Smudge avec Gargoyle
By Hank Parmer
Smudge, unlike the rest of our feline overlords, wasn't so much a foundling as a visitor who never left: There was a really bad cold snap that winter, fifteen years ago, and the guy who lived in the little house behind us at the time needed to bring his dogs inside. They were large dogs, not used to cats, so he was worried they might kill this kitten which, if I recall correctly, he was (sort of) looking after. He asked us to keep her for a few days, until the dogs could stay outside again.
I think he was probably well aware what he was doing: He knew we already had one cat -- Puck, the Van cat -- and really, as if anyone could have a devastatingly cute, feisty and affectionate two-month-old salt-and-pepper calico kitten with the most amazing green eyes around for a few days and not fall head-over-heels in love with it. He certainly didn't object to our keeping her. Somewhere among all the photos I haven't gotten around to scanning yet there's one of her comfortably perched on my shoulder, while I'm sitting at the computer. (I am fairly broad-shouldered, but this should still give you an idea how tiny a thing she was.)
Puck, who was well into his middle years by then, accepted her immediately. But of course, he was the friendliest, sweetest-natured feline I've ever known, incredibly tolerant of this manic ball of fur who would come streaking out of hiding with such gleeful ferocity she'd bowl him right over. Until he pinned her down with a foreleg and started grooming her, while she wriggled and protested. Yeah, I know: too damn cute for their own good. If I could have caught them on video, it probably would have garnered millions of hits on YouTube by now.
Smudge wasn't a big cat; she never weighed more than 8 or 9 pounds. In contrast to her outgoing kitten personality, as an adult she was occasionally affectionate, but mostly rather aloof and self-contained, with a real knack for finding the most unlikely places to take a nap, often way up on top of something. (Or, if she wasn't in a mood to cooperate, in some inaccessible corner of our cluttered house.) Many's the time I would be in a room, thinking I was alone, and then slowly come to realize I was being scrutinized from some high vantage by a pair of cool green eyes. Every cat knows it's the center of the universe, but I've never met another who exuded so much quiet confidence in the fact. She was the Empress of all she surveyed, far too dignified to wish to amuse her humans with cute cat tricks.
She was also the stubbornest cat of my acquaintance. When Fred, the big Maine Coon, joined our household, once again Puck was happy to have a new friend, and they got along famously. Smudge, however, instantly decided he was the essence of evil. For the rest of her life, she bullied him mercilessly.
If you ever met Fred, you'd know as well as I he could have done nothing to directly provoke this; as far as I could ever determine, she simply resented the fact of his existence. Sometimes she would pause while crossing the room, then with no warning at all dart over to the poor guy where he was curled up deep in slumber, and hiss and smack him on the nose. I guess she felt he deserved a whack, just on general principles. All he'd do is blink at her sleepily, with this "What'd I do?" expression. In fact, never once did I see this low-slung bruiser of a cat -- who weighed nearly twice as much as his tormentor -- retaliate against the little termagant. She had him completely buffaloed, .
And it really was personal; when several years later two more half-grown kittens found a home with us, about a year apart, Smudge just ignored them so long as they didn't pester her. She even allowed them to sleep with her on the waterbed -- if they maintained a respectful distance -- which was something she never permitted Fred.
For a frail, diabetic 15-year-old cat who had to have insulin twice a day -- that is, if she deigned to appear at injection time -- she was in fairly good health up until the last. I won't go into the details of what forced us to have her put to sleep, just that the onset was shockingly sudden, and we were there with her when what had to be done was done.
Like all her clan, she was a unique, often endearing and at times frustrating creature. Things just aren't the same, without this cantankerous gremlin who I suspect was a grande dame in some former life, as well as this one.