I have never been keen on the prospect of owning or living with a cat. Generally speaking, cats leave me alternately nervous and annoyed. Anything with claws and sharp teeth and an ill-developed sense of loyalty is something I'd rather leave outside.
That's why it was weird to move in with Dusty last March. Neither of us wanted it this way, but we were sharing someone, and it was unavoidable. We pretended to ignore each other, each of us obviously feeling that a ridiculous compromise was being made somehow, and that surely this situation wouldn't last.
Eventually, he learned to accept me as an occasional substitute for his primary owner, usurping my lap and begging me for food. I learned to accept the eradication of cat hair as my new goal in life, and slowly began to take more than a passing interest in Dusty's welfare.
I would sometimes jokingly complain that Dusty does absolutely nothing around the house, and the defense was usually this: "He's fuzzy 24 hours a day. He wakes up and he's fuzzy, and all day he's fuzzy and when we go to bed he's fuzzy. He never stops being fuzzy."
Hard to argue with that one.
So we had achieved a nice stasis, but I didn't realize the extent of my affection for Dusty until I noticed one evening (with surprising swiftness) that he had disappeared. At first it seemed maybe he was chilling in a hiding place somewhere in the apartment -- but by dinnertime, the cat was nowhere to be found and it had been too long. We looked. We called. We peered out the windows, into the dark backyards behind our building. He was gone, leaving only puffs of hair in his wake.
It was around this time that I also noticed two cats -- one in the window next door and one in the yard below us -- were both staring intently at us, as we stared intently outside trying to locate Dusty. The yard cat was especially ominous: He sat, stock still and luminous in the moonlight, just... staring. It created the sense that Dusty had been kidnapped, and these cats had something to do with it.
It doesn't make me proud to admit that there was a time when this scenario would have been my dream come true: freedom from cat offal, and no blood on my hands. "How old is Dusty?" I had asked at the beginning of our acquaintance. The answer had been disappointing. "He's six -- he's going to be around for a loonnng time."
Now that I'd gotten used to the little hairball, I found myself worried and unhappy, even more so when we heard terrifying catfight sounds at 5:00 the morning after Dusty disappeared. Was he injured? What if he got picked up by someone else? Would he ever come home?
Our investigations turned toward the Pork Store. The Pork Store is a restaurant that, despite its coarse name, is wildly popular here in San Francisco. Up until now, the only noticeable things about living near the Pork Store were the line on the street at breakfast time on weekends, and hearing the phrase "Nelson!! More biscuits please!!" shouted incessantly into the air shaft outside our bathroom window.
I banged on the door after closing time the day after Dusty disappeared, since the catfight sounds had emanated from the cafe's backyard. The famous Nelson let me in. I resisted the urge to ask him for biscuits and explained about the cat. He thought I was crazy, but let me look.
For such a little restaurant, the Pork Store had a suprisingly extensive laybrinth behind it. I walked around a corner, through two small rooms and up some stairs before I got to the backyard, which was strewn with debris and weeds. I braced myself for a Dusty carcass, but found none. There were two other alleyways, but they were too quiet and creepy for me to venture down. "Dusty?" I called. No answer.
We spent another lonely night with no clicking claws on the floor.
The next morning I got a call at work. A second visit to the Pork Store had proved fruitful. Dusty had been found sitting under some stairs in one of the back alleys, meowing and unharmed. He was eventually coaxed back home.
We will never know what compelled our usually unadventurous friend to desert us, or how exactly he made it downstairs. The most likely way was out the bathroom window and down the garbage chute. The fact that he pulled off a move so bold, and managed to survive it, gave me a newfound respect for him. It made me wonder if... if I ever knew Dusty at all. How well can we ever know the creatures we live with?
He doesn't seem all that psyched to be home, and it's hard not to feel a bit slighted. "Isn't it better to be here? With food and a litter box and a clean blanket?" I asked him. He just twitched his tail and gave me an aloof glance. I guess the Pork Store really is popular.