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We had no intention of adopting them.  We were in the Centinela Pet and Feed in Santa Monica and cat adoptions were in progress.  The adoption folk were leery of letting two black cats go so close to Halloween. What struck us most about these little kittens was their calm, and their beauty.  Man, they were beautiful.  For years, we called them super-model of cats.  They sat at the door of their cage and watched everyone and everything passing by with the greatest curiosity. Other rescues were cowering, but not these two.  

(I don't have pictures of them as kittens so this slightly older view will have to suffice.)

It was a cover. They did the craziest things. We named them Monk and Mingus.  Those were the names that came to me and what I went with. We could only differentiate them by the size of the white markings on their chest: Monk's was much bigger than Mingus's. I said they were crazy.  We came to learn that Mingus would try to eat plastic and Monk would bite cords, power cords, USB cords, any cords. Maybe the current inside attracted him.

Monk seemed the stronger of the pair, the better jumper, the more agile. Mingus has always been a little clumsy.

They always wanted to be around us, following us from room to room. When I went upstairs to read, a short time later, the door was be nudged open and Monk would come in.  He might investigate the reading room a bit.  He might spend some time on a desk looking out the window.  But then he always jumped into my lap.  

Nothing better than a cat purring on your lap. Then napping. What trust in his human to fall asleep and stay asleep, secure that he was safe.

The dog owners describe the adventures they've gone on with their animals, running along a golf course at dusk, tossing a ball at the beach. Monk and Mingus were indoor cats. I have no great adventures to report. Except for brief forays a few feet from our doorstep in a closed courtyard, the only time they went outside was in their cat carriers on the way to the vet. And how they would complain! I once called my wife and when I got her voicemail, all I did was hold up to the phone and leave a message of their wailing. They did not like the confinement.

The days roll by.  The months.  The years. Our life is pattern and recurrence. I go to work.  I come home.  We eat dinner and they expect to be given food from our plates.  Our food is their food. We let them on the table while we dine (oh I know some of you will cringe at this). We didn't at first. We tried using water guns or shaking soda cans full of pennies to frighten them off.  All it did was make them wary and less friendly. So we stopped. Whatever they wanted to do, wherever they wanted to go, we let them. It is they who run the house. I'm only glad they have no opposable thumbs and can't take over the television remote, because we'd probably find ourselves watching Animal Planet exclusively (and reruns of The Real Cats of Beverly Hills).

The days roll by.  The months.  The years.  We watch television after dinner. Monk goes high up on the cat tree, 7 feet above us, looking down. I go to sleep early and as I prepare, both boys come upstairs for the "food game." Mingus jumps into the bathtub and waits for me to throw food which he chases around the white porcelain. Monk is more reserved.  He climbs up on the vanity, settles down and waits for me to place a pellet of dry food in front of him.  Then another and another, until the little paper cup which has his nightly ration is done. Food gone, he departs, sometimes for the hammock by the window where he watches the alley, sometime for my reading chair in the back bedroom.

Eventually both them come to sleep with us, Mingus at my wife's knees and Monk on the pillow by her head. Monk most often wakes us at 4:30 A.M. with a cry to announce himself and a blast of hot cat breath in the face. If only we truly understood his language.

There's always so much left out.  Play sessions with a cat teaser where Monk would jump two feet in the air and flip over trying to get the flying bird.  Frantic, antic runs up and down the stairs for no reason. Monk in the downstairs bathroom meowing: He wants me to run the tap so he can drink directly from the faucet. (We have a $60 cat fountain which he disdains -- at least Mingus uses it). His runs through a pair of blue plastic tunnels. His delight in playing in shopping bags. His magnificent runs through the downstairs where he launches himself onto the ottoman and from there a leap on top of a tall CD cabinet as high as his cat tree. Maybe this is all like new parents talking about their baby, as if their baby is the unique in the world, but I remember all these things about him that amazed me: using a laser pointer with him and how quickly he figured out the source of the red dot. How he figured out how doors open and actually stood on his hind legs using both paws to try to turn the door handle. I remember how he pushed cat toys underneath the entertainment center where they would disappear for months. I remember how he jumped on the bed when we were trying to change the sheets.  I remember how he always planted himself on top of the newspaper when I was reading, as if to say, Stop reading and pay attention to me!

Around Christmas this year, Monk seemed to be limping, as if something hurt his back legs. We watched him, probably not as closely as we should have.  By New Years, it suddenly came to us that he was thin, skinny in fact.  When had this happened?  We have a cat scale.  We weighed him.  He had lost 2 pounds from his last vet visit only three months before.

The vet found a giant tumor on his spleen and though she was upbeat about his possibilities for recovery, the imaging report came back with the words "probable hemangiosarcoma." He had the tumor removed.  He came back to us wearing a little elastic sleeve so he wouldn't bother the incision along with his Jacob's collar that he seemed to accept.  We brushed him.  We massaged his neck where the collar most closely rubbed him. He got better, eating, drinking, using the litter box.  He even tried doing some jumps though we discouraged that.

Probable hemangiosarcoma became definite hemangiosarcoma. The internet is rife with stories of cats who have lived a couple of years with this cancer. But most studies say that 19 to 45 days after surgery is the range.

This morning he was at 35, and going downhill fast.

Sometime after the surgery, he developed non-regenerative anemia. He's been getting weaker and weaker.  He takes a step or two and flops down, and even that seems painful. He's eating just a little bit, drinking only a little bit too. We put the bowl in front of him and hold them at the best angle until he's done. It's never long enough.

How do you know when the time is the time?  It's the time.  We're taking him in four hours from now, and unless the vet says there's a way for him to rally, I don't think he'll be coming home.

I'm a romantic -- I celebrate the anniversary of my first date with my wife, the anniversary of our moving in together, the anniversary of our wedding -- but I'm not a sentimentalist. Still, I can't believe how much I'm attached to this little black cat and his brother.

I spent a little time alone with him this morning and he butted my head.  I rubbed his head.  I stroked his cheeks. I told him I loved though I'm sure he's no better at understanding my language than I his.  

*  *  *

He went very fast and very peaceably. Not even a reaction when the vet injected the first sedative.  He lay there with his eyes wide open as he were resting and still watching us.  10 seconds after the second injection, his heart stopped and he was gone. We were petting him. We told him what a good boy he was.

He was a good boy.  I'll miss him so.

Little Black Shadow
            --For Monk 2001-2014

The door would open
as if by itself.
First a circle
about the reading room

only to leap
against the window
chattering toward
the prey outside.

He is sleeping now
in the place they all go
when they leave us.
Dreaming of birds under claw.

4:08 PM PT: Thanks for the sentiments everyone, and the recs. It helped my wife and I to write something about him. The loss is very fresh, and it's hard to believe how much it hurts.

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