“I’m going shopping. I think I’ll get some salmon,” I say to Roberto, and he agrees. We both like salmon a lot. You might be imagining a couple of nice salmon steaks, being that there are just two of us, but he and I know that whoever goes to get the salmon will come back with at least half a fillet, even a whole one if it’s small. Because we are not the only salmon lovers in our family.
About twelve years ago a feral cat came wandering through the community. We have a flat roof with a huge apricot tree hanging over it, and he took a liking to that spot where he could look down on us going in and out. We called him Bruiser, he being big and orange and very manly. One day we were standing in the patio looking up at him, and I said in a rather hushed voice, “You know, if we could ever catch Bruiser I would take him straight to the vet and get him fixed.” Bruiser’s hearing must have been excellent because he disappeared for at least a year. I regretted my words and hoped that he would return. We learned from our neighbor Wayne that he was hanging out at his house, and for the next few years we co-parented. Wayne and Roberto built a handsome house for Bruiser, complete with a heating pad and heated water bowl for below freezing nights.
But there was domestic trouble at Wayne’s. His two cats were upset with their foster brother and expressed themselves by spraying the furniture. Nothing would stop them and it apparently became unbearable. In order to save his marriage Wayne trapped Bruiser in a big cage and took him three miles across the arroyo and through the hills to a lovely ranchette with horses and barns and lots of mice. In less than 24 hours he was back at Wayne’s.
So Roberto and Wayne moved Bruiser’s house, water bowl, and food dish to our yard. Being a street-wise guy he made the move and for the last several years we have fed, watered, housed him and developed a deep affection for him. Our two cats did not take it out on the furniture, but instead took a great liking to their new orange uncle. As indoor cats they spend a lot of time on window sills, and a sighting of their uncle brings a special mew of greeting, which we immediately recognize as an announcement of Bruiser’s arrival. One of us scurries into action to prepare his meal.
Like any self-respecting feral cat, he has places to go and girl cats to visit. If he is gone for more than a few days I begin to fret, sure that he has become coyote dinner. When his absence grows to a week, I begin to mourn, but so far with no reason. A couple of years ago he came “home” badly injured. Both forearms were a mess, ripped open to the muscle, crusted with blood and something that looked like tar. He was walking on three legs, and looked as if he was wishing he could walk on two. He ate and hobbled away. Again I thought about trapping him and taking him to the vet, but I knew he would never forgive me and that whatever the vet could do for him would take a long time and would not be worth it for the patient.
So we did what we could to keep him alive and comfortable…and that was when we found that he was very fond of salmon. He walked on three legs for at least a year. His front leg hung limp but he had a way of activating it for tree climbing if he had to. We figured he would be caught for sure by a coyote or bobcat in his weakened condition but he called on several of his nine lives and carried on. And then to our amazement he appeared after a short absence walking gingerly on four legs. The sores were still open, but getting smaller. We rejoiced at the miracle.
I fed him this morning, salmon and dry food, and he rubbed against the porch post as usual and meowed at me — maybe it was news of the neighborhood, maybe it was scolding me for years ago talking about getting him fixed, maybe it was about the salmon, or just maybe he was glad to see me.
Every few months he gets sloppy and lets me give him a couple of pets before he realizes what has happened, flattens his ears and hisses at me. “Oh, Bruiser,” I coo, “Don’t you know how much I love you, you spoiled feral cat?”