When Elinor came downstairs in the morning, Grandpere was stretched out on the kitchen floor, lying in a pool of urine. The cat had received his name in infancy 16 years earlier, his patriarchal bearing obvious even then.
“Damn,” Elinor whispered, lifting him under his front legs and reaching for a rag. She cleaned him and set him down gently. His hind legs slid out from under him, confirming her fear that this was the beginning of the end.
“Oh, Perie,” she crooned, moving the long black length of him to his favorite spot, a square of quilt on the kitchen floor. His paws and whiskers still glowed white; the pads of his feet still the pink of youth. Grandpere and his mistress sighed together.
Sixteen years. He’d been the family’s first shelter adoption. Elinor had gone to the humane society alone, leaving her excited children and unashamedly equally excited husband at home to await the arrival of what would become the first of many cats. Remembering the cats of her childhood, she had in mind a longhair in a ginger color, or smoky shades of grey, perhaps—maybe even a pastel calico if such a beauty could actually find itself homeless. She was unprepared for the sheer numbers of cats at the shelter, the cold steel of their cages, the desperate cries of some and the withdrawn hopelessness of others.
Elinor passed an hour at the shelter, no closer to choosing a cat than when she’d arrived. A sign she hadn’t noticed before warned against touching the cats and spreading disease. She realized she had touched dozens of cats, going from cage to cage and spreading who knows what. She spotted an attendant and opened her mouth to ask where she might wash her hands. But what came out was, “Could you please open that cage?” The attendant did so, and out flew a sleek black cat with white feet and the longest white whiskers. Her first impression was that he was so incredibly clean. Overshadowing that in a split second was the connection he had created between them. In her arms was every cat she had ever wanted.
Wiping up the puddle on the floor, Elinor remembered how she had brought the cat carrier up to Keith’s office in the attic that day, for what he’d called “the unveiling.” Keith opened the carrier’s door, and smiled as the cat stepped out confidently, aware of Keith’s approval even before he spoke. “You’re a handsome fellow,” he said in the British accent that clung even after all the years in Massachusetts. “Welcome to the family.”
The attic. Elinor dropped the paper towel into the garbage and stood at the sink, letting warm water run over her hands as she thought about the daunting task ahead of her. It was an old thought. She had noticed Keith’s first symptoms of memory loss in that office, and had tried to talk to him about it there, so many times. Later, she had looked over his shoulder at his unintelligible writings, had watched, tearful, his frustrated efforts to remember how to boot up the computer he’d once programmed.
As Keith’s condition deteriorated, he spent more and more time in the attic. He was gone now, laundered and sanitized in the pink-and-white nursing home, but the attic, still untouched eight months later, reflected the state of a mind in pieces.