Some gifts - such as a strangers smile - are so fleeting; they just make you feel better when you are new in town.
Other gifts last for days or weeks. Maybe something tangible received at holidays like a CD or book.
And finally there are gifts that continue to give and give, long beyond the initial exchange took place.
Although it may not be immediately apparent, this is a story about a gift of the later variety. A gift that I gave to another living creature and that same creature continues to give me.
But I have to tell you at the outset; this is about the most awful thing that has happened to me in quite a while; thats saying a lot, since I've seen some heavy shit go down.
And if you're a cat lover, don't read any further as you might be upset at the experience I'm going to relate. But if you do continue reading please excuse me for burdening you, as it's bothering me a lot.
I relocated from New York to London a little over three years ago, and the hardest part of leaving my home of thirteen years - Manhattan - was giving up my companion of almost ten years - Sam the Calico Cat.
At first I didn't miss being owned by a cat since I was quite busy with Investment Banking career bullshit during the day, and taking a Masters degree in Quantitative Finance at night.
But I never lost my life long love for felines, and would even bring a pocket laser to the local pub here in Camden Town just so I could play with the working cats that were employed there.
Anyway, about four months ago I noticed that there was a stray cat living in a construction site nearby.
I knew this beautiful tortise shell creature was a stray since his abundant fur was matted and I could still see the notch made by a collar in his thick neck. That was ok; I'd had lots of experience dealing with stray cats back in New York.
As soon as I noticed the animal was living at that construction site, I made it a point to visit him three or four days a week to drop off some food.
He was quite afraid of people, but after a while began to trust me. At first he'd only glare out at me from a pile of wood and bricks as I dropped open cats of wet food through the fence. Such a serious kitty; I'd laugh at his hostile expression as I returned to my nearby flat.
But I guess my terminal good mood and all around positive energy gnawed at him since later he would sit about six feet from the fence, enjoying the warmth of Londons weak autmumn sun on his fur. I'd make reassuring "pssst psst psst" noises, talking softly to him and he'd solmenly squint his yellow-green eyes at me. I always took this as a compliment, as I was slowly gaining his trust.
And our progress was even more dramatic as winter drew close; he'd sit just inside the fence and rub his cheek against my outstretched finger. I really wanted to grab the animal, and bring him back to my second floor flat nearby, but he'd always sit just far enough away to make a cat-snatch impractical.
And I didn't know why! I had the perfect home for a cat, with lots of radiators a cold street worn kitty could curl up under.
My flat is big, and a running cat could pick up plenty of speed in the long hallways. I even used to laugh on my way home after feeding him, thinking of how he and my AIBO would react to each other.
Finally, and perhaps best of all for a cat - I have a huge terrace - far larger alone than any flat I'd had in New York - with several large concrete panters a previous tenant had left behind.
A cat like him would love to get out there and dig around in the dirt, uprooting the flowers, sunning himself on the stones and leering down like some medeveal gargoyle at bypassers in the street from his high perch.
The terrace also has a complex arrangement of stone braces that would let a sure footed animal - like a cat - walk down to the street below.
I knew any cat would love it, and I even considered putting in a flap from the living room to the terrace. That way he could come and go as he pleased, must like many other cats I'd seen roaming Camden Town.
All in all it seemed perfect.
Then the holidays came.
I left London on Christmas Eve, going back to New York to do the girlfriend / girlfriends family / girlfriends cats thing. I don't have a family of my own so I could spend all my time in New York with Laura.
Since I only return to New York once a year, I had some catching up to do with my girlfriends cats, my friends, and my fantastic extended family (some Dominicans that I know own a restaurant called "El Sombrero" at the North East corner of Ludlow and Stanton Streets, I've seen their kids growing up and they are all such absolutely wonderful folks so I spend as much time as I can there while in Nueva York).
I didn't make it back to London until Janurary second.
I took the red eye over, leaving JFK at 7PM EST, and spent the whole night talking with some Microsoft geek gal about the virtues of Corba vs. DCOM (no, I didn't make any progress there)so I didn't get any sleep.
After a six hour flight I got back to my flat at about 9AM GMT, and promptly went to sleep. I woke up about eight hours later and went to Sainsburys to get some grub. I only had booze in the pad, and wanted to check up on the cat also.
I go to the construction site with bags full, including loads of premium cat food and only there is one problem: no cat.
I try for about fourty five minutes, and I'm thinking to myself "HEY WAY COOL HE'S BEEN ADOPTED! ALL RIGHT CAT!!!!!"
But I'm bummed since I really liked this cat, but hey, that was ok, he gave me the gift of his companionship for a while - however distant - and that was ok. A fleeting gift, I thought to myself, but a nice gift nonetheless.
And that was the genesis of this entire train of thought; some gifts I have received in my life are so momentary, so fleeting, I'd never really know this cats story, his personality.
But that was ok. He'd found a home. He'd squinted at me in Londons dim autumn sun, and I knew - that he knew - that I meant him no harm. That I was trying to help it. So it was ok.
I met Majorie.
At first I was surprised that she'd even look at me; as in the old days before I dumped by motorcycle, and badly twisted my later to be totally fucked left arm, I dress - and am frequently mistaken for - a New York biker; leather coat with a jeans jacket and my gangs logo on the back. A cap with '666' painted clearly on the front (I'M EVIL!), I hadn't shaved for almost three weeks. Folks in New York even gave me a wide bearth. I guess at six feet two hundred ten pounds I'm a little intimidating but she - white haired and all of seventy pounds - walked right up to me and introduced herself.
Majorie Williams is her name, and she has lived in this very same buiding in Camden Town her entire life. As she introduced herself she pointed high in dim twilight sky with her cane at the top floor of the highest building in the neighborhood here.
It was only five stories tall but she was so feeble physically I was amazed she could get down to the street even with the aid of gravity. But in spite of her age she had a strong personality, and she told me the cats story with anger and cane waving.
She told me that she'd watched me feeding the cat and, had she not been a pensioner and had more money, she would have done so herself. She did talk to the animal though, and confirmed my suspicions about him being a stray.
But she told me some bad news. The cat was dead. Killed the night before, by some local kids, "'eal bad kend, bangli's ur indies ur udder furners" she grabbed me by the arm, and gently tugged me around the corner "'ere eee iz".
Fucking cat was lying there at the fence with a bunch of sticks poked in him. FUCKING DEAD.
Now this really sucked.
"Ah new u'd want to know love".
"Uhh thanks Majorie". Crouching down at the fence, I just hung my head and stared at the dead kittie.
"Ah new u fed'em and e'liked uew 'e did! Come near no'on but u e'wood! Des kids" Agitated, she went on to describe who killed the cat.
I knew who they were; I'd seen these fucking punk "wanna be's" hanging around in an alley nearby a lot, and while their boom boxes and graffitti might intimidate the elderly locals it was a little hard to not smirk at these middle class jerks with their affectations and mannerisms taken directly from Ali-G or some obscure MTV gangster video, when you've hung with real gansta's in New York.
So now I knew who the assholes were.
And that was all I fucking wanted to hear from Majorie.
Now I have one hell of a temper and while in New York I not only had a temper, but some friends that would help me when I had a problem, as well as a gun and a switchblade.
More than once I'd grab the blade and ask someone to watch my back when something had to be done about some problem. And if no friend was available and if this thing had to be taken care of right away I'd grab the handgun.
And do the right thing.
I definitely never killed anyone. I definitely fucked up some folks that needed it. And I definitely once smacked some wise ass fuck in the face five times with my gun. Shut him and his four loud asshole tawking friends up. A gun in the hand will do that. And twice I fucked up an asshole when knifes were involved.
And before you think I'm Rambo, I have to tell you that I've lost five teeth (thank the Good Lord for modern dental devices) and my left arm only has limited motion since it was broke real goodin a bar, and I've got some really cool or nasty (your pick) looking scars on me; all due to fighting.
Clearly, I won't recomend my bad habits to anyone.
But that was New York, and even though I don't have a gun in London, I knew this was NOT the East Villlage; locals would get freaked if I waved a gun around or, even worse, stuck someone with a knife.
And I'd seen those fucks. They were no more than sixteen years old. What could I do? I hit my forehead a few times against the steel fence. I'm in my fourties now, I'm no longer a street fighting punk in New York; I'm an Investment Banker living in London.
I did what any coward would do.
I pulled the dead animal through the fence.
"Ere love 'wot 'r 'u doin?"
I looked steadily at the old woman. "I'm gonna bury him Majorie" I told her quietly.
Her face was wrinkled and it was getting dark but her eyes were lovely clearly blue and bright. "I'll take care of the kitty" I said.
I consolidated two bags of groceries into one, and place him carefully in the empty one.
I stood up and turned to Majorie. "Thanks so much for telling me. Can I help you back upstairs?" I offered her my left arm. I broke it so badly it won't bend anymore, so if I had to pull her up all five flights of stairs it would be ok.
"No 'danks love! 'Ahm off fer Pie 'un Mash"
I thanked her again, then waved to her as she hobbled off.
I lifted the two bags and headed back to the flat. And that is where I misled Majorie. Of course I didn't bury the dead kitty; I carefully put him in my freezer. But before you think me weird, let me explain.
It was so fucking overcast that night in London. And when it's overcast, although I can't see shit in the nighttime sky - stars and such - the streets here - like my terrace - are quite bright due to the reflective, low lying clouds.
And we couldn't have that. But last night it was clear skied and very cold in London.
It was a Saturday and I was still on vacation so I drank that night from 4PM until about 3AM until the bright full moon had left the sky.
As a country boy, I track the the sunrise and the sunset, and knew that I had until sunrise at 8:03AM GMT; plenty of time for what I had to do.
I shut off my music and all lights in the flat, leaving it dark except for the monitor glow from the two iMacs in my living room, and opened the terrace doors. It was cold out there, but the air ripping through my flat felt good and woke me up.
I'd already identifed which planter to open, and having previously arranged my tools (shovel, trowel and heavy leather biking gloves from the old days) did so in about five minutes. I dug a hole about twelve inches deep, and went inside.
I opened the freezer and got the bag out. I started to leave the kitchen with just the bag but felt weird, so I removed the stiff, cold kitty from the bag.
I'd removed the sticks from his body when I bagged him; holding him in my arms in my kitchen, eyes and mouth closed, he was just as beautiful close up as when I'd first seen him at a distance, glaring hostily at me through a steel fence.
So I buried Tortise Shell Kitty in a big flowery planter on my terrace. And you know, I don't think he'd mind.
I'm going buy him the best fucking roses I can find in England and plant them in the dirt above him. That way I'll never forget him.
And I'm sure I'll have some beautiful flowers next spring. This way he'll keep giving to me. And the next tenant who lives here, although she won't know this kitties story will just enjoy wonderful roses, year after year.
And while working on my dark terrace in the cool night air I thought about those fucks that Majorie fingered. The ones in the alley.
Well, I feel a little threathened when I walk by teenagers. Sitting on a car hood, blasting boom boxes and smoking cigarettes, I feel threathened by these sixteen year old cat-killing fucks.
I'm going to choose my shots carefully and due to the shitty fucking childhood I had I've got a lot of repressed anger so I know it will be flash and fury when it happens. But I wouldn't be surprised if I lose a couple more teeth. Or if some cat-killing fuck gets sliced bad. When they try to rob. Me this rolex wearing PowerBook / Visor / Newton carrying ex-biker Investment Banking fuck.
But I'll make sure that they know what its all about when it happens.
I went back inside my flat, closed the terrace doors and pumped up the volume; anything to suit my mood.
Black Sabbath, Front 242, Boys vs. Girls, Sonic Youth, Karen Black, Iggy, Starship Troopers on DVD, another bottle of champange, looking in my lonliness to kill the night.
And wouldn't you know it? That morning it was a beautiful clear blue skied day here in London.
Not a fucking cloud to be seen.
And for the first time in long time no stray cat for me to feed.
ObDisclaimer: As I node this I am listening to Psychic TV's "Infinite Beat". Over and over again.
"Infinite Beat...It's the will of life....time ceases to exist...".
And I'm looking for ISS Alpha in the clear night sky. Has anyone else in London managed to see it?