- ALREADY SUBSCRIBED?
Fill in your credentials below.
Over time, the couple realized their cat was lost. They agreed to take Natasha. I would catch her, get her used to indoor living, then they’d take her to live with them. All would be well.
Naturally, the minute Little Nell joined us, I got out my digital toy to photo record her every moment. (Friends subjected to my e-mail photos keep saying, “Enough with the cats! We want to see PROVENCE!”) The little digital toy appeared to be dead. The batteries were not the problem. I left it off at the local photo store, assuming the five-year international guarantee I’d purchased in New York three years ago along with the camera would cover the repairs. They said the repair job might take a month. I said I’m a journalist and must have my camera to illustrate my weekly stories. Time was of the essence. (Saying I wanted to take daily photos of my latest adorable kitten somehow didn’t carry the same weight.) The woman penciled in on the order–TRES URGENT! JOURNALISTE!
That night the temperature went down to minus five degrees Centigrade. The Pontias, the Nyons wind that blows from midnight to 10 A.M., was fierce. Little Natasha took refuge in Françoise-Marie’s cave. Unfortunately she chose Rouckay’s favorite spot–a thick piece of sheepskin in the middle of a flat heating pipe near the ceiling. He kicked her out. Around 1 A.M., I heard her cries, ran outside in my pink flannel Kewpie-doll-patterned pj’s and bare feet, caught her and brought her into the house. She promptly hit the croquette (kibble) dish and water bowl, then settled in for the night amidst some throw pillows on a chair in the kitchen.
The next day, for the first time in a week, the young couple did not come by. We were now a seven-cat, one-dog, one-person household. After three days, I reassured myself the couple had simply gone away for a long weekend and would soon return. The photo shop called. The five-year international guarantee was good for only two years outside the United States. The repair would cost more than a new camera. I spent a number of hours researching digital toys on the Internet and decided on a Canon A85 Sure Shot.
Just before noon, when Emily and I returned along the Passage du Petit Cladon from the river bank, a cat began to howl as we walked by the green wooden door leading to the antiquaire’s walled garden behind his shop. They were sharp unhappy cries, but I didn’t think much of it because I know the garden is home to ten stray cats the antiquaire feeds and cares for. Late that night, Robbie Jackson accompanied Emily and me on our last walk by the river. Again, as we passed the little green door, the cat started to howl. Clearly something was wrong. I yanked the iron rod of the old bell outside the carved wooden door of the antiquaire’s house. Inside, I could hear the house coming to life. The antiquaire and his wife were screaming at each other. She opened the door and and I explained about the cat. “Chat” is not the antiquaire’s wife’s favorite word. She immediately launched into her problems with her husband, the antiquaire, and the ten cats he keeps in the garden. Surely it was one of HIS cats, as her two cats were inside her part of the house. The antiquaire arrived, mouthing obscenities at his wife. She hissed at me he was going to die soon from Parkinson’s and other diseases and leave her with ten cats she didn’t want. They continued their fight. I reminded them about the cat.
She and I went out to try the green wooden door. It was locked and apparently led to a shed, or stairway, or basement (dungeon?), something to which only the antiquaire had the key. He and his tirade of gros mots (swear words) had now joined us outside. She requested he open the door. “I WON’T DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, YOU F*CKING BITCH! I’D RATHER DIE THAN OPEN THAT DOOR….!” he screamed, contorted with rage.
“See, see what I have to put up with!” she hissed again, turning to me. “He gets those fancy one-euro boîtes (cans) for those cats! That’s twenty euros a day! And he buys them chicken livers at the boucherie! He’s going to die and leave me…”
I interrupted. “The cat. Could we free the cat?”
Another round of obscenities as the antiquaire disappeared into the house, presumably in search of the key. The church bells tolled eleven times. “He’s going to die soon…” the antiquaire’s wife continued. The cat howled. The antiquaire returned with a large iron key. They picked up their fight where they’d left off and amidst a diatribe of accusations and recriminations, the antiquaire finally opened the door. A large orange cat with a solid white front leg dashed out and hid beneath some cars across the street.
I went to get the young couple and the antiquaire and his wife returned to their house and their fighting, otherwise known as their marriage.
The young couple’s building had four doorbells. Since I didn’t know their last name, I rang all four (sure to make me popular with the neighbors). An old man in pantoufles (slippers) shuffled down the stairs to the door. I explained I was looking for the couple who’d lost their cat. He motioned me inside and took me up to their apartment, naturally on the top floor. They weren’t home. If I could catch the cat, he would keep it till they returned; they often came home late. Back to the Rue Balzac. The cat was still under the car. He came right to me and I carried him home. Of course, now I would have to find someone else to take Natasha….
The next morning I drove to LeClerc Hypermarché in Valréas to check out cameras. Plus I needed more cat food. (I buy the large cans). When I returned to the car, it wouldn’t start. I tried all the old tricks to get it going. Nada. I searched the parking lot for a man, any man would do since in my mind they are genetically predisposed to know about cars, a gene I lack. I tried to sound knowledgeable as I explained the problem. Man number one was very nice and tried to be helpful. He couldn’t get it to start. He advised waiting a bit. Ditto man number two. Man number three and his wife were in head-to-toe Vuitton. “We don’t know about cars,” she said, looking me up and down. I was attired in muddy hiking boots, my best Monoprix jeans complete with the Basque Red paint stain on the right knee, and an old black children’s L.L. Bean down jacket mysteriously covered in cat fur. Monsieur Vuitton offered to take a look. Mme. Vuitton clamped a leather-gloved claw around his wrist and pulled him towards their black Mercedes boat with the 75 (Paris) plates. “I’m sorry,” she said with a withering smile and a sniff, “We don’t know about cars.”
Next I went into the restaurant that is part of LeClerc. It was lunch hour. A group of men were drinking beer and Pastis at the bar. “Do any of you know about cars?” I innocently inquired, knowing full well no “real man” would admit in front of other “real men” to not knowing about cars. I had five volunteers. They lifted the hood, pushed back the seat, flexed their muscles, did this and that. Three of them decided they could handle the situation without the other two. I thanked them profusely, offered to buy them drinks at the bar–not necessary, they all worked at LeClerc. I had the chief of the meat department, the chief of the bakery and the chief of produce working on my car. I felt obligated to tell them how much I love LeClerc. The bakery chief said my car needed water. Can I use regular water? Mrs. Dummie here asked. No, special water. I could find it on the auto rayon (aisle) in LeClerc. I purchased the generic eco (economy) brand. Monsieur Boulangerie/Patisserie and Monsieur Fruits et Legumes poured it in. Monsieur Viande tried to start the engine. No go. Something more serious was wrong. They consulted. They did manly things in manly ways under the hood. Nothing worked. They apologized. I would need to call a dépanneuse (tow truck). I thanked them again. They returned to the bar.
I did not have my address book with me. There was a pay phone inside LeClerc but no annuaire (phone book). I asked at the customer service desk. As those of you familiar with Provence may know, Valréas is a little island of the Vaucluse plotzed into the middle of the Drôme Provençale. LeClerc is in Valréas. Nyons, where I live, is in the Drôme. The only annuaire at LeClerc was for the Vaucluse. I did not need to phone anyone in the Vaucluse. My next-door neighbor, Françoise-Marie, would be home watching her favorite soap opera Feu d’Amour (The Young and the Restless). I could call her for the phone number of Georgio, our neighbor, friend and car guru. I inserted my credit card into the phone. Françoise-Marie picked up on the 6th ring.
I realized I would need to return home to make any further calls. Sixteen kilometers could be walked in three hours, I figured. Most likely someone I knew would pass by and give me a ride or I could faire l’autostop (hitchhike). My garagiste, Monsieur Clary, was in Venterol, about midway. If I didn’t get a ride, I would stop there. By the time I reached Venterol on foot, he’d have reopened for the afternoon. I set out. It was a clear, sunny day but very cold. The more I walked, the colder it got. If a car passed with a female driver or a man with little kids, I stuck out my thumb. Mostly I got strange looks. Just before St-Pantaléon-les-Vignes, a woman gave me a lift. She was on her way to Nyons. I was home in five minutes.
M. Clary’s daughter-in-law answered the phone. They were just returning from lunch. She’d pick me up in ten minutes. I arrived at the garage, greeted Monsieur and Madame Clary, their dog and their cat, and hopped in the cab of the dépanneuse with M. Clary to retrieve my little red bébé from LeClerc. M. Clary would call me with his diagnosis and devis (estimate). We loaded my groceries, mainly cat food, into his daughter-in-law’s car–someone remarked I must have a lot of cats–and she drove me home. That night I barely slept. I was terrified I would have to buy a new car. I also decided to work on Françoise-Marie and Mme. Didot across the street in the hope one of these kind elderly ladies would adopt Natasha. I had not heard from the young couple and realized, most likely, I never would.
The next morning things looked bleak. Still no word on the car; both Mme. Didot and Françoise-Marie emphatically said no to the cat. Then the mail came. I was instantly the happiest person alive, or at least on the Rue Balzac! My CARTE VITALE (French national medical insurance) in all its shiny green plastic glory had finally arrived! Georgio came over and placed a call to M. Clary, an old colleague and friend. They chitchatted and bavarder-ed (gossipy chat) for a while. All would be well, the problem was what Georgio had thought, the courroie (fan belt) had given out. I was lucky it had happened while the car was parked. Had I been driving, both the car and I would have sustained serious injuries.
Georgio took me in his car to pick up my little red cutie at Garage Clary. He and the Clarys warmly embraced, then launched into a discussion about the most recent funerals they’d attended. The Clarys had been to two the day before and one that morning. Georgio had been to one the day before and one today. The three of them would be going to the same obsèques the following day and another later in the week. I wrote out my check, thanked the Clarys and Georgio profusely and returned home to the seven cats and one dog. Georgio did not want a cat.
The following morning I plunked down more money for a new camera, which I purchased from my friend Laurent, who co-owns MediaVision here in Nyons. He threw in a camera carrying case for free. I immediately returned home to take photos of Emily and the cats. I took several of Natasha because I was planning to make “Chatte à Donner” posters and an adorable photo might help. Françoise-Marie seriously did not approve of this tactic; after all, how could I possibly know the background of someone responding to a cat-to-donate poster? She was very upset with me. I phoned my veterinarian, Jean-François Barès, in Vaison-la-Romaine. If I brought Natasha Monday night, he would find a home for her at the Vaison market the next morning. Monday afternoon, I unlocked my cave to retrieve the cat carrier. Françoise-Marie asked if one of my cats was sick. No, I’m taking Natasha to M. Barès. “Does M. Barès interview potential cat adopters and do follow-up visits to make sure the cat is happy?” she wanted to know. “He has excellent judgment,” I reassured her, but I doubted he made follow-up visits. She was horrified. I couldn’t do such a terrible thing to a kitten. She would adopt Natasha. Fine. I took Natasha to Françoise-Marie’s and stayed while Domino, Françoise-Marie’s cat, checked her out. No major problems, all would be well.
The following morning Françoise-Marie rang my bell. She was mildly hysterical. She hadn’t slept all night. She didn’t want Natasha, she’d had loose bowels. Clearly she had feline SIDA (AIDS) and was going to die. Françoise-Marie had already lost one kitten to SIDA, she couldn’t go through the trauma again. I reassured her Natasha had not had loose bowels at my house. Perhaps it was just the stress of a new home? Françoise-Marie knew it was AIDS. It was now too late for the market in Vaison. Could she keep her until the following Monday? She did not like the idea of Barès not doing follow-up visits, especially since the kitten was going to die. I reiterated, firmly, I could not take Natasha back to my house. I shall spare you the gory details, but the rest of the week was spent discussing bowel movements of cats. Natasha continued to eat ravenously without gaining weight. In fact, she was gaunt, even more so once Françoise-Marie decided to withhold extra food and give her rice, which she didn’t like.
Sunday I reminded Françoise-Marie she would have to decide about Natasha by the next day. We discussed options. She decided I would take Natasha Monday to M. Barès. He would do an AIDS test and once it was confirmed, he would put Natasha to sleep. Françoise-Marie would foot the bill. If she didn’t have feline AIDS, Françoise-Marie would keep her and have her sterilized. I was to negotiate all this because she couldn’t bear to see an animal suffer.
Monday, I retrieved Natasha, put her in the carrier and armed with a blank signed check from Françoise-Marie as well as a detailed chronicle of everything Natasha had eaten and eliminated during the past week, I set out for Vaison. M. Barès wasn’t there, but his superb partner Ludovic Girard was. I explained the situation. Ludovic took a look at Natasha. She was not a kitten, she was a full-grown cat and furthermore, she was about to give birth! He doubted she had SIDA, she was just very, very pregnant. He would do an AIDS test and if she was negative, he would perform the hysterectomy/abortion, otherwise he would put her to sleep.
When I got back to Nyons, there was a message on my répondeur saying Natasha was in good health. Ludovic had just aborted four kittens. Françoise-Marie was not home. She had gone to a funeral.
When she returned that night, I told her the good news. I think her reaction was “mixed.” I would retrieve Natasha the following afternoon because she had a funeral and burial to attend at 3:00. She would be home by 4:30. By 6:00 P.M., Françoise-Marie had not returned. I was beginning to worry. Had something happened to her? Even more to the point, was I to be stuck with a seventh cat? At 9:30 P.M., the doorbell rang. It was Françoise-Marie. An old lady had tripped at the funeral and broken her hip. Françoise-Marie had gone with her to the hospital in Montélimar. She was just getting home. I carried Natasha upstairs to her living room and quickly left. For now, at least, all is well.