J. Robert King

A Life Measured in Books and Cats

Okay, I know this is not a great follow-up to that terrific series with Ed Greenwood, but life brings wonderful things followed by terrible things.

This morning, my cat Merlin died.

Eleven years ago, a gray tabby kitten followed a 32-year-old man who was taking his three-year-old and one-year-old boys on a walk in their wagon. The kitten walked half a mile behind them, looking them in the eyes and yowling the whole time. This man and his boys had recently lost another wonderful cat, run down in the road because he had followed them across the highway in front of their house. The 32-year-old decided if this little gray creature followed them across the same road, he–the man–would have to adopt him–the kitten.

He–the kitten–did, and he–the man–did.

Merlin arrived while I was writing my novel Mad Merlin.

Merlin was a remarkable creature. He looked humans in the eye. He spoke to them. We had a neighbor that we rarely spoke to but that Merlin often did because he saw the man through the window and struck up a conversation. Merlin even consoled the heart of an eighty-pound border collie who was still mourning her last cat.

And later, when the collie was gone and we adopted another cat, Merlin became a father to the new creature. Three years later, Merlin did the same for a third cat–Sherlock.

Sherlock arrived while I was writing my Sherlockian novel, The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls.

Yes, authors measure their lives in books and cats.

Two days ago, the eleven-year-old Merlin was avoiding us. One day ago, I held him in my lap as I worked on a novel, and he endured my touch only a couple minutes before leaping away and withdrawing beneath the dresser. This morning, Merlin was having seizures. An hour later, my wife and I stood beside a stainless steel table while a vet shaved Merlin’s arm and found a vein and put in the juice that would kill him.

Merlin died this morning.

This was the kitty who followed me home. This was the one who looked me in the eye and spoke to me. This was a living soul.

Some would balk. They would say the death of this cat shows how nobody really has a soul. Cats and people are just bodies with consciousnesses riding them. When the bodies fail, the consciousnesses are gone. Souls are simply wish fulfillment.

But there’s another thought here. It’s not that animals prove we are nothing but meat. It’s that we prove that animals are more.

Merlin knew how to speak to me. Maybe it was because he was a writer’s cat. He spent so many hours on my lap as I wrote novel after novel. He had no one to talk to except me and my bereaved collie, so he learned to talk to us, both. Merlin proved that he and all cats have a soul–or none of us does. 

Rest in peace, my friend, Merlin. My life was richer that you were in it and is emptier that you aren’t anymore. And when it is my turn to be lying on the towel, gasping, biting my tongue, I will take some comfort to know you have done this before me and found out what awaits us all.

March 10th, 2010
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7 Responses to “A Life Measured in Books and Cats”

  1. Steve Ince Says:

    What a beautiful post. I’m sorry for your loss.

  2. Sharon Skeen Smith Says:

    Hey Rob,
    Sorry for your loss. Pets are always part of the family and I totally believe you when you say that Merlin talked to you. We have two dogs now, one a Golden Retriever named Bear and the other an English Springer Spaniel named Sully. Bear, is the more talkative one, but Sully is the boss, or so HE thinks. You/We will always be richer in our own souls for having loved and cared for a creature so special that they take a piece of our heart with them when they go.
    Blessings to you, Jenny and the boys at this difficult time.

  3. June Sutherby Says:

    Acrasia died four years ago, of old age, she was nineteen and you have echoed my feelings perfectly. I wrote this poem eventually, when the sobs subsided. I could not bear to be without a cat so we got a tabby and called him Merlin,(handsome Enchanter!).

    ACRASIA. (Which means Beautiful Enchantress).
    Acrasia was a long-haired tortoiseshell and white,
    When I first laid eyes on her she was such a sorry sight.
    Abandoned on a sink estate, thrown out into the world
    She lay thin and weak and lonely and very tightly curled.
    I took her home and nursed her, fed and kept her warm,
    I cuddled and I played with her, kept her free from harm.
    She wouldn’t let me near her in the garden or the street
    But in the house she was in my arms, on my knees, under my feet.
    My daughters fell in love with her as she tried to steal their food
    She was a happy, loving, playful cat and rarely in a mood.
    She was gently, oh so pretty, soft and warm with a long pink tongue
    But when other cats strayed on her patch she showed them she was strong.
    She’d arch her back and spit and snarl with tail up in the air,
    The clsws were out, the teeth were flashed, she really had no fear.
    As time went by she learnt to say, “I want to come on your knee”
    “I need to be fed”, “I want to go out” and she learnt to cuddle me.
    We lived together and day by day grew older and stiffer together,
    Neither of us thought much to the cold but loved the sunny weather.
    When I slaved in the garden, Acrasia played slave-owner in the sun,
    We did almost everything together, we had so much fun.

    Then suddenly nineteen years had gone and Acrasia passed away,
    The hurt, the pain, the sorrow, will stay forever and a day.
    I’m crying now as I write this, for the love she returned ’til the end,
    My Beautiful Enchantress, my affectionate furry friend.

  4. admin Says:

    Thank you, all, for your kind words! They really do help.

    Steve and June–I’m so glad you have Merlins in your lives, too.

    Sharon–thank you for sharing about Bear and Sully and the richness they bring to your life.

    June–thank you for your poem about the Beautiful Enchantress Acrasia.

    Thank you, all, for taking the time to read this post about Merlin. I still can’t believe he’s gone.

  5. Steven Says:

    So sorry, Rob. I’ll miss Merlin and the Monsignor you’d mentioned in passing as well. Good cats, both.

    Please tell me you won’t name your next cat Death if you’re writing a sequel to Angel next, though. 😉

  6. Kaaron Warren Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Rob. So sorry to hear about your loss, but what a wonderful time you shared together.

  7. Rob King Says:

    Thanks, Steven and Kaaron. Your kind words mean a lot.

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