Fremont’s World is 0.25 acres in the town of Putnam Valley, NY. it is also the land on which the House of Mars sits. It has no signs. It does have a flag, though – several, in fact.
Every kingdom needs a flag, and wherever Fremont lived he declared his kingdom. This particular kingdom was formally recognized in the summer of 1999.
I am a night person. I am also a night eater. I rarely sit down to dinner much before ten. This means in summer I grill by the light of the moon with a lot of help from the floodlights on the deck. One particularly sultry August night, I stood, spray bottle in hand, ready for the the usual flare-up that is part and parcel of barbecuing chicken. Above me, up in the woods,the thick canopy of moon- lit leaves rustled in the breeze.
I guess they rustled, I could see them flutter. Can something rustle if you can’t hear it? Like the sound of one hand clapping? No, that’s not right; like that tree that falls in the woods when no one’s there? That’s it! On this night the air was so saturated with the sibilant droning of amorous crickets and cicadas that it seemed to close in on me. I felt as if I were in the middle of a black velvet painting.
Soon, though I was able to make out the sound of deliberate plodding foot steps making their way down through the sloping woods, and the impressive silhouette of Fremont made its way into the light. He braced his front feet against the stucco retaining wall and landed with an oomph, then made made his way to the deck. It was the first time I felt part of the world he ventured into every night. “So this is your world, Fremont, “I said, reaching down to rub his head. “I like it.” And thus Fremont’s World came into being.
The next spring I decided we were being selfish. There were plenty of cats who needed a home and we had more than enough room. It was time that Fremont shared his world with another cat. I can’t say I went into full blown search mode. A nagging question held me back . What if Fremont didn’t get along with the newcomer? Even worse what if he turned out to be an aggressive cat and he made Fremont’s world miserable? So I kept my good intention on the back burner and May rolled into June and June into July.
Just after the fourth of July, I went in to work and my friend, Laura, mentioned that her neighbor, an animal lover to the nth degree, had found a mother cat and five kittens, and was looking for good homes for them. I deemed it a sign; a companion for Fremont, emerging out of nowhere.
“You know I’ve been thinking about getting another cat,” I told her.’ “I want a male, though.Do you know if any of them are males?”
She promised to find out, and the next morning returned with the news. “There’s only one male, a black and white one.”
Black and white? A sign if ever there was one. And so Niles, who fit into the palm of my hand when I brought him home, took up residency in Fremont’s World.
I decided to introduce them gradually, confining Niles to the spare bedroom for a week so they could make each other’s acquaintance through sniffs under the door. The sniffs from Fremont’s side were peppered with hisses, hisses that escalated into growls on the meet and greet day.
I opened the door slowly. Niles bounded out,his tiny stick of a tail held high. I’d never seen Fremont arch his back before! He turned and greeted the kitten with a raw hiss and a deep throated growl before retreating out his cat door. It was not an auspicious start but Niles was not the least bit phased. Each time Fremont came back, the little munchkin would sneak up on the giant at least quadruple his size, and flick at his tail, darting away at the hiss and growl this elicited, but only for a second. And so it went with Fremont taking all he could and when fed up, escaping through the flap of the cat door into the refuge of his world. I didn’t worry about tiny Niles getting out since the pet door was set in the dining room window and the little guy wasn’t quite up to jumping that high….
Or so I thought. I was upstairs in the loft one morning, cleaning the litter box when I heard the flap slap shut. Fremont had gone out earlier and it was not his habit to return until dinner time so that could mean only one thing. I ran down the steps and got to the screen door just in time to witness the moment Fremont’s world changed.
He had been sitting in the sun grooming himself when Niles landed and ran over to flick his tail with a “Hi Guess what!” attitude. Fremont did a double take then looked up at me as if to say”How could you let this little innocent out? He’s not ready for my world.”
Then he walked over to Niles and began to groom him with a gentle flick of his tongue. Little did he know that he was volunteering for a permanent job.
The pact was made. Niles was a needy cat when it came to his Fremont. He needed his Fremont to groom him. Fremont did. He needed to snuggle up to his Fremont when it was cold. Fremont made room to accommodate him. Niles and Fremont, they weren’t inseparable. They carved up Fremont’s World into their own fiefdoms. When I arrived home from work each night, Fremont would appear out from across the road and make his way up the stairs to the front yard while Niles would utter his customary “I’m on my way” cry from up in the woods, then descend amidst the sound of breaking twigs and crunching leaves to the backyard.
It was idyllic. I wish it could have gone on and on. But if it had, there would have been no House of Mars.