Uncle Bob

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Early one morning, a stray tabby cat scrambled over a chain-link fence and dropped onto the patio at Oak Grove Senior Living. The new sights and sounds frightened him, so he hid behind a pile of firewood next to a storage shed. Most of the people he saw were old and moved slowly, using canes or walkers. He was particularly interested in a tiny pet door that led into the building. Every so often a cat squeezed through and prowled around the yard.

Late that afternoon, the tabby inhaled the rich aroma of roast beef and gravy. He licked his lips. The only thing he had eaten in the last two days was half of an oatmeal-raisin cookie. He ran over to the pet door, sniffed twice, and then slipped inside. He followed the food smells into a dining room. At the centre of a long table was a giant platter piled with meat, potatoes, and broccoli. He sprinted across the room and leapt on the table. He bit down on a huge slice of meat, jumped off the table, sprinted into the next room and crawled under a couch.

A black and white cat, whose name was Periwinkle saw the tabby grab the meat. He squeezed under the couch. “Hey,” he said, “we’re not supposed to do that.”

The tabby stopped chewing. “Why not?”

“That’s people food.” He pointed to a huge metal bowl across the room. “We eat over there.”

The residents of Oak Grove Senior Living liked the tabby cat. They decided his name should be “Pork Loin.” They didn’t care that he swiped meat off the table.

After Pork Loin finished eating, he fell asleep under the couch. The next morning, he went over to the bowl metal bowl. It was filled with chicken-flavoured kibbles. After he finished eating and licked the bowl until it shone like a mirror, he started washing his face. Three kittens sat nearby, watching. Their names were Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.

“Good morning, Mr Loin,” said Alpha, a fluffy calico. Their mother told them to call him “Mr Loin” since he was an adult cat.

Pork Loin sat back on his haunches.

Beta asked, “Have you met Uncle Bob?”

“No, I have not,” he said. “And who is Uncle Bob?”

“Uncle Bob is a Quaker Cat,” said Gama. “He used to live in a barn in Philadelphia.”

“He stays in Mrs Roosevelt’s office,” said Alpha. Mrs Roosevelt handled the finances at Oak Grove Senior Living.

Pork Loin wanted to meet this Quaker Cat who used to live in a barn in Philadelphia. He pad-padded down the hall and entered her office. The room was dark and quiet; only a sliver of light slipped in under the window shade. A grey litter tub, a ceramic water dish, and three metal bowls sat on a newspaper under the window.

Uncle Bob lay on a mat next to Mrs Roosevelt’s desk. His nose and all four paws pointed at the ceiling. His paw pads were black, thick and leathery, covered with a spider web of white cracks. He didn’t move when Pork Loin entered. His eyes were barely open―two yellow slits—but he was watching. The old cat had his head tipped so far back that he could see Pork Loin from the upside-down position. He was very thin, although when younger he would have been much larger than Pork Loin. His fur was a dull yellow with black streaks. He had several fur-less spots along his back. Pork Loin settled on his stomach and tucked his hind legs under, leaving his forepaws outstretched.

For a long time, neither cat spoke. Then, without moving a muscle or opening his eyes, Uncle said, “Good morning, Friend Loin, how art thou?”

His voice was smooth, rich, and warm like dark gravy ladled onto a slice of soft bread. The tip of his tail whispered back and forth.

Pork Loin’s ears snapped back. He had never spoken with a Quaker Cat and was not sure how to respond. “I am well, Uncle Bob. Thank you for asking.”

Uncle Bob opened his eyes and rolled over on his stomach. “I would offer thee moist food, Brother Loin, but our Wee Friends―Alpha, Beta, Gamma―cleaned me out earlier this morning.” He motioned toward his eating area with his right forepaw.

Pork Loin tucked his forepaws under his chest. “Uncle Bob, I have not seen you before.”

“Mostly I stay in Mrs Roosevelt’s office.” He sighed. “She wishes me to fraternize with the others, but I prefer it in here.” Uncle Bob yawned. “Mrs Roosevelt provides all the soft food from the little cans that I can consume. It is to build my strength. I used to be quite weighty, you know.”

Uncle Bob shifted his position on the mat and continued. “Mrs Roosevelt gave me this thick mat upon which to recline and made the walls of the litter tub low, so I can negotiate them easily. I have a bad case of the arthur-itus and cannot move very well.”

Pork Loin nodded. He tucked his tail under his body.

Uncle Bob continued, “I heard thou was on the road for a long time.”

Pork Loin was surprised that the Quaker Cat knew about his past. Uncle Bob sensed his puzzlement and said, “I heard about thee from our Wee Friends—Alpha, Beta, Gamma. They think quite highly of you, by the way.” He stretched out his legs and yawned again. “And they told me why you are called ‘Pork Loin.’”

The big tabby licked his right paw. “Yes indeed.” He visualized that slice of pork while he gathered his thoughts. “After being separated from my human family at a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I was homeless. I spent much time in the woods, getting by on mice and other small animals.” Pork Loin described a few of his adventures and then talked about wandering into Oak Grove Senior Living and meeting Periwinkle. He finished by saying, “If it weren’t for Periwinkle, I might not be here.”

Uncle Bob began to purr when he heard Periwinkle’s name. “Ah yes,” he said, “Friend Winkle is a most exemplary feline.”

The two cats sat in silence, then Uncle Bob began to speak. “I spent my entire life in a barn owned by Quakers.” Pork Loin’s eyes blinked closed as the story unfolded. He pictured a much younger Uncle Bob, sleeping on bales of hay, helping the farmer, lapping puddles of warm cream spilled from oaken buckets. Uncle Bob rolled over on his back and smiled. “Life in the barn was very good for me. I just loved those mice….so robust and succulent…fattened on oats and corn, their thin furry skins stretched tightly over plump bellies.”

Pork Loin imagined mice scampering on a wooden floor littered with straw, huge, fluffy cobwebs on the rafters, cows lounging in stalls, munching hay.

“Hast thou eaten mice fattened on oats and corn?” queried Uncle Bob.

“I have stayed in barns,” replied Pork Loin. He remembered catching mice on his journeys. “I’ve taken plenty of chubby ones, but I don’t know what they had been eating.” Pork Loin was glad that Uncle Bob shared his interest in fresh food.

“Oh my…on my…oh my…” Uncle Bob stretched his fore and hind paws into the air. He closed his eyes. “They crunch so pleasantly when thou chewest them—their juices so warm and rich.” He rolled over on his belly and stared at the wall. “These ‘kibbles-and-cream’ puddies get excited about turkey gravy at Christmas. But thou hast not lived until thou hast eaten a fresh mouse from a Quaker Barn.”

A drop of drool ran down Pork Loin’s chin and he licked his lips. He had eaten many small mammals when he was on the road and listening to Uncle Bob made him remember those days.

Uncle Bob yawned. “Friend Loin, hast thou ever been to the state of Maine?”

“No, I never have,” said Pork Loin. He was not too sure where Maine was, but he assumed he would have known if he had been there.

“My cousin informed me that in Maine there is a special place where they raise mice. According to her, millions and millions of mice live there. Actually…it must be a ranch, a mouse ranch.”

“What do they do with all those mice?”

“According to my cousin, scientists study them.”

“Why study mice?”

“I asked her that very question. She said there is much to learn about mice, and therefore many are needed.” Both cats were silent while they pondered this information.

“My cousin used to patrol the front gate, thinking some might get loose.”

Pork Loin licked his lips. “Were there many escapees?”

“Evidently not.” Uncle Bob was silent for a while, they yawned. “Doth thou know much of mice, Friend Loin?”

“I do not know the names of the various types, but I have seen great numbers in the woods and fields. Mice of all colours and flavours―fat ones, thin ones. Some with long tails, some with hardly any tail at all. One can sit by a hedgerow and catch several each day and their numbers never seem to diminish.”

The cats tired of talking and began to doze. For many hours they did not move. Pork Loin snoozed in the full-tucked position, so he looked like a freshly baked loaf of bread. Uncle Bob lay on his back with his nose and paws in the air.

Several hours later, Uncle Bob awoke. He yawned, and then rested his head on his paws. He sat in silence, then said, “Friend Loin, thee is more than welcome to visit me anytime.”

Pork Loin opened his eyes. “Thank you, Uncle Bob.”

After lunch, Mrs Roosevelt returned to her office. She smiled when she saw the cats. When she sat at her desk, Uncle Bob’s eyes opened, and Pork Loin’s ears snapped forward. After a few minutes, both cats drifted into sleep. Later in the afternoon, a woman came in carrying a bottle of window cleaner and a handful of white towels.

“Isn’t that something?” Mrs Roosevelt said, pointing to Uncle Bob and Pork Loin.

The woman sat her supplies on the table and frowned. “What’s so special about two cats sleeping? They do that all the time.”

Mrs Roosevelt shook her head. “They were getting acquainted. Uncle Bob was telling Pork Loin about his living in the Quaker barn. And Pork Loin was talking about his life before coming to Oak Grove Senior Living.”

#####

At 5:30, Mrs Roosevelt left for the day. Uncle Bob yawned and called to Pork Loin, “Prrrttt–Prrrttt?”

Pork Loin opened his eyes. “What is it?”

“Come with me,” said Uncle Bob.

The two cats pad-padded down the hall. Uncle Bob moved slowly and swayed from side to side as he walked. They entered a room where the shades were drawn. An old man lay asleep on the bed. He was fully dressed and wore a pair of floppy old slippers. His hair was wispy and white and looked like it had just been spun by a spider.

Uncle Bob climbed up on the bed, paw over paw. Pork Loin took one giant leap and landed with a soft flump. The Quaker cat sniffed the old man’s cheeks, lips, and ears.

“Is he alright?” asked Pork Loin.

“Yes, but he is very old.” Uncle Bob settled on the bedspread. “We are here to give him comfort.”

The old man woke up when he heard the cats. He stretched out his hand and touched Pork Loin, then Uncle Bob.

“Hello guys,” he said, “How are you today?” His voice was just above a whisper.

Pork Loin and Uncle Bob curled up next to the old man. They tucked their tails tight against their bodies, so they looked like cinnamon rolls. They began to purr. Loud, rumbling, rich purrs. Purrs that ended in tiny squeaks.

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- Total nr. of readings: 448 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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