they’d eaten. They would follow me around the house, whether I was in the living room reading or watching movies, or at my desk in the bedroom. Sometimes they’d split the difference and one would be in each place, so they were never far away. Charlie was an excellent hunter, just like his predecessor, and brought rodents and the occasional bird home to eat. There were literally thousands of birds in the area, with the river nearby, irrigation ditches flowing throughout the neighborhood, and the Rio Grande Nature Center sanctuary a mile and a half away. I know cats can be a problem for bird populations, but surrounded by many thousands of birds, I wasn’t worried my two neutered cats could eat a significant number of them. I felt my cats needed to stalk and pounce, or chase a little fresh animal flesh once in a while to stay healthy.

It’s funny to me that people around here post things about cats about how dangerous cats are to entire populations of wildlife, but they aren’t concerned about the large population of roadrunners around here. Some think the cats might eat the roadrunners, but those birds are fierce, and can kill cats in self-defense. In fact, roadrunners can out-strike, kill and eat rattlesnakes. They eat small birds too, raid other birds’ nests for eggs and often expropriate the nests. So, roadrunners, roaming freely in large numbers are as much of threat to small birds as any cat. Roadrunners, by the way, grow up to two feet long and run 26 miles an hour! And, although coyotes run between 35 and 43 miles an hour, roadrunners can fly short distances. The cartoons had it backwards.

I ramble a lot. Sorry. This was about my cats. I lost Charlie. He disappeared one day - never came in to eat dinner, and the food was still in his bowl the next morning. I contacted Animal Control, but they hadn’t been in the neighborhood, and more to the point hadn’t been called to pick up any dead or sick cats in the entire area where I live. I examined all the nearly identical cats they had, but he was chipped, and they hadn’t scanned him. So, I wondered about him a lot. I put up dozens of posters, about Charlie, this time. Someone told me they’d seen a cat like that in the next neighborhood over, so I walked or ran there every day for six months looking for him. He had always come when I called or whistled for him, but he was gone. I hoped he was taken in.

A year later, after I’d given up all hope of him coming home, I happened to mention his loss to the leader of a hike I was on. Kilala had never stopped watching for Charlie to come home, and often sat for long hours, obviously depressed. She rarely moved, and appeared to have lost her raison d'etre. I had decided to find her a male companion, pimp for her. The hike leader told me there was a cat living on the golf course in Bernalillo. The clubhouse had been feeding it for a long time, but wanted to adopt it out. The cat would sometimes turn and bite if you touched its back. (Liability issues.) I hoped it was a male. When I checked it out, I was told it was a female, named Snowflake, for the white fur. I agreed to adopt it anyway, but when I went to be approved for the cat by its friends at the golf course, they had just found out it was male. Anyway, the clubhouse members approved of me, and said they would bring the cat over. He also had a small house they had built for him, with added insulation to protect him from the cold winter nights. When they came, they brought him, his house, food and water bowls, and a large supply of food. And, they would visit to check on him, bring treats, and often take me to dinner.

Well, as much as I had hoped otherwise, this cat had only been around humans all his life, and didn’t know what to do around other cats, how to chase, play-fight, hunt, or screw. He’s a disappointment, but eventually the two cats learned to get along, and both slept on my bed. He mostly sleeps, never uses his house, and rarely goes outside at all. I kept the name Snowflake because he responded to it. Kilala likes him, but he just doesn’t respond much to her. He finally let her lick him a little bit, and I’ve sometimes seen him lick her back, but that’s the extent of it.

Two years later, I was sure I’d seen Charlie near the Post Office and the Senior Center 2 ½ miles away. The size and markings looked identical. I was in my car, returning from the post office, when I spotted it behind the fence at the back of the Senior Center. I stopped the car, and called his name. He jumped up, and began walking towards me, but stopped, sitting back down with his legs crossed, acting like he had always acted. Unfortunately, I was in the car for one thing, and for another, it was a different car from the car he would have remembered me coming home in. He had always come to greet me when I drove up, and often slept under the car for the shade it provided. However, I was blocking the street, and I had a truck come up behind me. I moved, drove around the block, but he was gone. I went back often, calling his name, and even asked inside the senior center if they were feeding him, but they knew nothing. I never found it. I had seen a collar with a tag around his neck, so I assume he is someone’s cat now, if that was him. I don’t know how he got a license without someone scanning his chip, but it could have fallen out. Of course, maybe it wasn’t him.

I took Kilala to the veterinary clinic this past October 13th. She had been itching a lot. No sign of fleas or ticks, but she had been biting herself and tearing out her fur, which alarmed me. The vet found her skin irritated, likely by some tiny parasite, so he applied a soothing lotion to her, gave her something to calm her down, and also re-upped her rabies shot and whatever else I hadn’t kept up with. He gave me a liquid (selemectin plus sarolaner) to apply to the back of her neck to kill whatever was bothering her, possibly biting lice. It seemed to work. Three months later I finished with her medication, but she started to bite herself a bit. However, she stopped after a few days as I pondered getting more of the liquid drops. She recovered nicely.

But not long after, I noticed she was not grooming herself anymore. She was also sleeping way more, and lethargic. Some matted fur appeared on her flank. She seemed OK, but then she stopped eating as much as she had. In fact, she seemed less and less interested in her food every day. As I petted her I noticed how bony she was becoming. She hadn’t been eating much for some time it seemed. I tried giving her milk in small amounts, as I had occasionally given her some as a treat, although I know it’s not good for cats. She had always loved it, but now wouldn’t touch it. I bought tuna fish, the only other thing she had really loved, but she passed on that too. She was also retching without bringing anything up, sometimes wheezing, and her purring had a funny discordant sound to it. Worried again, on February 9th, I took her in for testing. $425 dollars later, I knew she didn’t have liver or kidney problems, but only a stomach infection. She had been given antibiotics for that. But she was very weak, and the vet cautioned me she might only have months to live. I also had a cream to apply to her ear once daily to stimulate her appetite. Even though I washed my fingers thoroughly, I was petting her, and it seemed to work on me! I have eaten more in the past week than usual (it could also be from stress over Kilala) and suddenly the pants and shirt I had been wearing just a week ago wouldn’t fit - I couldn’t button the pants closed. That’s some fast weight gain!

She didn’t eat that first day after I brought her home, or the next, but then she popped up right away one morning as I walked into the kitchen area. She was hungry, and more energetic. She was drinking water again too. I had high hopes she might recover, given how strong, healthy, and active she had always been, but after a week, she stopped eating much, that I saw, but I did see her drinking. She wouldn’t go outside at all - it was cold and snowing a lot. She slept all day, but moved from spot to spot around the house, including the bathroom, which was odd. It looked like she was going to die after all, and soon. I spent more time with her, petting her for long periods of time. She didn’t object, I put her on my lap too, and for the first time ever, she didn’t object. Last night, she moved from where she had been hiding behind the toilet, and flopped down right in the doorway to the bathroom. I kept checking on her, but not only was she not going anywhere, but at one point, one of her back legs twitched as though she was trying to get up but couldn’t.

I had her on my lap earlier, and had petted her a long time, and she’d been wondering around the house some more, stopping at her favorite spots - back of the bed, bath mat, front door, in front of the fireplace, and other random spots. When she ended up in the bathroom, I left her alone. But now, this was it. I felt she was dying and soon. I scooped her up gently and sat down in the comfy living room chair, put the TV on, and petted her for two hours straight. She was breathing slowly, and responsive. Not purring. Her head was draped across my arm and at one point she appeared to be choking so I adjusted my wrist to her chest in case she had been unintentionally pressing her throat against my wrist. She settled down, and I kept petting her. She fell asleep. As I watched the TV, I kept an eye on her chest. For a time, it was moving, but then I couldn’t tell. She still felt warm, but I stopped and got up. She was dead and already stiff. I tried talking to her to say my final goodbyes – for myself, too late for her – but I could barely speak.

I put her stiff body back on the chair while I fed the Snowflake, who wasn’t even curious about Kilala. I can’t write any more. 

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