Even though I write about murder and mayhem, I try to be mindful about how devastating such occurrences can be in real life. Violent death tears people’s lives apart. And sometimes it’s not only people. How do animals fare when their beloved humans die?
I am afraid this is a topic with which I have firsthand experience. Many years ago I came home at night to a scene of devastation. Fire trucks and police cruisers lined the street. The remains of a fire could be seen in a house several doors down from our condominium complex. The home was half burned down.
That night I went to bed assuming there had been a fire and nothing more. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned the fire had been set as an attempted cover-up to murder. The grim facts are these: a burglar was interrupted in his home invasion when a woman returned to her house. He murdered the woman, and a half hour later when the woman’s daughter returned home he also murdered her. In gaining entry to the house, the burglar had also killed the family’s two pugs. To cover up his horrific crimes, the murderer decided to set a fire.
There was only one survivor in all this carnage: the family cat. The next morning my wife and I found this cat walking in and out of the gutted home. The cat (we knew its name was Rainbow from its time in the neighborhood) was clearly distraught. I am sure that sounds anthropomorphic, but if you’d seen Rainbow going in and out of the rubble you would have said the same thing.
My wife and I didn’t even need to confer. We felt it was our duty to adopt this waif. And so we took Rainbow into our condo, and for the next eight years she brought joy to her lives.
I cribbed from real life in my novel “Multiple Wounds.” In that book I have my detective reluctantly adopt a cat that survived in similar circumstances (in the book the cat is named “Gumshoe”). I also documented my own ignorance but in the form of my detective. When we first adopted Rainbow I called him a “he.” My misidentification lasted until we took “him” to a vet.
“Calico (also referred to as tortoiseshell) cats are invariably female,” the vet told me, and then he went into a genetics explanation.
My “buddy” was female. I’ll never make that sexist mistake again.
Like my detective in “Multiple Wounds,” I always have considered myself a “dog person.” Rainbow made me an “animal person.” She was special. Whenever I would come home from work she would make a beeline for my lap, and her purring would shake walls. When I would scratch her she would exhibit her pleasure by kneading my chest so vigorously it threatened to tear my skin. I didn’t care. Rainbow was one big pile of love.
Sometimes Rainbow would get in my lap while I was writing. It was hard to write and work, but I never wanted to displace her. I remember on occasion I said to Rainbow, “You witnessed something terrible, cat, and I am going to write about it one day.”
In my novel “Multiple Wounds” I made good on that promise.
I know Rainbow’s second family loved her as much as her first. It was terrible that her first family was murdered, and on occasion I felt survivor’s guilt at being the beneficiary of such a horrific event, but I know her family would have wanted their cat to be loved. Rainbow became a beloved member of our family. We have had four cats since Rainbow died; all have been wonderful but the bond I had with Rainbow was special.
When Rainbow’s cancer grew too advanced I brought her to the vet’s office (the same vet that educated me as to her gender). I stroked her as she received the injection that would deliver her from pain. And then I went out to the car and bawled. My wife has only seen me cry a handful of times (invariably at the loss of family, friends, and beloved animals). She says I have never “lost it” like that before or since. Even as I write this now I am tearing up thinking of my friend. I loved her. Part of my dedication in “Multiple Wounds” was to Rainbow where I wrote, “I really miss your purrs, cat.”
I still do.
Alan Russell, February 1, 2013