It's supper time. A four-footed clock is sitting a few feet away focusing intently. Cyrano, the house cat, often seems telepathic. When asked what he wants, he licks his lips and silently mouths a meow. He seldom makes a sound. At the first sign of movement, he races off to show the way to the kitchen and begins circling around his dish.
While a mixing bowl is filled with kibbles and canned food, Cyrano works on his appetizer, a small portion of one of the cans. He finishes before the gang's food is mixed and heads out through his door to line up with the others.
"Supper time! Supper time!" The announcement is a signal to gather. It's not necessary. They all have clocks.
Garbanzo, the young Persian that lives down the road but eats here every day, rushes over, anxious for a quick stroking.
Malone, a whipped-cream cat with a butterscotch back, stands on the arm of a porch chair for a bit of scratching. He looks enough like Cyrano to be a litter mate. They hiss and spit at each other.
Zipper, a grey tabby, stands off to the side and meows plaintively. He sounds lost. The perception is probably anamorphic. Baby Black hangs back a few feet. She's the smallest and feistiest of the gang.
All of them approach tentatively when Fat Face Charlie makes an occasional appearance. Judging from a new collar, he's been adopted. He's nice enough with people but a stone terror when it comes to other cats.
"Tigger! Tigger!" A meow comes the overgrown area on the other side of a nearby fence. He's a refugee from another colony, hence, the unimaginative name. He's more interested in being fussed over than he is in eating. He stays off to the side after Zipper growls. Slinky Black peeks out from under the house where it feels safe.
Garbanzo is first in line for one of the filled plates. Then Malone, Baby Black, Tigger, Slinky Black and Cyrano. He requires room service, preferring to eat some distance from the others. Zipper doesn't wait for the plates. He dives into the big bowl of kibbles left out 24/7.
Zipper's best buddy is missing.
Tubster was a large grey tabby who was around when the house became home more than 10 years ago. At the time, he was 5 years old or older. Judging from his reaction to humans, he was probably an abandoned pet who would have been happy to be a house cat. Unfortunately, he and Cyrano developed an immediate dislike for each other.
On one occasion, Tubster and Cyrano got into a battle royal. It was not psychological, as are most cat tussles. They were balled together, grabbing with teeth and front claws and trying to get into position to open up the opponent's belly with hind claws. The fight was broken up. Cyrano took off. Tubster, about twice the size of Cyrano, still had a mouthful of fur and was dragged across the yard before letting go. Checking them later revealed no injuries.
In the last few months, Tubster began showing his age. He moved more slowly and gradually gave up grooming himself. Matted tuffs of fur had to be cut off. An outdoor cat who is 15 years old or older is a hardy survivor.
Still . . .
The morning jaunt to the newspaper tube included seeing Tubster and Zipper curled up together, outside near the truck when it was warm and inside the garage when it was windy, rainy or cold. Borrowing a technique learned on a farm, cold nights were warmed by a 100-watt light bulb hung over their favorite spot in the garage. Zipper always spent the night with Tubster even though cats are, by nature, solitary animals. They groomed each other. Tubster would often rouse himself for a quick cuddle and scratching. Zipper would endure a quick pet but that's all.
Before Zipper showed up there was one stormy night when Tubster climbed a window screen, wanting desperately to come inside. He was left to his own devices while Cyrano slumbered in front of the fireplace. It's a nagging memory.
A week or so ago, it was obvious Tubster was on a downhill slide. He had trouble getting to his food and finally didn't eat when it was placed next to him. Periodically, he cried. He had a vacant stare, one of the signs of a stroke. His heart was beating much too slowly.
Late on a Friday, the decision was made to put him down. An emergency call was made to Alan Kaufman, a veterinarian who lives up the road. Waiting until Tubster's usual vet was available wasn't an option.
Tubster's last minutes were peaceful. Three shots and he was gone.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.