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by Richard Hartwell

            I am surrounded by death. No, no! Too sinister.

            I am surrounded by the dead. Again, no! Too morbid.

            I am surrounded by ghosts. Yes! Truth and accuracy. I am surrounded by ghosts: the ghosts of friends; the ghosts of family; the ghosts of cats. The cats who are my friends, who are my family.  There is my wife’s cat, Pumkin. Pumkin was originally buried under the apricot tree in the back yard.  We held a graveside service attended by our three children, at their request. When the tree was destroyed in a violent windstorm a few years back, what I could retrieve of Pumkin’s remains were exhumed and transferred to a small, blue glass vase sealed with a cork stopper and melted wax; at my wife’s request. Pumkin is now in the family room, appropriately enough, along with baby pictures, both feline and human, and family heirlooms.

            Then there is my grandson’s cat, Bug. Bug, a huge longhair, was a more faithful “dog” than any Lassie could have ever been. Bug’s ashes rest in a polished mahogany box with brass hinges and hasp and lock, now atop my grandson’s dresser. Te’Juan, the grandson, used to play fetch with Bug.  It’s an oft-told family tale that Bug taught Te’Juan how to play fetch and catch and tag. Like any “best friend” the two were inseparable. At almost thirteen Te’Juan still cries at the mere mention or sight of Bug.

            Other similar mahogany boxes for Maxwell and Jacob, Christopher and Nicole, are in the living room bookcase. Max had the sweetest disposition of any cat on earth, not a lover really, just a great friend. Jake, probably of Russian Blue heritage, not that we could tell when we got him from our Vet’s where he had been dropped off in the middle of a rainy night. We were asked to take him. The Vet knew us and knew we would. Christopher and Nicole, brother and sister with complementary black and white markings, were the only cats we ever actually set out to get. I picked them up from a co-worker one afternoon after work. They were for our two sons, young at the time, both now in their thirties. There are other ghosts in attendance, not nameless, but after twenty-four years in the same house time dims memory but not emotion.

            Our children and grandchildren say the house is haunted by the ghosts of cats. I don’t disagree. But to be “haunted” carries with it such a negative connotation! I have no unease or worry caused by these cats of the past. The denotative meaning of “haunted” relates to the visitation of the dead.  From my perspective, this is equally untrue. These cats of the past do not visit us, they live here just as they lived here when alive. This is a distinction I think important. Those who are fortunate enough to live with cats know well that one does not own cats. One may coexist with cats and share the same domicile. But ownership does not enter into this!

            The ten cats with whom we currently share our lives are merely the most visible. The six or so seen less often are the astral embodiments of Pumkin, Bug, Jake and Max, Nicole and Chris, and others before them. I do not try to convince anyone of this theosophical position.  In fact, the phrase itself is too pretentious. However, it serves well to describe the “things that go bump in the night,” the shadows seen out of the extreme corner of the eye, and the invisible playmates the live cats fool around with in play. Even Gabriel, currently the oldest cat at eighteen, often amuses himself playing like a kitten with his “friends” who aren’t there.

            So, I am surrounded by ghosts! Not haunted! Not visited! But, like Gabriel, enjoying myself with friends from the past as well as those of the present. And I will continue to share my life with cats into the future, as long as they will let me.

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