A kitten came to us in January 2008, on what was one of the coldest nights of the year, in a manner that we would later learn was indicative of his personality: He snuck into our garage, walked up to the door to our kitchen, and meowed loudly to be let in. Athena was the first to hear him meow; she told Krissy, who did an inventory of our resident cats, all of whom were accounted for. The two of them opened the door, and there was the kitten, hungry and cold and indignant about both of those facts.
I found out about all of this when I was called downstairs and saw the two of them staring at the kitten, which they had placed on our kitchen table, along with a bowl of kibble, into which he was avidly snorkeling, purring as he did so. It was made clear to me we had a new pet. I didn’t fight the decision. What I did do was put him into my office for the night, along with a cat box, to see if he knew how to use one. I stayed with him, sleeping on the office floor (much to the disapproval of my back), waking up every now and then to check on his progress. Turned out he could use a cat box just fine. A few days later, after inquires to neighbors to see if anyone was missing a cat, and a trip to the vet, the kitten, who we had been calling Temp Cat™, became permanent, and given an official name: Zeus.
Zeus was, in a word, rambunctious. He’d jump up on the fridge and patrol the top of the upper kitchen shelves; he’d tear around the house; he’d try to drink my hot chocolate and then get deeply offended when I’d tell him that hot chocolate was not for cats. He enjoyed burrowing under the covers to bite the toes he’d find there; on one memorable occasion he got more ambitious than that and bit my ass. He quickly learned that there were some body parts one should not bite, for all sorts of reasons. In time he stopped burrowing under the sheets, but he never stopped pawing me awake at 3 am to be let out of the house on inscrutable cat business: paw, paw, and then, if the pawing didn’t work, a single scrape of a claw between the shoulder blades. He was kind a jerk, Zeus was.
With the arrival of Zeus, we had what we thought of as the original trio of Scalzi Bradford Cats: Lopsided Cat, who arrived first by coming out of woods and hopping on the back of a toddler Athena, Ghlaghghee, who arrived when our neighbor came by, said “here’s your cat,” and gave me a tiny kitten, and then Zeus (Rex, who came with us when we arrived in Bradford, stood aloof from the other cats and passed before Zeus came on the scene). The three of them made a good team: Lopsided Cat was the no-nonsense father figure of the cats, Ghlaghghgee the dainty princess cat, and Zeus the furry chaos engine. The three of their personalities are so memorable, in fact, that I immortalized them in my novel Fuzzy Nation, where Lopsided Cat became Papa Fuzzy, Ghlaghghee was Baby Fuzzy, and Zeus was Pinto. If you read that book, you’ve met this trio of cats.
Time passes, as it does, and both Ghlaghghee and Lopsided Cat went away, and in their place currently are Sugar and Spice and Smudge, a new trio in our minds. Zeus, no longer the chaos cat (Smudge fills that role, amply), found himself in the role of the Senior Cat, keeping the younger trio in line. I think at first he was annoyed that the job fell to him — it was not, shall we say, his natural métier — but in time he warmed to it, particularly in regard to Smudge, who like him was a tuxedo cat, and who he enjoyed smacking around. It was fun to watch the two of them go after each other; we called them the “Tusslin’ Tuxedo Brothers” and would occasionally capture their battles on video.
Athena also noted to me that Zeus was the only cat who knew all three of our dogs: Kodi, Daisy and now Charlie. Zeus liked Kodi the best, I think, and would cuddle up to her from time to time. He treated Daisy as a respected colleague in the firm of Scalzi Pets, LLC. He tolerated Charlie, and was not above reminding her of her place in the pet hierarchy (i.e., the new hire) with an occasional bat of the nose.
All of which is to say that of all the Scalzi pets, Zeus spanned eras in the bottle universe of the Scalzis, not just of pets but of people as well. In the fourteen years that Zeus stayed with us, so much changed for us, and he walked through it all, doing his thing, being his particular brand of cat. Which was: Kind of a pain in the ass (sometimes literally, as noted above), but always in the middle of everything, the constant black and white thread in the Scalzi family tapestry.
Over the last few months age had been catching up to Zeus, and he’d become slower and quieter, and — this was a surprise — more affectionate. Most of his life, Zeus would tolerate being petted only in certain ways (scritching behind the ears) and only by certain people (Krissy and occasionally me). Everything and everyone else would be met with loud and indignant protest that his personhood was being violated so. But in the last few months he would come up to all three of the Scalzi humans and plop right down and accept being petted, and not just in one or two specific places, or for very short durations. We enjoyed this. We also knew it was one of several indications that Zeus’ time with us was shortening and would soon end.
Which it did, in the small hours of this morning. Last night Athena heard Zeus meowing lowly in the other room. Like we did fourteen years ago, we all came to him to be with him and to watch him. Like I did fourteen years ago, I stayed the night with him, lying with him on the floor so he wouldn’t be alone. This morning, we took him to his final resting place, underneath the same backyard tree where Lopsided Cat and Ghlaghghee lay, their trio finally and forever reunited.
Another era has passed in the Scalzi family timeline. Athena noted that Zeus was the last of her childhood pets, and that it made her sad. I agreed, it was sad, here in the moment. I also told her that Zeus’ life was a success story, and that success was because of her. He lived a whole life, loved and safe and cared for, and all of that was because, on one cold night in January, she had heard him call, and opened our door.
Another era has passed, with a circularity that I can’t feel is coincidence. Zeus called to us in the beginning, to let him in. He called to us at the end, to let him move on. We answered him both times. What was in between was everything.