Thomas Wictor

The cat ladder

The cat ladder

Tim and I are convinced that our cat Syd the Second was a reincarnated Syd, Tim’s original black cat. Like Syd, this new cat had giant fangs, a square muzzle, a patch of white on his chest, and he liked you to sing to him while he ate.

The main reason we think Syd the Second was Syd is because he was utterly feral, yet he came to us and climbed into our laps after only one day. He’d also go down to Mom and Dad’s house and knock on the front door. When she let him in, he’d sleep on her lap or on the sofa for hours.

He hated all other people. We had him for exactly one year to the day, and his death was very painful for me. I thought it was unfair that he wasn’t rewarded for trying so hard to improve himself and succeeding. On the other hand, we gave him a year of happiness he wouldn’t have had otherwise, and he died peacefully, not violently. As someone said, cats are the gangbangers of the animal world.

Since he was a feral, he didn’t really like to be indoors. I saw a documentary about former lab chimps that had been rescued after years—sometimes decades—in cages. They were taken to a sanctuary with grass and trees…and they hated it. The only place they liked was the concrete patio behind their sleeping quarters. They couldn’t stand the feel of grass against their feet.

Syd the Second ate and often slept indoors, but everything scared him. Most poignantly, the throw rug in front of his cat door scared him. He thought it was an animal. I wondered why he’d sit outside the door for as long as half an hour and then plunge through as fast as he could. Going out, he’d sit in the kitchen and then suddenly leap over the rug and out the door.

When I removed the throw rug, he was fine.

Since he’d be an outside cat, I decided to build him a cat ladder so he could go up on the roof. I used an old ladder I found in the workshop, cut sheets of plywood into three platforms big enough for him to lie on, attached them with angled supports, and then put lengths of two-by-fours hanging down from the top two platforms. When cats jump down off a horizontal surface, they like to slide their upper bodies as far down the vertical surface as they can, so they’ll have a shorter distance to drop.

The lengths of two-by-four would make it easier for Syd the Second to jump down from the top two platforms. When the cat ladder was ready, I attached it to the underside of the roof outside the Train Room. Then I had to teach Syd how to use it.

The only toys he liked were objects found in nature, such as twigs, blades of glass, lizards, and dead rats. Balls and squeaky things scared him. We saved the lives of every lizard he caught, but the rats were on their own. To get Syd up on the lower platform, I attracted him with a long weed that looked like a green wheat stalk. I twiddled it around on the platform until her jumped up. Then I moved the wheat stalk to the second platform, and he followed.

He needed no urging to jump up on the third platform. When he realized how high he was, he stood tall, craning his neck. Then he hopped onto the roof and disappeared.

Syd spent a lot of time on the roof, time he would otherwise have spent on the ground, dodging cars, dogs, and other cats. My plan was to connect all three of our houses with boards so that he’d have an acre or so as his kingdom. He didn’t live long enough, and Dad would’ve opposed it anyway.

Dad didn’t like our cat, because we’d made the mistake of telling Dad that this was Syd the First reincarnated. It was only when Dad began dying that we realized he was so afraid of death that he couldn’t even think about life after death. Incontrovertible proof of heaven would’ve upset him. He simply wanted everything to remain as it was, forever. I caught him hissing and snarling at Syd a few times when he thought nobody was looking.

“That cat’s eyes are evil,” Dad said.

No they weren’t. He was a brave, decent, humorous little guy who wanted more than anything in the world to be a good cat. So he made himself into one.

When he sat or lay down, the tip of his tail was always pointing up. He hadn’t broken it; we checked.

That curved little tail-tip was just…Syd. It was an elegant little comment on the proceedings, like a pinkie finger held aloft when drinking from a teacup.

I once watched him gamboling on the roof for an hour, crabbing sideways with his back arched like a Halloween cat. I think he liked to pretend, either that he fought other cats or that he was still ferocious. After he tamed himself, he was flat-out zany.

Not much room for zaniness if you’re living paw to mouth.

When the house comes down next year, so will the cat ladder. It served its purpose by keeping Syd closer to home. He napped on all three platforms when he wasn’t going up on the roof. What I really wanted to do was cut big holes in the sides of all three of our houses and connect them with plexiglass tubes, so that Syd could’ve gone from home to home. I think with all three houses and all three roofs, he would’ve been happy to avoid the ground.

We had a squirrel that lived in our back yard. It clucked just like a chicken. The first time Syd saw it, he screamed bloody murder. He thought it was a cat-alien. Another time we found Syd sitting behind my house, staring at something in the bushes. It was a possum, which calmly walked out, looked at us, and keeled over dead. Since it had green foam around its lips, it had eaten rat poison.

If we get another cat, it’ll have to stay inside. Both Syd and Syd the Second died of illnesses they picked up from fighting other cats.

Syd the Third should live at least twenty-five years. He’s earned it.

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