How convenient. I was looking for an excuse to tell this story, and WP must have felt the vibe and fed me the question at just the right moment.
I have been hard at work writing the life story of Mighty Mouth, the Most Unconventional Kitten. He was a real kitten, born on my horse farm, and he was born to a life of adventure. He announced his entry into the world the moment his black-and-white head emerged, toothless pink mouth open and yowling, even before the rest of his body was born. His ear-splitting howls brought the farm hands running to the empty box stall his mother had wisely chosen as her labor-and-delivery room.
Mouthie had what to say about everything and anything, and kept up a continuous editorial regarding his opinions of barn life. Wherever you were in the barn, you could hear his conversational meow-ings and yowings. I don’t know why his mother did not eat him out of desperation. I do believe he got the best of her teats, though, because he became quite portly, certainly a maternal effort to shut him up.
May lengthened into August and hay season was ending, and the kittens had grown out of their box stall nursery and were up to every kind of mischief in the barn. One got run over by the manure spreader, and its eye popped out and the driver of the manure spreader had to throw up. Another got squashed between two fifty-pound bales of hay, and just barely survived after we heard a muffled frantic mewing issuing from the hay mow.
And then there was Mouthie. One early morning my son rushed in from doing his barn chores: “Mom, mom! Mouthie’s been stepped on!” And he threw up in the bin. He was an easy thrower-upper, in those days.
After I got him cleaned up, I sat him down at the kitchen table.
“What do you mean, Mouthie’s been stepped on?”
“I went into Airhead the Thoroughbred’s stall, and there he was lying on the floor, with a hoof-print on his hind leg, and it’s broken!”
“Oh dear! What did you do about it?”
“Well, I know you shouldn’t move an injured person, and an animal might bite you (here my heart swells with pride at my son who remembers what his emergency physician mother has taught him), so I caught Airhead’s halter and tied her up so she can’t step on him again.”
“What great thinking! I am so proud of you.” Big hug, even if he does still smell like throw-up.
We tromp back out to the barn to assess the damages. Airhead, tied to the ring at her grain bin, shows us the whites of her eyes as she tries to shy but can’t because she’s tied up. I smirk privately. I only tolerate that horse because she is a paying guest, one of our 32 equine boarders.
At the opposite side of the 12-foot box stall, Mouthie makes a pitiful sight lying squashed in the sawdust bedding, alternately muttering a stream of sad commentary and giving forth heartbreaking yowls of pain. We approach carefully, talking to him reassuringly, thus:
“Hi, Mouthie, it’s just us, it’s OK, we’re here now, you’ll be all right,” and so on. Mouthie looked tragic and kept up his end of the conversation while I gingerly examined him.
His leg was badly broken, but I could find no evidence of lethal injury, so with the help of my son I slid him onto a board, secured him with a light wrapping of sack cloth, loaded him gently onto the back seat of the Suburban with my son next to him, so he would have someone to talk to, and drove 50 miles to the nearest vet.
The X-ray showed a bad spiral fracture of the femur, very unstable. It would never heal on its own. Needed surgery: steel plates, pins, that sort of thing. Estimated cost $1200. I have to think about this. Twelve hundred dollars to fix a barn kitten that might get run over by the manure spreader as soon as it was up and about again…this was sticker shock.
But it wasn’t just any old barn kitten; it was our Mighty Mouth, the Mouth that Roared, and did we want to make an executive decision to extinguish his bright little life just because it cost a gazillion dollars? No, we didn’t. But there would be compromise.
“OK, fix it,” I told the vet firmly. “And while he’s under, just declaw him, and neuter him too. He’s going to be our indoor house cat, and he’s never going outside again.” The vet heartily agreed, and we left, to return for our Mouthie in two days, all fixed and new.
Mouthie never forgave me for that. His paws were sore for weeks, and he licked his missing testicles until I had to take him back to the vet to do something about the resulting infection. He gave me so many reproachful looks and yowling lectures that I wondered if I had made the right decision. At last I pulled myself out from under the black cloud of guilt and said, “Listen, guy, if it hadn’t been for me you would have died a slow and painful death on the barn floor. Now what do you think of that?” Mouthie subsided.
Not long after these adventures, it came time to move to the American Southwest. Decisions had to be made regarding which of our menagerie would come with us, and which would stay on the farm with its new owners, and which would go to new homes. Of course Mouthie came with us. There was never any question about that. He rode in the Suburban, talking on the CB radio the whole way.
Our new house had a pleasant patio out back, and a fenced yard, and behind that, a two-acre paddock with a nice small barn for the four horses we had brought with us. Mouthie stationed himself at the glass slider that looked out on this idyllic scene, and muttered and yowled about how I had ruined his life by forcing him into a role he was not meant for, i.e., house cat, and he would rather have died on the barn floor, etc., etc.; eventually I lost my resolve and opened the sliding door. He waltzed out victorious and hopped up into the patio chair he had been eyeing, and curled up on the seat for a nap.
I shrugged and went back to making lunch. The next thing, the kids came running in yelling “Mouthie’s outside! He’s up in the apricot tree!” Outside, yes. Tree?? I ran out into the back yard and followed their pointing fingers. Good grief, there he was, curled up in the crotch of the tree! How did he get there without claws? Over the next months he was to show us that, apart from the joys of destroying furniture, cats can do very well without their claws.
And then one day Mouthie disappeared. I let him out in the morning and watched him rolling around on the warm patio stones, having a nice back scratch, and I went to work. When I got home that night he was not there, nor did he appear on any of the subsequent days. Oh well, I thought; coyotes one, cats zero. I was sad; the kids were sadder; but we were all philosophical about the hazards of life on this planet, and soon stopped thinking about Mouthie.
Months later I was riding Joe Crow, my Peruvian Paso, up in the old abandoned orchard that was an easy ride from our back yard. We rode there several times a week, and knew every inch of the place. There was a fox’s den on the southern border of the orchard. I never saw any sign of activity around it, and assumed it was abandoned like the orchard.
On this day, as Joe and I approached the fox den, I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and blinked again. There were two animal figures sitting in the opening of the fox den. One of them was a red fox. The other was Mouthie. I thought perhaps some of the mind-bending drugs I had soaked my brain with in the ’60’s were coming back around for another whack at the old squash.
I “whoah’d” Joe to a stop and watched his face for clues. If I was tripping, then the horse would not react to my hallucination. But Joe pricked his ears, extended his neck and whinnied to his old buddy. Mouthie responded with a friendly yowl. His foxy friend turned, and giving us a wink over his shoulder, strolled side by side with Mouthie into the den.
If that had been the sole sighting of this odd couple, I would have chalked it up to Southwestern magic, or a waking dream, or somehow explained it away. But I saw them twice more, sitting together in the arch of the fox den, surrounded by an air of a serene love: the love of two ancient souls reunited, having somehow found each other against unimaginable odds. Time, distance, and form itself had not succeeded in keeping these soul mates from finding each other.
I cried. How many hardships do souls have to pass through, how many agonies and ministering angels, before they finally find their resting place? The aura of content surrounding these two unlikely lovers filled the orchard like the heart-breakingly sweet fragrance of apple blossoms.
I never saw them again.