The Missing

Every woman needs a really mean cat who adores her. The kind of cat that when the vet sees him coming, he pulls on elbow length leather gloves like he’s about to wrestle an alligator. The kind of cat who has a big red sticker on his medical file that says, “Caution: I bite.”Mine was Alexis, a big gray Persian mix. He hated everyone who wasn’t me, a category that not surprisingly includes a lot of people. Alexis also hated to have his toes touched, so when my brother Don visited I warned him, but he touched a toe and said, “You mean like this?”

Next thing Don knew, Alexis lunged for his arm, and sank in both claws and teeth.

“Alexis, it’s okay,” I cried out, peeling my cat off my brother’s bloody arm. With no trace of sympathy I said, “See, I warned you.”

“I know,” my brother said. “But I thought he’d just swat my hand, not try to take it off.”

Alexis and I shared my home during one of the darkest times of my life. So dark it wasn’t even a blue period, but more like a jet-black period. It was the first anniversary of my divorce and I was lonely and suffering from a herniated disk, and to top it off, it was New Year’s Eve and I was home with the flu. Even my regular New Year’s Eve date, Guy Lombardo, was a no show. Sure, it’s because he died, but still, he wasn’t there.

I opened my medicine cabinet and contemplated the many bottles of hydrocodone I’d acquired since my back problem and wondered how many pills I’d need to permanently check out. I poured the meds into my hand and counted over fifty when one of them fell onto the bathroom floor.

Hearing the ping, Alexis pounced on it, batting it back and forth off the bathtub and the vanity. His whiskers twitched, his ears pointed forward and his teeth chattered with that excited “Waca Waca” sound he makes when he sees a bird. He was having the time of his life with the instrument of my demise.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I wrestled the pill from his paws and flushed it, and he rubbed my legs hoping I’d drop another toy for him to play with. I picked up all 16 pounds of him and said to myself, What was I thinking? If I were gone, no one would want my mean cat. So for Alexis’ sake, I flushed the rest of the pills. I know now that you’re not supposed to do that, but at the time a lot of fishys had no back pain.

Just before midnight, I crawled into bed and Alexis tucked himself under my arm with his head on my pillow. I heard distant fireworks ringing in the New Year, but they weren’t nearly as loud as Alexis’ purring. And if cats could smile, he was smiling. If cats could talk, he would say, “Happy New Year, Mom. I’m glad you’re here.

“Just don’t touch my toes.”