by RIP RENSE
B.C. and me
(Apr. 30, 2003)
He was sitting on a butcher block dining table,
staring with great yellow-green owl eyes at the stranger who had just invaded his little
world. What, he obviously wondered, was this creature who spoke in a gentle, friendly
voice, "Oh, he's beautiful!"?
Turns out that the creature was a reclusive
freelance writer who had come to visit his owner. A reclusive freelance writer who would
become one of his closest friends.
It's twelve years now since B.C. the cat and I
became pals---for the last seven, almost 24 hours a day. We both work at home, you
That day we met, I stayed far
on the other side of his domain, because I sensed his skittishness and how inviolate was
his territory. I moved slowly, slowly, and was pleased that he didn't flee when I finally
reached out and patted his head. He was beautiful---big, with jet-black long fur,
velvety ears, and plume-of-smoke tail that twitched, without fail, every time you
addressed him by name. His face was handsome, working-class; more Spencer Tracy than Cary
Grant. . .
B.C. was born in West Los Angeles April 2,
1984, the shiest of a small litter. His brother and sister were multi-colored,
gregarious, and swiftly adopted, but B.C. was. . .uncomplicated. He sat, benignly,
blankly, exhibiting no flare, precious little curiosity, and a good deal of bafflement. What
do I do? was written all over his face. Three months passed, and no one wanted him.
Which is exactly why my Annie gave him a home.
And thus he has remained: a
gentle, unprepossessing animal who went about a daily routine learned from his owner and
the other cat he lived with for many years---a suffer-no-fools, cuff-your-ears,
black-and-white streetwise female named Baxter: breakfast, morning nap, a little chasing
around, afternoon nap, dinner, bedtime (Baxter relegated B.C. to the foot of the bed),
late night madcap chasing, breakfast. . .
Annie employed the name, "B.C.,"
("Black Cat") provisionally, but it stuck. "I should have named him
'Ferdinand,' like the bull," she says, "as he is the type to daintily walk
about, sniffing at flowers, snoozing contentedly, bothering no one and nothing."
On the other hand, he wasn't
exactly a sweetheart. He groaned (cat equivalent to "Oh, hell") whenever you'd
pick him up, and eschewed being mollycoddled and sweet-talked like many an obscenely
pampered pet. He had his dignity. Annie knew this, and never anthropomorphosized him or
Baxter. These were roommates, but they were cat-roommates.
Well, guess I kind of screwed that up. I
decided that B.C. needed to learn a little more about the good things in life; see the
world a bit. True, he had once flown across country and lived in Virginia for six months
when Annie was transferred, but his horizons had remained house-and-four-walls. I take
full credit for introducing him to Sunday morning sunshine, by placing a chair and pillow
near a quasi-east-facing window, where he parked himself regularly, with great
pleasure. I also acquainted him with the magic of the paper bag, by placing one on the top
rung of a piece of "cat furniture," and one on the bottom rung. He and Baxter
took to their bag-condos like kids to chocolate (Baxter grabbed the top), settling
contentedly inside and warming on their own body heat.
When B.C. was about eight, I
figured it was time for him to see the sky. The top of the world, as far as he knew, was a
faded white apartment ceiling. What kind of a cat should go through life without seeing
clouds? So I picked him up, told him not to worry, massaged the scruff of his neck, and
gradually took a few small steps into dazzling, dangerous day. Every muscle in the guy's
body tensed, and his eyes turned into Peter Lorre's as he looked up and saw. . .nothing!
No ceiling! Just. . .expanse. . .endless air. I figured this was equivalent to kitty LSD.
Could he handle it? Yes. I kept talking to him, holding tightly to his neck, and after
about a half-dozen trips, he came to enjoy it---and expect it.
Just as he came to
expect---no, demand---his own paper bag. All his life, the larger B.C. had been
cowed and bullied by the small, wiley Baxter, and never dared to challenge her authority.
But as she grew old and feeble from diabetes, she no longer bothered to make the big leap
up to her bag on the top rung, and stole B.C.'s lower bunk. One morning, I noticed him
standing in front of his Baxter-occupied bag, staring fixedly. This went on for some
minutes until, without warning, he raised his front paw and just whacked the holy hell out
of the bag---one time---prompting a shocked expression from Baxter. "My bag!" he
was saying, and I suddenly understood that this was a creature of self-respect.
And courage. In fact, with the exception of
vaccuum cleaners and ironing boards, I dare say this cat fears nothing. I base this on a
Sunday morning long ago, when he sat at the open front door, peering through the screen. A
neighborhood feline was outside, curiously sniffing about. I said, "Who's that,
B.C.?" He looked up at me, looked at the stranger outside, lowered his head, and
butted, head-first, into the screen, trying to push right through and vanquish the
interloper! With all his might! His back paws slipped and slid as they sought traction on
the hardwood floor.
"Ferdinand" or not,
I think B.C. would have been much respected among his peers, had he been an outdoor cat.
But this was not his fate. When Baxter passed
away (B.C. solicitiously sniffed at her in her last days), Annie swore that he would be
king of the house for the rest of his days, and so he has been. He promptly assumed
Baxter's exclusive spot at the head of the bed(!), and his little outdoor scruff-of-the-
neck sightseeing tours turned into (supervised) daily visits to the garden wall
downstairs, where he smells the daily news, tastes some grass, and stares blithely at
passing dogs straining at their tethers to tear him limb-from-limb.
The two of us take our breaks this way---me
from the hard work of writing, and him from the hard cat-work of concerted day-sleeping.
One day, a double for the departed Baxter happened by, below the garden wall, and B.C.
turned toward me, meowing declaratively. "Is she back?" I thought he might be
saying. Or maybe not. Maybe it was "let me at that trespasser!" Recently, in an
echo of the screen-door-butting incident, I took him downstairs because he had purred at
the sight of a visiting neighbor cat, and I figured he might be lonely. Wrong! He stepped
purposefully downstairs and hissed the other animal right off the premises. I was
impressed. Still, I suspect this was all reflexive bluster, and that in the end, he's just
Well, the old boy turned 19
this year, and I attribute his longevity, as I always joke with Annie, to "fewer
moveable parts." Yet they are well assembled. He is one tough, indefatigable
fellow---bearing out new studies that show black cats are genetically adapted for longer
lives. B.C. beat cancer three times in the last decade---on his neck and
forelimb---and last year overcame a fatal thyroid condition by surviving a week's worth of
radioactive iodine and isolation in a tiny cage. Bravo! And when his hearing
all-but-disappeared last year, this seeming simple "old dog" surprised me by
learning the new tricks of hand signals meaning "come and eat," "no more
food," and "please leave the kitchen." He is the lone survivor of his
litter, Last of the Mokittens.
Well, I like to think that I had a paw in all
this. I have put him through a daily regimen of exercise (I am a surrogate Baxter, and
chase him up the stairs and around the house) and massage (very good for regularity in old
cats), and he, in turn, comes in to check on my writing from time to time.
But I am about to lose my best editor. B.C.'s
days of sitting on the garden wall, and sleeping contentedly on his beloved Annie's legs
all night, of supping on the occasional "good stuff" of chicken soup or tuna;
his days of perching on the balcony, watching the passing people, of complaining of our
mollycoddling, of being king of the house, are drawing to an end. Cancer got him, this
time. In a few days or weeks, we will call a doctor, who will come to the king's home and
help to gently and peacefully send him to the place where everybody goes.
And all this time, I thought I was taking care
I have never been more grateful to any human
being for what this little creature has given to me and Annie. I hope that somehow, he
knows. And I hope his last dreams are of endless sky, and garden walls.
Meow, my dear, old friend.
April 2, 1984-July 19, 2003