‘Few people saw Wombat. Now no one ever will.’
My Oldest Younger Brother Scott swore that Wombat was an imaginary cat. He and his sons stayed with me in Amagansett a whole week and never saw her once. Oh, maybe one of the boys glimpsed a little black shape slinking down the stairs in the middle of the night, but not well enough to establish that it was an Actual Cat.
Well, I’m sorry to say that yesterday Wombat left this earth and went to Wherever Good Animals Go. Perhaps she is hanging out with Mango. (I would say Mango and Tuna, but Tuna had issues. (See “Tuna finds the Baby Jesus Sweet Spot” for details.)
Tuna wouldn’t sit on your lap or even let you pet her. Which is really all you ask for in a cat, yes? But even though she didn’t do her Cat Job, Tuna had her fine points — for one thing, she loved The Dude’s playing so much she would sit on a pile of music books next to the piano — so I’m betting she’s Up There teaching Wombat some bad heavenly habits right this very minute.)
Mango, on the other hand, was everybody’s best friend. He was so indiscriminately affectionate that he “belonged” to no fewer than three families — all at the same time. (You can read more about his shameless exploits in “Lost Cat: Answers to the Name Mango.”)
But this piece is about Wombat.
Dear little Wommie may have been elusive and slow to make new friends — she once famously bit The Beau so hard that he had to take antibiotics; in her defense, Beau’s approach to patting her head was the same approach Dude Man made when he wanted to “play,” which usually involved biting — but when Wombat decided to befriend you, well, you were befriended for always.
Wombat remembered all the people she spent quality time with when she was a kitten — all, like, two or three of them — and, no matter how much time had passed since she’d seen them, she would refrain from hiding when they visited. (Julie and Reva, I’m talking about you.) But with everyone else — no matter how nice they were — she would hide. Usually in the bottom of my wardrobe.
Once, when the apartment was being shown, a prospective buyer was measuring the wall where the wardrobe was and Wombat popped out — just like a cat-in-the-box — and scared the guy so much he dropped his tape measure. (He didn’t buy the apartment.)
She may not have cottoned to outsiders, but Wombat sure as heck loved her family. The Dude called her “The Creature” and, when he didn’t think anyone was listening, talked baby talk to her in a high squeaky voice. If she was sitting on my lap when he came home, she would immediately run to the door to greet him. (To this day, I don’t know how she knew it was him getting off the elevator and not our next-door neighbors. But she knew.) Dude Man was the Play Parent. He would engage in horseplay (see above biting note) and when he said the words “laser light” in a certain tone, she would run right into his office to chase the little dot around — even if he didn’t have the laser pointer out.
Once in a while, she and I would play games, too. “Fetch” and “Hide and Seek” were our faves. (Yes, she would fetch a toy and bring it back. And yes, she loved it when you peeked around the furniture and said “boo!”) But, most of the time, with me, it was all about my lap.
As for The Child, well, Wombat was actually The Child’s Kitty. When her Childness was a sophomore in high school she begged for her “own kitty,” so we went to Strawberry Fields in Montauk and picked her out of a rescue lineup. We almost took her brother too, but we had Tuna and (sometimes) Mango at the time and I drew the line at three cats.
Even though The Child disappeared soon after into the World of Higher Education and then Grownup Life, Wommie didn’t forget her — perching on the end of her couch and even (sort of) keeping her company in the tub.
But the person she adored the most was, well, me. It would be easy to say that her adoration was due to the fact I was the One Who Fed her — but she ate kibble pretty much any time she wanted, poured by all and sundry.
Perhaps if the others had been around her as much as I was, I wouldn’t have won this particular popularity contest. Who knows? All I can say is, whatever her reasons for fixating on me, I sure did like it. There really isn’t anything quite like being absolutely and unconditionally adored by a furry little animal.
Well, it’s getting late, and I’m getting sad. It was almost exactly 24 hours ago when I said good-bye to her Womness, stroked her cashmere-like coat, and patted her silky ears for the very last time. It’s time to wrap this up — and go mix myself a stiff Manhattan.
Amagansett, New York. December 2020