The popularity of Marley and Me and other animal memoirs has often made me consider writing an animal tale. After all, I’ve always had animals, and I can name them all, from my earliest childhood, and remember the many wonderful qualities that distinguished each one. A glimpse at this list (http://www.lincolnlibraries.org/depts/bookguide/iyl/marley.htm) reveals some recent tales of dogs and cats and even fowl remembered by loving humans.
The question is, which animal would I choose? Would it be my childhood tomcat, Midnight? He was a coal-black feline with golden eyes who stalked proudly around the environs of our house and would famously slow traffic by lying in the middle of the road to take a leisurely bath. The blaring of car horns bothered him not; he was Zeus, and our little neighborhood was hisOlympus. He lived only to age seven, but he keeps a proud and beautiful place in my memory.
Or would it be Buffy, the dog of my youth? We chose her from a barn full of tumbling puppies on a farm near our home, and she lived with us for almost fifteen years. My memories of her create a lovely mosaic of happy times: images of her lovely coat and plumed tail running through the woods on our summer vacations; lingering melodies from the lullabies my sister and I would sing to her while she lay, eyes drooping, in her basket; laughter still at her determination not to be left behind on family trips, and her wedging of herself into the back of the station wagon with the packing of the first bag.
Pets make for happy memories; but I haven’t even given an audition to the four pets who currently share my home, padding softly around and occasionally sniffing one another’s noses to see what’s what. This current menagerie includes three cats and one beagle, the latter of whom often feels woefully outnumbered.
Cat number one has the unfortunate name of PIbby Tails, despite the fact that he A) has only one tail and B) is a proud hunter who must be secretly horrified by the name that a two-year-old bestowed on him eleven years ago. Pibby Tails is so warlike that, after a variety of painful (and expensive) treatments of his fighting wounds, has been forced into indoor confinement for all eternity. Ergo, he sits moodily in the window and gazes out like a landlorn sea captain who misses the danger of the tossing waves. He is beloved for his hour of socializing, which generally happens when we are all in the living room at night, watching television. Pibby takes the stage by stalking into the room and going to the center of our carpet, then tipping over on his side and curling all of his paws inward. This looks adorable, but he doesn’t really want to be petted—he wants to be admired. His latest trick is to approach, sharklike, when I am on the floor with my laptop, then to skim past my face to the point that his fur sticks to my skin. While I am recovering and brushing hair off of my lips, he moves back in with a skull-jab into my arm. This means, “I want attention.”
Pibby’s adopted siblings are a brother and sister duo named Rose and Mr. Mulliner, who were obtained as kittens for my youngest son as a birthday present. The gift was supposed to be one kitten, but Graham had chosen Rose and I favored Mr. Mulliner (who is particularly beautiful), and my husband, who had just been given lunch and two beers, was feeling benevolent. “Get them both,” he said, and I’m sure he relives that moment every time he is sent to the basement to deal with the litter boxes. J
Mr. Mulliner is an eccentric who likes to find all of the unexpected sitting places. His meow is higher and sadder than his sister’s, and he eats heartily. He likes to stroll into the bathroom when people are seated and to walk back and forth until they take hold of his tail. Then he yells and cries until they tug on his tail, which somehow pleases him. He proceeds to fall sideways on the carpet and purr loudly, staring with slitted eyes.
Rose is a silent partner, rarely seen but always cute. Early on she found a hiding place behind a wall blind. She climbs the wall like a spider and finds her way onto the bunched-up blind, where she sits as though she is in a hammock, or inside a taco. She stays there for much of the day, but when she gets hungry she comes splashing out. A visitor was once surprised by her exit and told us, “A cat just fell down your wall.”
Finally, there is Simon. Oh, the chapters I could fill with tales about this little beagle, who was also a birthday present, this time for my older son. He was six months old when we got him, but even at eleven he acts like a puppy. We were never very successful at training him, and so he is still guilty of begging, jumping on the couch, and occasionally using the basement as his bathroom. Angry words have him feeling briefly guilty, then forgetting entirely. His hobbies are overturning the garbage, chasing cats and squirrels (although he endures his adopted cat siblings), and looking mournfully at humans until they either pet him or feed him. He loves going for walks and still has enough energy to tug at the leash in his quest for new smells. His little legs are starting to get limpy, and the vet has diagnosed him with “crepitus,” the ugliest name for a malady than I can think of. So he and I both take glucosamine in hopes of delaying the deterioration of our joints.
Even though I tend to be the toughest on him, doglike he loves me best, and he waits for me at night to accompany him upstairs, devoted as a husband. He has a basket near my bed, but when the lights go out he sneaks out and sleeps right under me on the floor. He is a paradoxical creature, both perpetually naughty and perpetually loving. He has an unfortunate smell, even after bathtime, but his face earns him hugs anyway.
So—to whom would you award the part? Which of my animals will make it to the callbacks for my eventual animal tale?
Julia’s newly released Kindle book, THE GHOSTS OF LOVELY WOMEN, features a beagle named P.G. who bears a strong resemblance to the Simon described above. Visit her website www.juliabuckley.com