Suspecting the role of being the mother of two cats was no harder than being the mother of one, I took the tiny spitting, clawing, bundle of fur. We named him Oswald after a young doctor I worked with who shared the same expression of perpetual surprise on his face.
“Ozzy’s yelling at you. You stood on his tail.”
“Oh, sorry Ozzy.”
“Missed Ozzy by inches tonight,” my husband would say after he drove into the garage after work.
I would laugh. “He’s slick, but you’ll get another chance tomorrow.”
But Ozzy was never hit by a car and he was never sick. He was the roughest, toughest cat in the neighbourhood, and unfortunately he was very pretty. Visiting children wanted to pet him. He wanted to be petted but he bit them if they didn’t give exactly the right pats in exactly the right places. Kids don’t. In the popularity stakes, he came last in our house. I loved Tamkara, and my children wanted a dog.
Finally, a beagle moved into the neighbourhood and he patrolled the streets at the same time every day, late afternoon, when all the kids were home after school. We called him Benji, but I don’t know why. It might even have been his name. My children used to watch out for him and save snacks because the dog always looked hungry. Naturally, we presumed his parents didn’t feed him – until we discovered that he begged at everyone’s property on his way around the district. To my children’s disappointment, despite being inveigled, he never entered our property, though he hesitated outside after a good glance around.
One of my neighbours said, “That Benji is a terrible cat-chaser. My cats hide when he’s coming up the street.”
My cats didn’t. Ozzy sat by the front fence and casually watched him pass. ‘Weird,’ I thought. I had to assume he’d had a territorial dispute with Benji Dog, which had been settled in Ozzy’s favour. Disputes with him invariably were.
During the year, the novelty of the scavenging dog wore off for my children. We’d realised he was nothing but a user and he was getting rather portly.
One Saturday, my husband decided to help me weed the front garden. We saw Benji trot up the hill, stopping off for snacks, chasing unwary sleeping cats, and having a rollicking good time. Ozzy was lying along a branch in the verge tree, watching us work. Benji approached, glanced around, spotted no cat, knew he’d get no food, and prepared to move on to his next dupe.
Ozzy stirred in the tree. I swear, he looked at me and winked. He stood on the branch, yawned, stretched his back, and waited for Benji to pass underneath. Then, he sailed though the air onto the dog’s back. And off again, like a circus acrobat bouncing on and off a horse. Benji leaped into the air yelping. When he landed, he ran up the hill. I’ve never see a portly dog run as fast as Benji did that day.
My husband and I laughed for a very long time. I patted Ozzy, he bumped his feline teeth against my shin, tangled his body in an unbalancing figure eight around my legs, and managed to ‘lovingly’ bite my big toe. Sigh. Forever unlovable, but forever a legend.
Benji never again walked past our house. He crossed the street at the property next door.
I got used to Ozzy and his attempts to appeal. I realised that despite his face, he was never surprised, and he wasn’t really mean. He just didn’t have the charm a cat requires. Other adorable cats came and went, and awkward Ozzy lived until he was sixteen, afraid of nothing and no one.
Even my husband, a confirmed cat-ignorer, had a tear in his eye when Ozzy finally died.