It has been a goodly time since we last gathered around Gramp’s rocking chair for story time. But here we are, back again in that familiar, cosy setting.
As always, the fire is burning and crackling, playing shadow puppets on the walls of the humble little cabin by the lake. The familiarity of Gramp’s nightly ritual, sitting in his rocking chair with One Eye, the ancient cat curled on his lap purring loudly, is soothing and comforting.
We know Gramp’s nightly ritual off by heart. The worn patina of his meerschaum pipe resting in its stand on the little table by his rocking chair beckons for attention. Picking it up gently, Gramps looks at it. The corners of his eyes crinkle as he smiles, stroking it before beginning the slow and methodical cleaning ritual. Once complete, the smell of fresh pipe tobacco fills the air as Gramps slowly fills it. In hushed expectation, we wait.
Placing the pipe back in its rack, Gramps gently stroked One Eye between the ears. He purred even louder if that was possible. Aaah, One Eye, he said. What times we have had together, you and I. What adventures we have shared. What risks we have taken.
Smiling at each of us in turn, Gramps was finally ready to tell his tale.
Life is a funny thing, you know, he said. You never quite know what is coming round the corner. What excitement awaits. What adventures. And, of course, what sadnesses. For there is always a mix of things in life you will find. Have I ever told you how One Eye lost his other eye? No? Well…. that is a tale of many twists and turns.
Stroking his beard , Gramps sat silent a while, deep in thought. One Eye stirred restlessly. Opening her eye, she glared at us as if to say what right did we have to disturb her peace. For it was clear she was not happy. Suddenly, she jumped to the floor, turned and glared at Gramps. Then with a swish of her tail, she thumped her way to a corner of the cabin where a soft pile of blankets lay. Attitude was written into every movement of her old body, even as she curled up and went to sleep.
Hmmmm, said Gramps, One Eye is not happy is she? I don’t think she wants me to tell you her tale. But tell it I must. She will forgive me eventually. If not before, then certainly at breakfast when she wants her bowl of porridge.
A lifetime ago, when I was a young man, I travelled the world for many a year looking for adventure. It was on one of those trips that One Eye and I first met. Mind you, then she was but a wee mite of a kitten. Had both eyes too. I had just disembarked off a sailing ship after crossing the ocean. It doesn’t matter where or why. That may be a story for another time. I will just say that she was a majestic ship with sails billowing in the wind, speeding us from one port to another.
As I strolled along the seashore, toting my worldly possessions in a bag slung over my shoulder, my attention was caught by a plaintive cry. I stopped to listen more carefully, thinking it be a child, a babe. But once I cleared my mind to listen more carefully, I heard the soft mewling of a kitten. They have a very distinctive cry when they are lost and scared. As this little one was. Carefully and as silently as I could, I followed the sound to its source. Hidden behind a large rock and sea grass was the tiniest little black kitten. Crouching and scared, it was so young it’s eyes were barely opened. So young, it still needed it’s mother’s milk and nurturing to survive.
I looked around to see if I could spot the mother cat, thinking perhaps she had simply gone off to hunt for her own sustenance. But no. Sadly, she lay dead not too far away. There was no sign of any other babies. So I returned to the little orphan, bending down to pick it up. It was a feisty little thing. Young as it was, it spat and hissed at me, baring its claws in readiness to fend off danger. Smiling at its brave attempts, I scooped it up with one hand. She was light as a feather.
Soon enough, it settled down in the warmth of my shirt pocket and went to sleep. I won’t bore you with the details of what happened next other than to say that we became travelling companions from that day on. For want of a better name I simply called her Cat. And that was to be her name until she lost one eye many years later. Together we travelled far and wide. Cat was a good companion. But not at all friendly. She hissed and spat and bared her claws at anything and everyone she thought would harm us. Just like when I first found her.
And indeed, it was in defence of me that she lost her eye. I can see from your faces you’re curious and anxious to hear what happened. Cat and I had been together for ten years or more at the time. She had grown into a beautiful feline. Glossy satin black fur, a sleek and slender, well honed body. A beautiful girl in the eye of any beholder, she was loyal to no other. To this day she remains the same.
We were hiking and camping in the wild woods, away from any sight or sound of civilisation when it happened. Immersed in nature, we lived off the land, carrying nothing but the barest of essentials in our kit. It was a magical time for us. Each day a new adventure and new wonders to explore.The rising sun and chatter of awakening life roused us from our sleep in the morn. Eventide saw us settled by a campfire, watching the glorious colours of the setting sun while preparing whatever food we had managed to forage during the day.
Looking back on it now, I suppose I was not as careful as I should have been. You see, we had had a good day of hunting. Enough food to last us many a day. I was immersed in the skinning and gutting of the wild game and fish we had caught. I say ‘we’ because Cat was a good hunter too, bringing in more than her fair share of the bounty. The day was getting long with the sun beginning to dip to the horizon. In the distance I could hear the calling of night creatures starting to stir as others looked to settle down to sleep.
So immersed was I in my task it was not until I heard Cat yowl and screech as she leapt in front me, that I realised something was badly amiss. Indeed it was. Selflessly she had sprung to my defense just as a huge wild cat was about to pounce on me, fangs bared. It must have been attracted by the smell of blood. A terrible fight ensued. Feline against feline. A fight to the death would have been inevitable had I not rushed in brandishing my knife and screaming like a banshee. Between us we managed to scare off the marauding thief. But at a cost.
Having got over the worst of the fright and made sure the feral animal was really gone, I turned my attention to Cat. I had escaped any injury. Cat, however, lay on her side as if dead. Heart in throat I ran to her. She was badly wounded. I could see one eye was gone altogether. Her body was covered in scratches and bites. I feared for her life. I gently washed her wounds as I examined her more closely. Grateful as I was to see there seemed to be no life threatening injury apart from the missing eye, I was still faced with the problem of how best to tend to her wounds.
Now was the time to call on all my skill and knowledge of Nature’s healing gifts. That night I kept her clean and warm, nursing her by my side. There would be time in the morning, I decided, to search for the herbs and poultices I would need to help her heal, as I covered the empty eye socket with a clean cloth. Deep in my heart I knew she had saved me. Bites from feral cats can inflict terrible injuries that often fester and may even result in death. In the morning I was relieved to find that where we were camped had an abundance of all that I needed. But that is a story for another time.
We stayed there for the next two weeks as Cat rested and healed. Luckily the food we had was sufficient to see us through. Cat healed well. Our bond, of course, was even stronger. And that, my little ones, is how her name was changed to One Eye.
© Raili Tanska
Written in response to Lady Calen’s Challenge – exercise # 14
From Michéle’s blog:
This gave my soul peace today…
‘Do not be dismayed by the darkness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go, Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.’