It’s 5 a.m. and the cat is yowling. He is either very hungry or he’s constipated.
At 16, Malcolm Schrader is getting up there in years. What goes in doesn’t always come out. And when it doesn’t, he lets you know.
Not a cat person? Well, my husband, Mark, wasn’t either. Then he met Malcolm and everything changed.
Our son, Sam, was 3 and we’d just arrived home from vacation. His babysitter had watered our plants while we were gone, so I stopped by her parent’s farmhouse to drop off a check.
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The sneeze almost blew me off their porch.
Another sneeze. A bush shook by the window. Out crawled the scrawniest, sickest kitten I’d ever seen. His eyes were glued shut from infected matter. He walked blindly right into my arms.
“There were a bunch of kittens in that litter,” the babysitter’s mother later told me. “They’re all gone now. They crawled up on the tractor tires and got run over.”
I gave her the check and rushed the kitten to the vet.
“You’re taking him back to the farm as soon as he’s well, right?” Mark asked, as I pried open the kitten’s mouth for a squirt of antibiotics.
“Sure, honey,” I fibbed. “As soon as he’s healthy, he’s going back there.”
When Malcolm’s eyes finally opened, they were a vivid bright blue. There must have been a Siamese cat in the woodpile. I would have loved him if he had no eyes at all.
Over the years, Malcolm has taken down our Christmas tree on Christmas morning. He has spit up hairballs on the carpet. He has tossed pizza off the counter for the dogs.
Yet somehow, he has managed to endear himself to our entire family.
Back in 2009, Sam thought it would be funny to give Malcolm his own Facebook account, complete with photos of him lazing on the couch. Within days, my son announced the cat had more Facebook friends than I did.
It wasn’t until I grounded my 12-year-old from using the laptop that I finally “out-friended” our cat.
“But Malcolm can’t accept all his friend requests if he doesn’t have me as his typist!”
“You mean Malcolm can’t type? I’m shocked,” I told my son.
Back then, Malcolm could do almost anything. I say “almost” because he couldn’t kill a mouse.
Early one morning, Mark and I awoke to Malcolm shrieking in our bedroom doorway. His cries for help were so desperate we thought for sure he was dying. Nope. He’d caught a mouse, and he didn’t know what to do with it.
“Spit it out!” I commanded. He did and it lived. Now, any mouse that can survive Malcolm’s breath deserves a reprieve. I released it in the woods beside our house.
But enough about the young Malcolm. Let’s talk about the old one. The one who snoozes alongside the Christmas tree instead of climbs it. The one who enjoys the deep muscle massages Mark gives him before breakfast every morning.
“You’ve got to rub him just right,” my husband says, noting this soothes Malcolm’s achy joints. “We have it down to a science, don’t we, Malky?”
Malcolm arches his back and Mark rubs circles down his spine. When he cups the cat’s chin in his hand, you can hear the purring two rooms away.
“I don’t know what we’ll do if anything ever happens to Malcolm,” Sam said, when he was home on a recent college break.
“I don’t know what we’ll do either, son,” I told him. “So let’s love him while we’ve got him.”
And let’s hope it’s a very long time.