On Saturday mornings, I like to clean. Well. “Like” is a strong term. But this house is so quaint and pretty and I want to keep it that way, so on Saturdays, I dump out the litter box and take it outside, hose it off, air it out, that sort of thing.
Then I take the back entryway rug outside and shake it, sometimes hose it down, too, hang it outside for a bit to dry.
Then I wash all the floors and throw the water outside. My point is, on Saturday mornings I’m in and out more than mama’s squeeze box.
On Saturday, December 22, exactly seven years to the day I adopted Iris, née Sugarplum, I saw her go out one of those times. Well. “Saw” is a strong term. It was only later when I obsessively reviewed my every move that I recalled her strolling out the back door during my endless trips out the backyard.
Iris went out all the time at the old house. But at this house, Lily goes out not at all and Iris maybe once every two weeks. And I used to think that was kind of a shame, because there’s a dead end behind me and a dead end to the right of me, and the next three blocks are also dead ends, plus also behind me is nothing but wilderness till it drops off and there are railroad tracks way down below.
It seemed pretty safe for a cat to wander, is my point. But no one was wandering. Iris would stroll to the backyard, maybe lounge on the grass for 15 minutes, then always come inside, and she did this only every few weeks.
That Saturday, December 22, I was getting through my cleaning in a hurry because Jo was coming over so we could go to that fabulous beauty supply store, and then after that it seems like I had a party or something. It was three days before Christmas, man. It was a busy time.
So it was dark out before I noticed Iris wasn’t home. I think maybe it was when I served dinner, and I like how I act like all the cats sit at the table and I bring out those dishes with domed lids on them. Anyway, I called her and she didn’t come home.
I didn’t like that at all.
The next morning I called her again and no Iris. When she wasn’t hungrily at the back door that morning, I was really worried. This was not an Iris move. A Steely Dan move? Oh, sure. But look what happened to him.
That’s when I began the obsessive tracking of everything I’d done the day before, and registered her stroll out the back while I was whacking a rug like it was 1892 or whatever.
In the ensuing days, both Ned and I traipsed endlessly through that bramble behind my house. I pulled on waders like a crazy person so I could check every nook. I think it was the first Sunday that we both saw a huge bird of prey circle-circle-circling overhead.
Right then I knew. I knew with every fiber of my being that Iris was dead. Maybe a fox got her. Maybe a coyote. Maybe she fell off the cliff that leads to the train tracks and got run over.
Still, I walked all over my neighborhood, I asked people, I checked the shelter and Craigslist. I called the shelter and got Sugarplum’s chip number. (God, that’s a horrific name.) (June, driving away readers with pets named Sugarplum since 2019.) I even walked right into a neighbor’s two open sheds. But in my heart, I knew she was dead. She wouldn’t just … not come home.
And I didn’t say anything about it here because people would say, Oh, my cat wandered off and came back or Oh, you never should let cats outside, and I was too sad to hear either thing. I know cats come back; I have Lily’s 52-day story. But not blind Iris.
I finally told you after it’d been more than a week, I think, wasn’t it? I’d long since given up by the time I’d told you. And I could not even think about it. Oh, it was awful. Iris is my favorite. She’s so plucky and has that little smile all the time. Oh, sweet Iris.
Yesterday morning I was blogging at you while it was still dark and I heard a meow. I JUMPED up from this chair and RAN outside, calling for Iris because I’m telling you it sounded just like her. But nothing was there. I decided maybe it was some cat in here meowing and I was being delusional.
Last night around 5:20 I arrived home from work. I had dinner plans at 6:30 and was considering doing some freelance work, so I was all preoccupied as I pulled up to my house, and
in my own car, because THERE WAS IRIS! Just sitting on the glider on my front porch. Just lounging with her little smile, like a Southern lady, if a Southern lady sat on her haunches.
“IRIS!” I screeched, and you can imagine the neighbors. “There goes that old cat lady again.”
“Are you okay?” I picked her up while she looked at me with her little blind smile. She was all bones.
I took her right to the water bowl but she wasn’t thirsty. So I carried her like she was Heidi and I was Grandfather, over to the food and you’ll be surprised to hear a bite to eat sounded good to Iris.
Of course, it was only later that I Googled it and read if a cat’s been missing for a long time, you should feed them slowly. I read this after she ate three cans of food.
Everyone here was very curious about why she smelled like Monty Hall or like she slept with three leopards or spent two weeks at the blackjack table in Vegas or whatever the hell her smell told them.
But mostly we were just glad she’s home.
Last night Iris slept with me and as always, we pressed spines. I woke up today worried I’d dreamt the whole thing till I felt her little bony cat spine still there behind me.
If you think about it, it might make sense that someone opened their garage to leave for a Christmas trip the Saturday before Christmas, and arrived the Friday after New Year’s, doesn’t it? I think Iris might have done an Edsel impression, hanging out in a garage. Cause an Edsel is a car, see.
Anyway, she’s home. My Iris is home! I was never so happy to get out a third cat dish.
P.S. I was just taking the trash out and she wanted to go outside. The answer is