I got Heloise and Abelard as kittens. My lawyer daughter had taken in a feral cat, and though I offered to have it neutered she didn’t get to it in time. Thus, kittens. She kept one, a short-haired gray and I took the two black fluffy ones.
They played together as kittens, but as they got older it became clear that they were not lovers like their famous namesakes. When I lived alone Heloise slept on the foot of my bed. Abelard roamed the woods at night, and about 3 in the morning he would leap to the top of the fence, then to the roof and come in the bathroom window of the loft where I slept. A little hissy fight would follow and Heloise would retreat under the bed while Abelard took her place at the foot for the rest of the night.
Five years ago, just before Jerry and I met, Abelard vanished in the woods for good. My friend Basel, who engraves stone monuments, made a little stone plaque that says: Abelard: Gone but not Forgotten. I put it under the honeysuckle bush where Zute, my white mutt terrier, is buried. Zute’s stone reads: Zute: A Good Dog.
Now I must add another marker for Heloise.
She had been looking poorly for a couple of months, but she still came to sleep with me — on my side of the bed. She steered clear of Jerry. She was 14.
She had been an avid mouser when we first came to live in these woods on this island. She dragged plump field mice in through the cat door almost every day. Later she got fat and lazy and the field mice lived longer and quieter lives. She was gentle and timid with people, unlike Abelard who often bit people who tried to pet him. She never learned to meow in a normal way. The vet said there was nothing wrong with her vocal chords — she just never learned how to use them, so she had a raspy whisper meow.
Heloise spent most of her days outside. She had places she liked to sit when the sun was out, and places to curl up in when the weather was bad. Lately she spent more and more time indoors. She was losing weight. I considered having our island vet, Bill Bazlen, come to take blood. He and I discussed it, and decided that it wouldn’t lead to any useful end. I wasn’t going to subject her to any invasive treatments.
My British daughter is visiting. She worked at enticing Heloise to eat. It seemed that she wanted food, would have a few bites, then lose interest. We thought perhaps there was some problem in her mouth. I called Bill again and asked him to come and examine her without any needles.
We are blessed here on this island to have Bill. Because he makes house calls we don’t have to subject our pets to the trauma of going to the vet — a terrifying experience for them. Bill is “retired” from California. He has a long gray pony tail and a bushy gray mustache and always dresses in jeans. When he first came here he and his wife took in newborn babies waiting for adoption and cared for them in their first weeks of life. A real labor of love. They also had older foster children from time to time and one that they finally adopted permanently. She is now in high school.
Bill came to examine Heloise. He gently felt her wasted body, listened to her heart and lungs and said he was pretty sure she had lymphoma. He told us there is chemotherapy for this. I said I wouldn’t have that. He stroked Heloise and said, “I wouldn’t do it to my animals, either.” He said a shot of cortisone might make her last weeks more comfortable and improve her appetite. I said I would like to think about it and talk it over with my daughter.
The next day he came back with 2 shots — he said both might help her feel better. I held her while he gave the shots, which she didn’t appear to feel at all. However, one shot went all the way through the skin to the outside and the contents were lost. “I haven’t done that for a long time,” Bill said, “I’ll go home and get another.”
On weekdays Bill lives in Bellingham so his daughter can go to a good high school. But he told me that if I needed him he would come out to the island for Heloise. He gave me his cell number and promised to call me the next day to see how she was.
The shot seemed to work like a charm. That evening she ate hungrily. The next morning she went outside. When it started to rain I went out and carried her in. She was not doing so well. She threw up. The next day was worse. I asked Jerry to prepare a grave under the honeysuckle bush. Bill called and I asked him to come.
Heloise could barely walk, but she went to the door and asked to go out. I let her and she struggled out to the patio and crouched under the hydrangea bush. It was cold, and after a while I carried her back in. She felt almost weightless.
Heloise lay on the rug in the hall. I worked on a painting of a highland steer with my easel near her. Every few minutes I stroked her and she lifted her head and gave her little whisper meow. It was a long day. Bill came at about 4. He had to be in Bellingham long enough to drive his daughter home from school. He knelt beside her and gave her a shot of sedative which she did not seem to feel, then we moved her to a towel on the sofa. She died peacefully. Bill gave me a hug. Jerry and I took her out to the place we had prepared. It was raining. I put her in the ground and covered her with earth. Jerry finished for me.
My friend Basel was at the house a few days later for a party. I ordered a gravestone. I wrote what I wanted engraved on it, to make sure it was spelled correctly and because I couldn’t trust myself not to cry.
It will just say: Sweet Heloise.