Life without Fremont meant different things to different residents of Fremont’s World. The chipmunks and mice felt safer. The raccoon whom Fremont would invite into the house for water stopped making his midnight raids. And the groundhog he used to sit with now just waddled on through and disappeared Alice-like into his burrow underneath the deck.
As for Bully, the French bulldog who lived next door, he rejoiced in being able to come and go without being chased home.
Ironically, Niles, about whom I’d worried most, seemed not at all affected. He had Dino.And while Dino never showered him with nightly groomings on the couch like Fremont had, or snuggled up with him on winter nights,at least he stopped his pugnacious ways – most of the time. And so they co-existed peacefully for a year, a year in which Niles accursed lump grew back.
Late in August of 2005, I opened one eye as Dino stomped over me to leap off the bed and jump to the floor. It was 4:15 AM. I know because when I heard the pet door flap closed I looked at the alarm clock and thought Ah, three more hours of sleep. It was the last time I ever saw Dino.
It was the last time four of my neighbors in this community of 26 cottages saw their cats over the next few days as well. Too late I learned a fox had been spotted in the yard next door, and coyotes, well, they are always around. Some cats, like Fremont and Niles are “street smart. Dino at just over a year was not.
The timing couldn’t be worse, I had to be a way for a week. After much back and forth I decided I’d leave the pet door unlocked. Niles was accustomed to coming and going as he pleased and to confine him with no company seemed worse than leaving him to his feline instincts. I put it in the hands of the powers that be, and instructed his pet-sitter to call me if on any of her twice daily visits Niles failed to show up.
Thankfully I received no call, but still I found my heart beating and my stomach tumbling as I drove up my driveway upon my return. Would I find Niles? There wasn’t even a moment of mystery. As soon as I opened the car door a loud mournful cry issued from the woods above, accompanied by the sound of Niles plodding his way down.
He continued the distressed mewling. Was he in pain from the cancer? Was he injured? A fight wound? I scooped him up and hugged him, examining every inch of him. The lump was indeed bigger but he showed no discomfort when I touched it. Could it be that he was lonely. Well I was back, that should fix things.
I brought him inside and released him on the kitchen floor. He ran into the living room and ascended the stairs to the loft, his cries accompanying him and continuing up there. I looked at the clock. Three o’clock. Saturday. The vet’s office closed at one.
As it so happened I recalled having seen in the paper that Hartsdale Pet cemetery was having their annual blessing of the animals and a pet adoption fair on September 11, the next day. Perhaps that’s what Niles was asking for – a new buddy.
I passed by the man entrance and the people milling about the canopies providing shade for the lines of cages beneath, and headed up the hillside to Fremont’s resting place.I stood looking down at the headstone
“Dino’s disappeared and Niles needs a friend. Send me to a cat that’s going to be good to your little Niles. Ok?”
I touched the black stone, and set off on my search, stopping first at a cage containing a black kitten, a female. I knelt down and wiggled my finger through the bars of the cage.I have a soft spot for male cats but maybe a little girl would be better for Niles. Look further something told me.
I passed a couple of dogs then stopped short at ……Fremont and Niles! Well not quite a Fremont, but a mirror image of Niles. This cat’s little smudge of white lay to the right of his nose while Niles’ was on the left. The Fremont look-a-like had more perfect tuxedo markings than Fremont’s.
A volunteer told me they were four month males and had been found wandering with their mother and litter-mates in Mount Vernon.Mount Vernon! That’s all I needed to hear. My brother, Jim, who a month before his death had foreseen Fremont in my life, taught at Mount Vernon High School for almost twenty years.
And so, although I had set out to find one cat, I returned home with two. And I named them before we even arrived home.Since they muttered not a peep on the twenty- five mile trip home (anyone familiar with cats knows this is out of the ordinary) what better than Marcel and Marceau? Their introduction into the house also quelled Niles’ crying. He had company once more.
Unfortunately Niles only had three more months left in his journey, but the brothers stood guard over him on the recliner. Niles curled up on the seat and the brothers on the headrest Sometimes Marcel groomed him sometimes Marceau. And when they took to brotherly squabbles over the headrest, they made sure to miss him when they tumbled to the cushion below.
On December 23 Niles and I the vet for the dreaded “last appointment.” His last moments hit me harder then Fremont’s had. To be so gentle and trusting and to only have five years to show it; I found myself crying quietly and unable to stop. The doctor kept telling me how sorry she was but I could only nod. She took him off to find a box for his trip to Hartsdale but I just stood there at the examining table in the center of the room, staring at the bulletin board on the opposite wall.
It’s tan cork surface was empty of the usual photos of furry clients. I noticed that all the red, green and blue push pins were clustered in the center. It took me a while to realize the pins formed two letters. W and F., I frowned in concentration. W F? Did it mean something? And then with a rush of adrenalin much like when I’d found the stuffed catl in the cemetery, it came to me WF. With Fremont.
Out in the parking lot, I sat at the steering wheel, repeating With Fremont, with Fremont. As my psyche weren’t shaken, I started up the engine only yo have the old 70’s song by the one hit wonder Five Man Electrical Band blast forth from the radio. “Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs, blocking out the scenery, breaking up my mind…”