Thursday, 11 April 2013


As soon as the phone rang I knew something was amiss. Picking up the receiver, no voice could be heard, though I could sense the caller was doing his best to say an essential greeting. He tried again but a frustrated breath would only offer silence.  

Of course, the instant the phone rang, I recognized the caller. For some reason I just knew. I spoke softly into the receiver and said: don’t worry Uncle Gnarley, we’ll be right there.

Can a phone ring with urgency?  Is telepathy possible through the sheer force of one trying to reach out to another? 

These were the questions I pondered as my SUV hit the pavement in the direction of the Southern Shore. 

It was an unusual line of inquiry to be sure, and contained none of the more down-to-earth questions that typically preoccupied Uncle Gnarley and me.  At another time, I might have prodded the caller, demanding to know the nature of the upset. Did Kathy Dunderdale resign?  Has Jerome Kennedy lost his mind? 

Such questions would have served to tease him in advance of having my own dignity diminished by his harsh rebuke.  Intuitively, I knew this was not the right time for levity.   
The voice of the distraught old man still invaded my mind even as Spouse and I passed by the turn-off to the Witless Bay Line, forgoing, this time, my customary “gas stop” for a coffee and something sweet.  Not one for prayer, I hoped that, at least on this occasion, the cops had not foregone their own caffeine requirement.

My earlier thoughts returned, as I sped down the Shore road. I wondered: is an instant connection created when one of the living seeks the support of another?  Does an object assume some metaphysical quality once it is touched?  

The telephone call from Uncle Gnarley just seemed to regard conversation as anticlimactic; the alarm of crisis, the distress may-day had already been transmitted merely by the metallic ring of one of Graham Bell’s great wonders.    
I had resolved nothing as the vehicle turned left and motored into Uncle Gnarley’s driveway. I swerved slightly to give distance to a young black feline hanging out on the warm pavement.  Filing away the last hour’s questions, I knew I would have to revisit them. Uncle Gnarley would have a view on matters such as this.   

Gnarley was not there to open the door; nor did he appear to deliver his usual vigorous handshake. I let myself in and, readily knew something was amiss.  Uncle Gnarley sat in his usual chair in the living room, though his bent posture confirmed what Graham Bell or perhaps just telepathy had already registered.  For a time, his aging body remained still; an enormous head covered by his two large hands.  I could readily see he was crying. 
I placed an arm around my great friend’s shoulders, hoping to brace myself for bad news as much as give him support.  Gently, I leaned over him and whispered the question:  Uncle Gnarley, what is the matter?  The sobs continued as he tried to speak.  Repeatedly, he worked to expel the words; uncontrollably, the tears flowed down a distraught and wrinkled face. Finally, his hand gestured to complete the communication his emotional state disallowed. 

Following his direction, I looked towards the woodstove from which a certain heat always radiated and from which spot “Her Majesty” ruled an exclusive group of loyal subjects.  Immediately, I understood everything. 
A bundle of black fur lay on her favourite blanket, her long black bushy tail curled alongside an equally black furry stomach, a front paw resting on her forehead.  The Cat, for whom no demand was a torment, no messy kitty litter a burden, no repudiated fur-ball a nuisance, was motionless.  Rosencrantz, “Rosie” for short, his eighteen year old feline, the love of his life, had passed away.    

Spouse soon joined me having stopped to cuddle the stray occupying Gnarley’s front yard.  Liz knelt down and moved closer to Rosie.  Tenderly, and with a touch reserved for the highest order of the animal kingdom, her fingers began to stroke the regal forehead of the sleeping beauty.  The Cat’s distinctive aspect related, in part, to her singular colour.  Except for eyes of emerald green, her full length black coat and Angora breeding, afforded her a look that possessed all the dignity and intensity of a Royal. 
Liz stroked her fur softly, quietly, with an earnestness that evoked a depth of affection.  I knelt alongside, knowing that for her and for me, just as for Uncle Gnarley, this was more than merely a moment to mourn; it was a coming to terms with the loss of a friend.

For a minute, I thought of my own kids and the time they spent batting around, what they called “tin foil ballie”; the toy had robbed China of a manufacturing success and gave the Cat all the exercise she ever wanted. 

They had grown up and moved on, visiting Uncle Gnarley only occasionally; though, for Rosie, that was not a reason to countenance forgiveness.  She hissed in their presence, showing her curmudgeonly side, if they displayed too much presumption of her affections. 

In many ways her personality was not unlike Uncle Gnarley’s. Liz often said they were both just a little too supercilious.  Presently, such reflections were interrupted as I saw Liz give in to the inescapable reality that Rosie was gone. Uncle Gnarley soon joined us and for several minutes the only one able to overcome the sadness of the moment was Rosie, herself.   
Uncle Gnarley stood first.  He nodded to confirm grief had been given fair passage.  When one loses a dear friend nostalgia, too, is awakened and must be given its own space. Besides, one as rational as Gnarley would not permit an excess of emotion, though today’s display struck me that he possessed a character that spoke to a very deep sense, not just of friendship, but of loyalty, too. 

Liz, taking the cue, suggested it was time for a cup of tea before completing the final but essential ceremony.  "No my dear", said Uncle Gnarley firmly. "You are welcome to tea, but Nav and I have other needs.  Eighteen good years is a lot to celebrate.  Rosie would expect no less", he added. 

Liz departed for the kitchen.  Uncle Gnarley headed for his credenza as he nodded lightly in Rose’s direction, giving me the honor of securing the Princess in her special blanket.
Soon, glasses clinked with Liz’s tea cup and we toasted love and an unbreakable bond between two of the higher species. 

Discreetly, I absented myself and had a quiet conversation with Carl whose carpentry skills were the only ones Uncle Gnarley would entrust with a delicate mission.  We toasted again and again and reminisced over Rosie’s peculiar habits.  We were still enthralled by her determination to avoid even the slightest affection from anyone, except the three of us, and after sufficient mea culpas the absent kids, too, of course.  

The young stray could be heard scratching at the front door, a long meow followed, expectantly.  

Liz, with impeccable timing, commented that the stray possessed not just the colour and pedigree but the youthful aspect of Rosie, and queried Uncle Gnarley as to the owner.  Gnarley acknowledged that he had, on occasion, put food outside in case she wasn’t getting enough but, otherwise, had no idea whether she had a residence. "Will you get another, Uncle"? Liz asked, cautiously, knowing the question premature.  The kitten’s presence seemed to make the subject unavoidable. But, in this moment, at least, her voice conveyed her heartfelt affection for the old man, which also seemed to have afforded her permission to ask.
A light knock on the front door interrupted a reply.  Liz must have been furious at Carl’s timing.  I knew, instinctively, that her thoughts had already been preoccupied with the stray.  The carpenter’s arrival invoked the necessity for closure. 

Uncle Gnarley accepted the decorative box and listened to Carl’s brief words of condolence.  Gnarley nodded thankfully and, with Liz, went to where Rosie lay.  No words were spoken. The now peaceful feline was placed inside along with her favourite toy, a single tin foil ball. A procession commenced towards the back garden.    

As we opened the door the stray meowed and looked up expectantly. A familiar car turned into the driveway.  The kids had arrived in time; the grand kids, too. After hugs all around, a brighter Uncle Gnarley expressed appreciation that his loss was profoundly shared by his whole family.
The little box was gently placed.  Gnarley was heard to clear his throat, though he wasn’t quite ready to abandon his best friend just yet.  After all, this was the feline that had kept him company and listened to his lonely rants with a forbearance that could only be credited a deaf lover. More than once, a quizzical look from Rosie forced him to re-think a sudden outburst or review a conclusion, carelessly expressed.

His remarks began slowly but with a deliberation that suggested he had thought deeply about what he needed to say.  He wasn’t emotional, unlike his audience.  It was as if, once again, the old Professor had prepared his thoughts for a particularly difficult presentation.
“There are those”, began Uncle Gnarley, “who believe that the souls of people go to heaven when they pass on.  Perhaps, some do.  But, I believe the best of them rest within the hearts of Pussy Cats.  When they die, heart and soul are, again, passed on to a suitable member of their species.  In that way, the destiny of man and feline is forever intertwined.   

"How could it possibly be any different", he continued?  After all, there is none more noble, more loyal, more loving, more intelligent or knowing; there is no species, on this earth, more gentle or wise than our furry feline companions.  No other species, within the animal kingdom, exhibits as many human characteristics or possesses a greater capacity to identify with or absolve humanity of its worst excesses. Our Rosencrantz was among the very best of her kind………..". 

Uncle Gnarley’s words of praise were effusive.  He talked about Rosie’s personality and her charm, omitting any reference to the visitors, whose attempts at affection resulted in coarse language and the occasional Band-Aid.  Every one of his words were lovingly spoken, exhibiting a side to the man I had never thought he possessed.  Soon, he concluded with a nod towards Carl, to complete the internment.
The procession returned up the path to the old man’s residence.  As we neared the front door, the stray had taken up a position on his veranda.  Her sudden cries seemed to telegraph a desire to be picked up, loved or fed; but, more than likely, she was simply announcing a wish just to be let in.  I slowed my footsteps a little, sensing that this was a moment of catharsis; one kitten’s resolve to share a cat lover’s devotion, with unambiguous singularity, was about to be tested.  Not surprisingly, Liz, possessed empathy for the unique moment. “Uncle Gnarley”, it sure looks like you have a new admirer. Are you ready for a new love”? 

The question, both in content and structure, hit its mark with precision.  Liz was not one to voice a demand which could not be answered, except in the affirmative.  Her face allowed less a hint of amusement than a slight glance in the direction of Gnarley. A raised eye brow delivered power to the urgent plea for an immediate and favourable reply.  Gnarley’s head nodded in agreement at the same instant his hand reached for the door knob.  The anxious and instantly grateful furry black kitten practically sprang inside.
As Liz and I drove back home, I thought of the questions of mental telepathy which were left hanging after the drive down the Shore.  The little kitten, too, came to mind and I realized that, even by the high standards of a feline owner, she had just won the lottery.  She had loitered for days possibly possessed of the knowledge that one of her kind was going away; knowing that a heart and soul needed a new home.  

How had she known? Perhaps, I thought suddenly, there was no need to ask Uncle Gnarley about telepathy.  Likely, I had just witnessed a fine example of this inexplicable connection.  

Rosie had been aware of it all along.