Basil, 4/2009-6/2009

I’m not sure if I’m ready to write this, but I want to try before I forget too much.

I delayed my birthday this year to Saturday June 6th because my wife was out of town until then. When my fake birthday arrived, she presented me with a gift that was completely unexpected – a kitten. A beautiful little lynx-point Siamese.

Hiding beind my notebook

Hiding beind my notebook

There were reasons beyond just the fact that I like cats and still miss our old storm cat that I’ll mention, but I had no idea she was going to do this.

I almost spoiled the surprise, in fact. When Vicki and the kids go to the pet store for any reason they always spend a few minutes looking at the cats and kittens up for adoption. And we were out of cat litter, so I called her to ask her to pick some up, but what I said was “you need to make an urgent stop to look at kitties.” Meaning to go to the pet store, but she thought I was referring to the kitten she already with her in the car, and I heard stunned silence for a moment. Fortunately I explained myself before she asked how I knew what she was doing.

So she and the kids brought in birthday cards and a cardboard Exquisicat box with holes in it. Which looked like a box for a kitten, but Exquisicat was the brand of catbox liners we use, which I’d asked her to get, so I figured she’d got the box with the liners and had some elaborate joke in mind. (There’s another story to that, too, but it doesn’t belong here.) So I grinned and opened the box and said “Oh, my god, it really is a kitten.”

Simon has a female Siamese, and Vicki has always intended to breed her once; this is the additional motive for getting a male Siamese, and I recognized that, but it doesn’t detract from having my own kitten. She even promised not to steal him – she has a way with cats, and they all gravitate to her, but with the kitten (as with Simon’s Lavender) she promised to try not to take over.

He was a skinny little thing. From a breeder, which isn’t how we’d usually acquire a cat, but pure Siamese don’t turn up in the rescued cages. He had piercing grey eyes and a gentle purr, and he took to me immediately. He would sit on my chest, sphinx-like rather than curled up, with all of his claws sinking into me. (Siamese claws aren’t fully retractable.) Occasionally he’d climb so high I couldn’t lower my head because he’d be wedged under my chin.

I worried about him not eating or drinking. He seemed to be doing, because he’d use his litter tray (usually), but I rarely saw him eat, and when he went to the water bowl he’d splash his face a couple of times but not start lapping.

I also worried about him interacting with Lavender. She hissed and spat at him for about two days, but then she started playing with him, and even mothered him, cleaning him up. He started following her around the house, and if I ever couldn’t find him, I’d just look for Lavender, because he would be close by. When I came home from work, Lavender would run to the door making her Siamese yowls, while the kitten would trail behind with high-pitched meeps.

I had no name for him. I didn’t want to name him until I’d found one that I really liked, so he remained “the kitten.”

Basil and Lavender

Basil and Lavender

I still have text messages from that week in my phone where I was letting Vicki know how well he was doing. On Thursday morning I texted her that he had woken me up at 5:30, climbing up me (claws digging in securely) to perch on my arm. Later that day I texted her again that I’d seen him drinking from his water bowl.

Elliot suggested the name Basil, and I thought about it for a while.

Friday I had to stay home until a tech arrived for our air conditioner service. I ran a bath, but then the tech called and I didn’t have time to take it. Vicki got back into town, and I took the opportunity to get to work. During the day I decided that Elliot was right. The kitten’s name was Basil. Not Bay-zil, the English pronunciation, Bazzil, like Basil Fawlty or Basil the Rat (both from Fawlty Towers). As small as he was he was like a little rat, and Basil the Cat seemed perfect.

She had to go into the office too, so we met quite late for dinner, and then I headed home while she and Simon stopped by the drug store.

When I arrived home, it was quiet. After being greeted by both cats for several days in a row, that felt wrong. I called out, and Lavender answered from the bedroom, but there was no echoing meep. The bathroom door was open, and I knew what I was going to find before I went in.

Basil – poor, tiny little Basil – was floating on the top of the water in the bath that I’d forgotten to empty. He was cold and already stiffening. When I picked him up and held him close the last breath from his tiny lungs made him meow.

I had to call Vicki. I couldn’t stand the thought of what I’d done to that lovely little kitten. She and Simon were heartbroken, too. They hurried home, and when they saw his little bedraggled body they wailed as much as I was doing.

I buried the kitten in our yard, alongside our old Pepper cat (the first cat we ever owned) and Boober. I spent a week bonding with that precious little kitten, and he died to my stupidity. I didn’t even get to use his name while he was alive, only saying goodbye to little Basil as I laid him to rest.

The breeder was sympathetic enough to let us have Basil’s brother, although she was also upset by his loss. I wasn’t very fun company that weekend.

Parsley, the new kitten, is much like Basil – which I’d hoped would be true. Getting to know him has helped dull the heartache. Sometimes a whole ten minutes passes now without me remembering the little limp body in the bathtub. He’ll be everything that Basil could have been. He’s maybe a little more adventurous, and a little more interested in people than in following Lavender around everywhere – but I don’t like to compare them. I feel that if I do I’ll be finding fault with Basil in some way. So while I’m glad to have the new kitten, Basil’s memory is compartmented, and I think I’ll always miss him.

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