LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

I have this recurring dream where I forget to feed my cat. She is very thin — who wouldn’t be with no food — is barely creeping around, and I dream think, “Oh, no! Poor Genie! How could I have forgotten to feed her? And where is her litter box?”

Well, Genie Bird, my sweet little torti-point siamese, died at sixteen, well fed, while taking a nap in her favorite sunshiny spot, about eight years ago.

Genie came into my life as the prototypical adorable ball of fluff, lavender-eyed and ready for fun. She was barely more than a kitten when Buck and I were married. We lived on Pensacola Beach then. Our first Christmas together brought another adorable ball of fluff, this one a black labrador retriever with a big red velvet ribbon around her neck. We bought her from a nice family over in Montrose, Alabama, a short drive from Pensacola. We named her Amanda Blackvelvet, and  the drive home with that warm puppy in my lap, her wet nose snuggled into the curve of my arm, is one of those experiences kept in my Museum of Life’s Perfect Moments.

In inimitable cat fashion, Genie let the gangly pup know who was boss of the house. Later, when their weight ratio was more than seven to one, and Amanda had a mouthful of sharp teeth with a slightly more aggressive personality than many labs, she remembered the puppy lessons, and Genie ruled the roost.

Some time after we had built a home in the country, on the Williams Ditch Road in Cottage Hill, just northeast of Cantonment, Buck and I were sitting on a sofa in the living room one evening. Genie was in possession of my lap, Amanda at Buck’s feet. Amanda came over to start a game with Genie: stare, wag tail, lean forward for a sniff, step back, repeat steps. . .  I could have told her that when Genie’s eyes start to glow purple, it’s a good time to back off. All of a sudden Genie sprang forward, biting Amanda’s large nose in a series of quick motions up and down like it was an ear of corn. Amanda was stunned. She didn’t know how to respond, and so just sat there making gurgly half-snarl sounds, curling her lips and showing the fierce canines. But her eyes were on Buck. “Can I bite her? Can I bite her?”

Having made her point, Genie let go of Amanda’s nose, and in a great show, turned her back on the big dog and curled up once again in my lap. Amanda wasn’t physically hurt from the pin pricks of Genie’s little teeth tap dancing their way up and down her snout, but she sure was humiliated. She moved over near the fireplace, dropping down to a position with her face between her outstretched paws, blowing air through the sides of her mouth in disgust. “Good grief.”

When Genie got old, she developed some gastrointestinal problems. I hate to be indelicate, but the fact is she threw up frequently. Buck thought up the idea of the Cat House, and set about to make Genie’s retirement home a reality. It was a small aluminum building with two windows and a door. Buck built a wide shelf just under the window where Genie could enjoy birdwatching and the morning sun, lying in her furry cat bed.  She still came and went basically as she pleased, but her food and litter box were in the little building and she spent increasing amounts of time there.

The little building was wired for electricity and had a light in it and a plug, so when the weather  began to turn cool, I put in a barn warmer kind of infrared light that moved around like a fan, gently warming the small space. She loved it.

One evening we set the alarm and went out for dinner, dogs in the garage, Genie in her house. It was cool, so I turned on the warmer light before leaving.

We came home to find a series of odd messages on the answering machine. Something about the alarm, the police, old man Doty, a hand gun, hiding in the bushes. What? We called Neighbor Bob, our friend and electrician, who lived across the way and was on the list as a contact person if our alarm went off and the security company couldn’t reach us. Old Man Doty was a neighbor too, an excitable elderly fellow who lived nearby and kept watch on our place from across the pond.

I don’t know what tripped the alarm, but apparently Doty saw this eerie red glow in the darkness coming from Genie’s cat house, while about the same time the alarm company didn’t reach Neighbor Bob quickly enough to suit them and so called the local gendarmes — a/k/a Escambia County sheriff’s deputies. When Neighbor Bob arrived, he found Doty trying to explain to the officers why he was hiding in the bushes with a gun. While this was going on, they were all were peering into one of Genie cat’s windows, the small building glowing red from the barn heater. I can only imagine Genie staring back, looking for all the world like a character straight out of Dr. Seuss central casting.

That’s how Westmark’s Cat House became a neighborhood landmark. I miss Genie Bird sitting on my books and papers, or thrusting her head under my book to get my attention when she would lay on my rib cage as I read in bed.

But why I continue to wake up in a start from this recurring dream that I haven’t fed my friend is a mystery to me. Sounds like a guilty conscience, but over what? Ah, well, usually I blame it on what I ate for dinner. . . but chicken soup?

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