|Both photos of Parker taken by my photographer friend, Dave Bushell|
Ten years ago my youngest daughter came home to regroup and get her feet back under her. She brought her cat, Parker, with her and immediately he became an honorary member of the farm next door. He loved this place - the wide expanse of green meadows, the surrounding woods, the chicken houses beneath which rats dwelt, the other cats, all but the one male called Fluffers. Fluffers was a Maine Coon cat as was Parker, a gentle breed, all long gray fluff, big green eyes and sweet disposition. The two fought but not often and not to the death. When Fluffers passed on, Parker became the dominant cat and acted every inch the King of his Domain.
When Daughter found a job and a new dwelling on a busy main street, she asked if Parker could stay with me rather than force him to become an indoor cat. I was only too happy to have a grandcat. He would be miserable without his woods and fields, his freedom and his harem. We slid into an easy routine. He spent most nights out of doors hunting with one of the farm cats. If the weather was nasty he slept in the hay barn near the sheep. When it was clear, he slept on the farmer's porch, curled in a gray ball on one of their cushioned outdoor chairs. If it was raining in the morning, he would lay just inside the door of a hay-filled old doghouse set on the hill behind the house just for him, watching and waiting for me to waken. The moment he heard me in the kitchen he made a beeline for the front door.
As Parker aged, he took to climbing into my lap whenever I sat down to read or watch the news. If I was out of doors, he sat on my lap while I ate dinner on the patio or napped on the outdoor swing. He loved to curl up behind my knees when I went to sleep at night but not before lying on my chest, his eyes gazing into mine as I scratched behind his ears and rubbed his velvety nose. I would talk, first about him, what a good cat he was and how handsome and sweet. Then I'd tell him about my day, about things I was thinking and feeling. He'd build up a mighty purr and roll over for a belly rub. There was nothing that a good belly rub could not fix. He still insisted on going out at night but not until four a.m. when I would crawl out of bed in the dark and open the door.
When I took trips to see my children and the grands he would climb into the open suitcase on my bed as if to say, not without me you don't! On the day of departure he'd turn his back on me and huff off. "Mind the house. I'll be back," I'd call to his departing form. When I returned, he'd curl around my legs and trip me up until I picked him up and assured him I loved him and would always come back. The morning I left for Daughter's wedding, he gave me his customary stink eye and strolled off toward the farm. "I'll be back," I called as I dragged my suitcase to the car. He never even turned his head.
Five days later, I wasn't back home for more than a few minutes when the phone rang. It was J from the farm and her voice didn't sound right. "I hate to tell you this," she began, "but Parker's been missing since Friday." She hurried on, "Of course, that's only two days ago and he could show up at any minute. It's been awfully hot. Maybe he's just gone into the woods to cool off. I checked with the neighbors but nobody's seen him. I'm sorry."
I launched a systematic search. I checked with the nearest neighbors to see if he'd gone into a garage and gotten trapped. That had happened once before and it was three days before he was able to get out. I tromped the woods and fields where he loved to roam, calling his name. I rode my bicycle a mile in either direction of the cottage, checking the roadsides. Nothing. No cat, no tell tale scent of decay. Nothing. No deliveries had been made in my absence, though the idea of his climbing into a vehicle seemed ludicrous. Parker hated being in the car. J and I discussed the possibilities. We live in an area that supports foxes, large owls, and hungry hawks. J has lost chickens to all three. Parker was big and gray and bunny-like. He was an older cat, going on 13 and growing thin. Though his last vet checkup hadn't indicated any problems, I'd noticed that he was losing weight. He'd thrown up on my bed while I was gone. Perhaps he'd just gone into the woods to die. The loneliness of that thought undid me.
It's been two weeks now. Every morning I check the doorstep but Parker isn't there. I look up while reading a book, thinking I see him on the lawn but it's only one of the farm cats. I hear a cry and run to see but it isn't him. My imagination puts him in his favorite places - the front step, the outdoor swing, the chair on J's porch, the foot of my bed. I wake in the night, thinking I feel his weight on the blankets. I weep.
I haven't given up hope that he'll return but every day that passes makes it seem less likely. If you see my big ol' Parker kitty, tell him to come on home.