Callie's Gone

Waiting at the Rainbow Bridge

JHFarr

WE DID THE DEED LAST TUESDAY. We never had a cat like that and never will again. Dr. Sides at Salazar Veterinary Clinic was extraordinarily kind and understanding, giving us “a little more time” so much that I lost count. Her assistant even put a soft warm blanket down for Callie to lie on. They used that to gently wrap her up when it was over. We needed the extra time. I couldn’t believe we had to do that, I just couldn’t, but she was down to less than half her healthy weight and there was finally no question.

I’ll tell you what I can about the origins of Callie the Wonder Cat. At the time we got acquainted with her, my wife was renting a “rustic” owner-built studio next door heated by a tiny wood stove. There were several other structures on the property, no doubt hippie heaven in the ’60s, now devolved to hippie hell. Callie was one of half a dozen cats nominally owned by an idiot alcoholic and his wife who rented a battered single-wide across a driveway on the other side of the studio property. She and her siblings weren’t allowed into the trailer and simply lived outside the best they could, even in the winter. The fellow used to “feed” them by scattering kibble from his front steps as if the cats were chickens.

My wife took note of Callie and started putting food out. I poked around and discovered that the cat was sleeping in a shed full of junk behind the studio. The door was hanging off its hinges and couldn’t be closed. All the way in the back corner was a discarded office chair. One cold morning when I peeked inside, there was Callie, curled up in the chair! It was so packed in with trash, I couldn’t reach it, but that was where she stayed.

Anyway, we fed her, or rather my wife did, so she wouldn’t have to grub for kibble in the dirt. The next step was getting her to give up the old shack and come inside the studio—she was very shy and wild—but eventually we realized we simply had to grab her every evening and lock her up inside. (This got easier over time.) Late at night, after my wife had gone to bed, I’d walk up the frozen driveway crunching on the ice and snow, go inside the studio, and build a fire for the cat… I’d pull a rocking chair next to the stove, set her in it on a cushion, and make a little blanket tent that covered her completely. In the morning when we opened up the studio and built a morning fire, she’d still be in the chair.

The reason we didn’t simply take her home was that she wasn’t ours. Also, we already had a cat. That would be Hobbes the Wonder Cat who came with us from Maryland in ’99. We knew from grim experience that he could never get along with other cats and weren’t about to try just yet. (That did happen later, and we’ll get there in the next installment.) So we handled this the best we could.

I should mention that the owner of the property in question semi-lived there at the time. She and her partner, both archetypal older freaks who kept their money in the mattress, so to speak, and never did a legal, normal thing if they could help it (“just hire a Mexican”), were building another totally off-code outlaw empire high up in a nearby canyon in a gorgeous spot they must have lied or killed to buy. They loved it, though, and had a sincere mystical appreciation for the beauty and the wildlife. We were even friends for quite a while, although I haven’t spoken to either of them in years. At any rate, she was something of a hippie priestess. (Eye-roll emoticon needed here.) Perhaps “enforcer” is a better word. She always knew what tribal curse or blessing to bestow and how we were to do things. She’d also noticed the hungry cats that came around from next door and would set out a giant bowl of Walmart kibble beside the studio in the evening. The cats showed up, all right, and so did a family of skunks. Soon the cats had run away to do the chicken thing again, and we’d see what must have been a dozen skunks at once. All sizes!

It wasn’t hard to tell that my wife had more or less adopted Callie, and she noticed that as well. She told us how the drunken neighbor and his wife had brought the litter down from San Luis, Colorado and how much they loved their cats. Oh, sure. But she at least had named “our” cat and called her “Kali”… (I hope that rings a bell and you are thinking, “Oh my God so Taos!”) We misunderstood at first and thought she meant her calico color, so we heard the name as “Callie.” At any rate, when it was finally understood that we’d basically just stolen Callie, she glared and said,”She was his favorite!”

Ahem.

Fed like chickens.

Sleeping in the trash.

Every time I think of that and what she said, I toss a “Fuck you, lady” up the canyon. I know she meant well, but it’s all too much, and she’s still of this Earth with many friends so I am probably a dead man. Never mind, though, she could just as easily be gone with someone cashing all her checks. It’s that kind of situation here among the outlaws, very Taos, of a sort that recent new arrivals can’t imagine, and all we want to do is be long gone. Too bad Callie isn’t here to move out with us.

I just heard a scrabbling in the kitchen and thought she was in the cat box. Perhaps it’s the water heater or the fridge. Maybe I should take a bath and go to bed.

Originally published 12/7/19.