She used to hop up on the piano stool with me and listen as I played. The number of times she joined me there began to almost equal the times I played as sitting at the piano became a rarity. Long before then and now, before we left school and stopped music lessons and sister Erin was here to play, too, I suppose there was just so much music in the house she didn’t need to pay it any special attention. But when we were older and the piano stood quiet for so long, she paid it all the attention she could.
She was musical. It wasn’t just piano – she would come the few times I struggled to play my poor, long-suffering cello. Sometimes even just when I sang.
So last night when I learnt the next morning would likely be the last she saw – it’s a gentle, yet rending hint when someone who had been enjoying upward of four meals a day with near indecent enthusiasm suddenly doesn’t eat at all and starts retreating out of sight in the cool and dark, alone, getting her thoughts in order for days on end – I unplugged my own new piano and dragged it beside where she rested.
I hadn’t played in weeks. Even if I had, I don’t know if she’d have been up to jumping up on piano stools; she’d been having a lot of trouble with the stairs. I didn’t want to annoy or upset her. But I wanted to give her a little more music. I didn’t want her to go without it.
Without the sustain pedal, it sounded pretty awful. I wish I knew what her favourites were. And I wish I could’ve played more; I’ve forgotten so much. All I have now are a few My Friend the Chocolate Cake songs and my compositions from high school. I threw in a Sesame Street tear-wrencher and then a bit of the last impressive piece I have left in me. That’s when she poked her head out. Maybe that’s what she’d been hanging out for, what she was really missing – when I could actually play well. Maybe she really liked the crazy, complicated pieces.
Well, she was musical.
I whistled her a few notes after the piano was unplugged – she used to come with a whistle, thanks to Pavlovian conditioning. She eventually wandered out and settled down at the top of the stairs outside sister Frannie’s door. I sat with her a while. Then lay beside her for a while. Even got a bit of a purr out of her. Just a little.
It’s probably just that my own eyes were so damp and the thought I’ve given this year to feline tears and whether they serve any purpose apart from maintenance – or it was that natural bodily process – but I thought I saw her eyes dampen, too.
I hope I didn’t upset her. And I hope she wasn’t hurting. But if she was, she isn’t anymore. So that’s good.
We had almost 18 years, near as long as we’ve been in this house. Our parents mix our names up with hers. We saw her grow into a proud lady who took grief from no one and accepted all love on her terms. Then we saw her regress. Sometimes she would stare, as though trying to remember something she couldn’t attach our faces to anymore.
Only last week, she was still walking all over my tax documents and keyboard, nosing my new laptop, just in case I had to be reminded that what was mine was actually hers. Only last week, she still waited outside the bathroom door when I was in the shower. Only last week, I was still having to close my door on her at night when I’d prefer her to come and snuggle, pressing her face beneath books to better see ours, demanding affection the same way she did when she was so small. She usually came to me to yowl for supper at one in the morning. She knows I’m a sucker.
She belongs here, with us. She is family. She left scars on our arms and excrement on the computer monitor, more memories than we can hope to recall, and we will be finding orange and white hair all over the house for years to come.
And now, some words from one of the songs she heard the most. For even more reasons than her, this song will remain a challenge, I think, for a long time.
The old house feels empty, cold and uninviting
And lifeless when you’re not around
It’s all in the way your eyes stare straight through me
I don’t get away with one miserable thing
And it’s all in the way that you’re mine
(from My Friend the Chocolate Cake’s It’s All In The Way)
Love you, Tommy. Our baby kitty.