Chosen by a Cat

This blog post is included in:

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler

December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chosen by a Cat (Annals of Pard: II)
by Ursula K. Le Guin

Pard sitting in his favorite chair
Pard sitting in his favorite chair

 

In the four months since I wrote about his arrival, Little Pard has grown up. He is now Not Large But Quite Solid Pard. He’s what they call a cobby cat, not a leggy one. When he sits upright, the view from the rear is pleasingly and symmetrically globular, a shining black sphere, plus head and tail. But he isn’t fat. Though not for want of trying. He still loves kibbles, oh kibbles, oh lovely kibbles! Crunch, crunch, crunch to the last crumb, then look up with instant, infinite pathos — I starve, I perish, I have not eaten for weeks…. He would love to be Pardo el Lardo. We are heartless. One half cup of food a day, the vet said, and we have obeyed her. One quarter cup of kibbles at seven, another at five. And, well, yes, there is a sixth-of-a-can of catfood with warm water on it for lunch, to make sure he gets plenty of water. But he often leaves that till five when the kibbles arrive, the One True Food. And then he cleans both bowls, and goes into the living room and maybe flies around a little bit, but mostly just sits and digests in bliss.

Pard reclining in his favorite chair
Pard reclining in his favorite chair

 

He is a vivid little creature. Youth is so dramatic! His tuxedo is utterly black and utterly white. He is utterly sweet and utterly nutty. Wild as a bronco, inert as a sloth. One moment he’s airborne, the next fast asleep. He is unpredictable, yet keeps strict routines — every morning he rushes over to greet Charles coming downstairs, falls over on the hall rug and waves his paws in posture of adoration. He still won’t sit on a lap, though. I don’t know if he ever will. He just doesn’t accept the lap hypothesis.

 

Alexandrite Eyes: green around the iris, yellow around the green
Alexandrite Eyes: green around the iris, yellow around the green
Pard on stitchery
Pard on stitchery
Pard in stitchery
Pard in stitchery

 

Getting waked up by twenty minutes of strong, steady purring is very nice, plus the nose that investigates the neck, the paw that pats the hair… the increasing intensity of purr, the commencement of pouncing…. By then it’s quite easy to get up. Then he rushes into the bathroom ahead of me and flies around, mostly about waist level, getting into things; and he plays with the water I run for him in the bathtub and then leaps out to make wet flower-paw-prints here and there, or if I dribble him water in the washbasin he closes the stopper, thus creating a water hole where savage panthers may crouch in wait for dikdiks and gazelles, or possibly beetles. Then we go downstairs — one flying, the other not.

Closing the drain is typical. He’s clever at opening cabinets, too, because he likes getting into things, anything that can be got into, cabinets, drawers, boxes, bags, sacks, a quilt in progress, a sleeve. He is ingenious, adventurous, and determined. We call him the good cat with bad paws. The paws get him into trouble and cause loud shouting and scoldings and seizures and removals, which the good cat endures with patient good humor — “What are they carrying on about? I didn’t knock that over. A paw did.”

There used to be a lot of small delicate things on shelves around the house. There aren’t, now.

 

Don’t let the cat out of the bag!
Don't let the cat out of the bag!

 

Charles bought him a little red harness. He is incredibly patient about having it put on — we thought it would be Charles the Bloody-Handed for weeks, but no. He even purrs, somewhat plaintively, during the harnessing. Then the bungee leash is attached, and they go out and down the back steps into the garden for Pard’s Walk. It went quite well twice, then a man running by outside the fence slapping his feet down galumph galumph scared Pard, and he wanted to go back inside at once, and is only beginning to get unscared of all the weirdnesses out there.

 

A Walk in the Garden
A Walk in the Garden
Tail-in-the-Air Cat
Tail-in-the-Air Cat

 

I think when it stops raining and we can sit outdoors with him it will be OK. He needs open space to fly around in, that’s for sure. But then of course we fear he may get too bold in his enthusiasm and ignorance and wander into the wild backyards and thickets down the hill or chase a bird out into the street, and so get lost or meet the Enemy. The Enemy comes in so many forms to cats. They are small animals, predators yet very vulnerable, and Pard has neither street smarts nor wilderness wisdom. But he’s bright. He deserves what freedom we can give him. Once it stops raining.

Meanwhile, he usually spends a good part of the day with me in my study, sleeping on the printer, about a foot from my right elbow. He fixated on me to start with and still tends to follow me up and downstairs and keep nearby, though he’s gaining more independence, which is good — if I wanted to be the center of the universe I’d have a dog. My guess is that for the first year of his life, in a small and crowded household, he was never alone; so he needs time to get used to solitude, as well as to silence, boredom, never getting pursued or squashed by a passionate baby, etc.

Not wanting to be the center of the universe doesn’t mean I don’t love having a cat nearby. It seems we got his name right: he’s a pardner, a true companion. I really like it when he sleeps at the top of my head on the pillow like a sort of fur nightcap. The only trouble with his sleeping on the printer is that it’s six inches from my Time Machine, which when it’s saving stuff makes a weird, tiny, humming-clicking noise exactly like beetles. Pard knows that there are beetles in that box. Nothing I can say will change his mind. There are beetles in that box, and one day he will get his his paw into it and get the beetles out and eat them.

— UKL
30 April 2012

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King Dog: A Movie for the Mind’s Eye

A little background: The character of King Ashthera, with his dog, and his gambling streak, is derived from King Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata, the wonderful and interminable epic of India. When, towards the end of the story, Yudhisthira gets to Heaven, he is outraged to find some of his enemies are there, and some of his friends are not; and he decides not to enter Heaven at all unless they let his dog in with him.

I stole all that.

King Dog is available at the Book View Cafe eBookstore.

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Chosen by a Cat — 13 Comments

  1. Sounds like he’ll be keeping your lives interesting! I had my Gremlin for 15 years (from a year old until her death), and she’s still in my heart.

    One textual quibble: Those “alexandrite eyes” have green etc. around the pupil, the colored parts are the iris.

  2. My cat Tobey also has Collapsing Leg Syndrome. It always has to happen right in the middle of a hallway or floor: “Oh no, my leg has collapsed! Pet me, pet me, or I’ll never get better…”

  3. I was raised with dogs, not cats, as my father was allergic to cats. But my then-boyfriend had a cat, a beautiful, dim-bulb but always interesting silver-streaked Persian named Rocky who was not affectionate – until a friend gave me a tiny Burmese kitten named Brae. Then he was jealous, and pushy, until we got him declawed, too (there was an unfortunate incident with a piece of fiber art…) They lived as companions until Rocky died at 12, probably of a stroke or brain tumor.

    Brae lived only 8 years, and took part of my heart with her when she left. When I could bear it, we got another Burmese, a male we named Max for Sendak’s hero. Fierce as a kitten, loving and so patient as an adult. My husband wanted another longhair, so Meg the Birman entered our livers, dainty and following me always.

    When an out of town friend lost a cat, we were assigned Burmese hunting duties. I went out with my Burmese-mad buddy to our crazy breeder (she was a retired RN who raised goats — as in a half-million dollars of breeding stock she sold to Kuwaitis.) But Burmese cats were her luxury when she had nothing, and she still always had a few around. We picked out a female kitten for our absent friend — and somehow, I had a little fellow in my lap who would not leave, it was HIS lap, thank you very much.

    And both of us ended up reserving new kittens. Merlyn was Max’s half-brother and nephew, and it took six months before they were friends. No more declawing; I learned not to worry about furniture or even art objects. His litter-mates have gone ahead, but Merlyn is asleep a few feet from my desk. On the bed in a heated basket, of course.

    Through the long, strange journey I have had, the cats were there for me. Max lived to 18, although I still question if I was right to do subcutaneous fluids for him. Meg has already gone ahead, and Merlyn is 16, my office manager and muse. It will break my heart when he leaves, because I don’t think he’s a personality to sit still for fluids. He’s too energetic. I don’t know what I will do without him.

    But now I have the answer to that. Ursula has shown me that of course, a Burmese will find me. They are and were my Dorian Gray kitties, keeping me young and being young themselves. How empty is a world without cats!

  4. Your garden – backyard is perfect.

    Surely Pard will reach a determination to own it, fly over it, through it, when you are able to sit outdoors again.

    Love, C.

  5. What a fine handsome cat he is! He reminds me of my feral ‘boarder’, Buster, another solidly chunky cat like his housemate Spot (white with black spots on his head). I can tell how much you enjoy him. Aren’t they wonderful?

  6. Thank you, Dave! I knew “iris” was wrong but scribbled it down, and then forgot to change it when I remembered “pupil,” because I was distracted by thinking “alexandrite” ought to be “chrysoberyl,” but I checked that, and it’s OK, alexandrite and chrysoberyl are the same thing, hurray, but by then I’d forgotten about irises and pupils. Ah, how we writers suffer for our art!

  7. Dear Ursula,
    Greetings from Roseville, northern California. It stopped raining here a couple of weeks ago. I hope you have the dry weather now to spend time outdoor with Pard. He is such a neat cat, and has the combined characteristics of our four indoor cats and two outdoor cats (well, not counting the ferals.) The begging ritual is just like our black and white cat Stella. She does the same thing, “I’m hungry. Oh, so hungry. You never feed me. Boo hoo. I’m going to call animal abuse hotline.” But she has learned to open the lid of the pyrex glass container now, so she doesn’t really need us. Still she does the desperate meowing just to make us feeling guilty. I’m writing to you from a computer that doesn’t allow me to access my Facebook to paste a picture of Stella in here for you. But when I get around to it, I’ll introduce you to Stella, Bella, Sierra, and Squid (the indoor gang of four.) Plus Popoki and Hannah (the outdoor cats)… and maybe a picture or two of the raccoons, skunks, possums, and blue jays who all enjoy from time to time the cat food we leave outdoor.
    What took me so long to find you on a blog? I guess it’s because I have read so many of your books and think you live only on the printed pages. Oh well, not too late, I’ll read everything I can find on the site soon. Just want you to know that I really like your translation of Tao Te Ching. Finally, an English translation that does justice to the original!! I read and love the original version in Chinese greatly, and are terribly disappointed in all the translations over the years. Some of them are technically correct in the dry, scholarly way; but none of them has the flow of the original language… probably because none of the translators are poets. You were able to bring about the succinct, lyrical language of the original in clear, fluid English, without bending the words to fit the meaning, nor distorting the meaning in order to make the lines work in English. Bravo! I applaud you. Bravo!
    P.S. I’m so glad you are reading Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal. It’s a shame there are not more outspoken liberals like you and Mr. Krugman. He has a sense of humor too, just like you. I have to tell you this… when I read the interview in the PM Press book The Wild Girls, where you were asked, “Have you ever been attacked by lions?” You wrote, “… recently my ankles underwent a terrifying siege by a bantam rooster at whom I had to kick dirt until he backed off and stood there all puffed up and shouting bad language like a Republican on Fox TV. Who needs lions?” I laughed so hard I fell off the chair.

  8. Pard has grown so quickly! I believe our poor fat calico has lost five pounds since my one-year-old started walking last month. Too bad our baby’s adoration for “kee-kee” is not mutual.

  9. Dear Ursula,
    Because you are one of the few authors I know who can write about cats objectively as well as affectionately, I’d like to share with you a little piece by Sylvia Townsend Warner, which appeared in “The New Yorker” in 1941 but has never been reprinted (I suspect you will see why immediately once you finish it). I was still gasping an hour after I first read it.
    Naturally, no infringement of copyright is intended by sender or recipient.
    “The New Yorker,” Jul 18, 1942
    The Wineshop Cat
    by Sylvia Townsend Warner
    STEPPING with dusky feet on the hot Paris pavement (that evening nearly five years ago now), the Siamese cat came round the corner by the herbalist’s, crossed the road with decision, and began to walk down the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet—to the Montparnasse Cemetery, I presumed. It was closed, but closing hours would mean nothing to a Siamese cat. The dusky paws would bunch together and arrive neatly among the spikes on the top of the wall, for a moment the crooked tail would flick among the overhanging boughs, and an instant later the cat would be alighting on consecrated earth while a few dry leaves, since it was August, would have started on their twirling passage downward. The cat was walking with a stately air of habit. Perhaps this was the hour when it took a sparrow as an aperitif chez BaudeIaire, or perhaps it simply preferred consecrated earth.
    I had never seen a grander Siamese cat. In a way, it was regrettably grand. Had it been a more ordinary cat, I could have followed it and got acquainted with it. But one might as well hope to get acquainted with Phoebus Apollo, I thought, watching it disappear with arrogant leisureliness down that undistinguished Boulevard Edgar-Quinet.
    A few evenings later I saw it again. This time it was sitting in the open doorway of a small wineshop, blandly squinting at the passers-by. It was clear that Phoebus Apollo was at home in his temple. Stepping reverently around the deity, I entered the temple and began buying a bottle of wine.
    The man behind the counter was middle-aged, solid, and swarthy. He was not much interested in my purchase—for that matter, neither was I. Woman or wine, I realized, he was not going to bestir himself on either account. But as I took my bottle and my change, I said, “That’s a very fine cat you’ve got. One can see he’s a pedigreed cat.”
    He whistled, and the cat came in and sprang up on the counter and began to pace to and fro among the bottles. We admired it in silence for some time. The cat was the first to speak, saying “Mraow! Miaow!” in short, commanding monosyllables.
    “He’s thinking of his supper,” said the man.
    “Mraow!” said the cat forcefully. It jumped onto the man’s shoulder and turned around there, rubbing itself against the back of his head. The man thrust his head back against the muscular, sidling caress, and his face assumed the severe look of intense physical pleasure.
    “It’s gratifying to see a cat in such good condition,” I said.
    Balancing his cat on his shoulder, the man walked over to a refrigerator, opened it, and took out a large slice of prime steak. Still silent, he held it across the counter for me to examine. Then he said to the cat, “But you won’t get it yet, you know.”
    He slammed to the door of the refrigerator. With dusky paws the cat began to knead his shoulder in time to its rattling purr and blinked at me. Its eyes, which had reddened at the sight of the meat, were now a clear blue in its pokerwork face, and its purr became more rhythmical and hymnlike. I felt that I had best leave this happy pair to themselves. But suddenly the man leaned forward across the counter. “A cat like this, Madame, is a formidable responsibility. With a cat like this one is compelled to take decisions. It can be painful.”
    “Siamese cats have a great deal of temperament,” I said.
    Launching himself further across the counter, confronting me with his own dark gaze and the cat’s calm, blue squint, he said, “What can one do? I had to have him neutered!”
    “What can one do?” he continued. “As a male, he was a misery. He wouldn’t eat, he wouldn’t thrive, he was away for days on end, infatuated with all the worthless she-cats of the quarter. He came back starving, dirty, wet to the skin, disfigured with bites and scratches, looking an object. Besides, his voice was loud, and people threw things at him.”
    The cat poured itself off his shoulder like a caramel and sat down on the counter, gazing devotedly at the refrigerator.
    “What is one to do? One cannot imprison a cat; it is against nature. Equally, one cannot wander all night on the housetops pursuing it.”
    “You could not find him a companion?”
    “Madame, as you know, these cats are opinionated. He would not domesticate himself. Instead, he took up with the most frightful females. I was in horrors, thinking how they might infect him with filthy diseases.” His tone became so deeply moral that I felt my expression becoming deeply moral too.
    “Mange!” he exclaimed, and I shuddered.
    “Look at him now,” said the man. “He is superb. One would say he has never regretted his virility.”
    “There are other pleasures in life, “ I replied. “And on the whole I think we make too much fuss about sex.”
    “Very probably. Yet there are times when my mind misgives me, when I ask myself if I was justified. One cannot deny it. I have robbed him of a joy.”
    ‘You have robbed him of a great deal of uneasiness, too, and loss of dignity,” I remarked firmly. “It is my belief, and I have studied cats pretty extensively, that what ultimately means most to a cat is to be the center of consideration. It is the only thing about which they never become cynical and disillusioned.”
    The man nodded. His impulse of confidence was over, he was settling back into his solid, swarthy reserve. “One is compelled to take decisions. It can be very painful.”
    “Do not think so much of the past,” I urged him. “Think of the present.”

    Thinking of the present, I recall the pair of them. For some time now cat flesh has fetched high prices in the Paris market. But I am sure of this: if anyone ate that Siamese cat, it was his master. And I am sure of another thing: that the cat, when he killed it, was still in good condition. It had not guttered into scabby starvation before the decision was attained and acted upon. Later in the day, it seems certain to me, the man must have gotten on his bicycle and ridden off, silent and catlike, but with a small uncatlike weight against his thigh. Some evening or other that cat has been avenged—or will be. For he was that kind of man, and loved after that fashion.