I used to be in a hurry to get up in the morning, but now I linger in bed, and it’s all because of Zorro. This is our special time. He sleeps at my feet, but as soon as he feels me stir in the morning, he wakes up, stretches, and comes to visit. He brushes his whiskers all over my face, which I find very annoying in every other cat, but somehow it makes me smile when Zorro does it. He’s not that keen on sitting still long enough to be pet, but he tolerates it, even seems to like it, when he first wakes up. He settles down on my shoulder, stretches across my neck, or burrows under the blankets, and I scratch his cheeks and chin and stroke his back and sides. There are purrs, so many purrs. Often he reverts to early kittenhood, kneading and nursing a wrinkle in my sweatshirt.
Once we’re up, he’s done with the snugglies, and he can be a handful. He snatches my toast, runs off with my pen, knocks my books off the table, chews my paper, sticks his foot in my coffee.
When I can’t take it any more, I pick him up and go find Abby. She’s usually up for a wrestle and a chase, though he tests even her patience now. Abby is the roughest cat I’ve ever had, and even though there’s no mean in her spirit, she has proven herself to be far too much for every other cat. But not for Zorro. In a wonderful twist of karma, he’s often a little too much for her. Abby leaps into the fray eagerly, and they roll and spin and kick and claw, until suddenly she bursts out of the writhing circle of cat, squealing. Zorro thinks it’s part of the game and takes off after her, leaping onto her back, knocking her to the ground, rolling her like an alligator. She flips and kicks and protests, and I think of the thousands of times I have watched her do exactly that move to one of the other cats as they flip and kick and protest. Sometimes I take pity on her and rescue her, but mostly I like to let karma play itself out.
The other cats were all tentative when they were new to our house, feeling out their place in the cat hierarchy, learning the routines and expectations, lots of hiding and sitting and observing. Not Zorro. He strode right in, looked around, and said Yes, it’s all for me. You and you and you? You’re for me. And that bed over there? That’s for me. And this food bowl? And that one and that one and that one? All for me!
My son loves to hear the story of Zorro’s rescue. It was only September, but it’s already become the stuff of family legend. We were having a difficult day, and my son decided to run away. But difficult now isn’t as difficult as difficult used to be, so he said I could come along too. He decided to go to a friend’s house he isn’t allowed to go to. (Parental safety issues.) Since this was officially a running away, I didn’t feel like I should protest. And besides, I was ready to take on the scary dad if I needed to.
We drove to the friend’s house. The friend wasn’t home, but his little brother was. Home alone, he was clearly thrilled to have unexpected company and desperate to keep us there, so he pulled out his ace.
“My brother’s got a kitten,” he announced. “Wanna see him?”
Looking around at the other filthy, half-starved-looking cats roaming the yard, we wanted to say no. But it was a kitten. And so we said yes.
The boy disappeared around the corner of the house and returned with this tiny, blue-eyed tuxedo kitten. It was hard to look past the goopy eyes and crusty mouth to decide if he was cute.
“Oh!” I said. “How….adorable.”
The boy thrust him at me.
“You can hold him. He likes shoulders.”
I reached out and took the nasty little cat and, with a bit of additional urging, lifted him to my shoulder.
Where he proceeded to close his eyes, snuggle right in, kick up a mighty purr, and search for a place to nurse.
I could feel all his ribs.
“Is he big enough to be away from his mother?” my son asked doubtfully.
“I don’t know,” the boy said.
“I think he’s hungry,” my son observed.
“Yeah,” the boy said. “My brother starves him for a few days and then tries to make him eat til he pukes.”
My son and I exchanged horrified looks. We had forgotten all about running away. Now we were both on the same team: Team Rescue.
It didn’t take much sweet-talking before the little brother said we could take the kitten home and feed it, as long as we promised to bring it back later. Before we knew it, we were back in the car with the tiny handful of cat sitting between us.
“We can’t take him back,” my son said.
“He’ll die there.”
“I know,” I said.
“How are we going to break it to Dad?” my son asked.
I didn’t know.
And then my son said the words that turned our already very full house of six cats into an even fuller house of seven.
“You know, he kind of reminds me of me.”
“Just tell Dad that,” I said.
(We did take Zorro back after he had a square meal—but only to persuade the older brother that he really didn’t like kittens after all. I’m glad it worked out so easily.)
Zorro gets along with the other cats, but he doesn’t entirely fit in. He’s a scavenger in a house full of pampered cats. He’s a goofy cat in a house full of serious cats. He’s a happy cat in a house full of grumps. He’s an awkward cat in a house full of graceful cats.
Six is it, my husband often said. We’re maxed out at six.
But number seven is the cat we needed most. The one who makes us laugh when he trips chasing his own tail. The one who comes to greet us at the door. The one who meows outside my son’s room every morning after the alarm goes off. The one who thinks a dribbling basketball is the best cat toy ever. The one who turns the toilet paper into confetti just as things are getting tense and we need to break the mood. The one who never scratches no matter how hard he’s play-fighting with a hand. The one who never minds when he’s jolted out of a nap. He’s a marvelous therapy cat—endlessly patient with my son who inevitably squeezes him too hard or forgets to set him down gently. He never holds a grudge, and he’s always in a good mood.