Oil on canvas, 36x42
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Niobe was a good cat. No, she was a great cat.
I was about to start college at Northeastern University in Boston, and I was living in a city for the first time, and living alone for the first time. I was lonely and I was scared, and I went to the local animal shelter to get a cat, but came away with a dog.
Her name was October, and she was a beautiful cross of a German shepherd and maybe an Australian shepherd. That first day, we walked around the city for the whole day. Eight or nine hours, we walked, and at the end of it, she wanted to walk more. We walked the entire day the next day, and still, I hadn't dented her energy level.
What had started as a well-founded doubt now became a clear and unavoidable problem: I would not be able to take my day-school courses, and my night-school courses (I was going to cooking school at night), and have this dog.
So in tears, I brought her back to the shelter.
I left, and walked home. I made it as far as the lawn of the Museum of Fine Arts, which was next to my apartment building, and I sat down and I wept. I wept for October, I wept for myself, I wept for all the dogs in shelters, and all the dogs abandoned and unloved, and then I heard someone say my name.
It was one of my neighbors in the apartment building. He wanted to know where the dog was. I told him my story, crying the whole time.
"You brought her back to the shelter?" he asked.
"Yes," I wailed, feeling like the worst person on the face of the earth.
"Angell Memorial?" he asked.
"I'm going to get her," he said. "Right now. I'm moving to the country tomorrow, to a farm, with, like, 20 acres. I love that dog. I'm going to go get her."
And off he went.
The next day, he and October moved, and I went back to the shelter. There was another wrinkle in this story, for another time, but in the end, I came home with Niobe, a pure white cat, who was probably a year old.
She was an amazing cat, and a funny one, too. Her fur was so thick, and her body so round, she always looked a little like a stuffed cat. Throughout her life, she spent good amounts of time staring at nothing. Staring into corners, staring into space, just watching the air. Also, she was a klutz. She misjudged distances, and would fall off things she was clearly hoping to jump onto.
She was a food hound, and for years, I fought with her over my
food. If I had muffins, she would find them and eat them, including jumping up onto the refrigerator, one day, and tearing open a bag and eating nearly an entire corn muffin.
I'd end up using cereal boxes to make walls around my breakfast, because I couldn't keep her off the table or away from my bowl. When I moved in with Peter, he set out to keep Niobe on the floor. He'd find her on the dining room table, and she'd stick her head under a newspaper or magazine, figuring that if she couldn't see him, he couldn't see her.
If I went away for any length of time, I'd leave Niobe with Mom. Always, when I retrieved her, she'd be mad, and sit with her back to me for days.
But she slept on top of the covers, between my knees, nearly every night for all those years. She greeted me at the dog, dog-like, every day. She put up with other cats, other dogs, boyfriends and eventually a husband, though the first time she met Peter, she bit him.
I had her for 21 years, longer than half my life. She died while we were living in Maryland, and I buried her beneath a forsythia bush on a sunny hillside in our backyard.
This painting is from a picture of Niobe, staring off into nothingness at my mother's house.