Elaine was never really the same after Tundra’s death, and, surprisingly, neither was Mushroom. Elaine had been crushed when Tundra had changed, and now his breaking of her heart was complete. Elaine embraced the habit of pacing slowly through the house. Her head would turn from side to side as she meowed for her adopted brother who would never come. And Mushroom, he waited every day for Tundra on the picnic table in our yard. Sometimes for only a few minutes, other times for hours. I felt bad for both of them, and I wished I could explain to them that they were wasting away their valuable time, fruitlessly waiting for Tundra to return. But maybe it was egotistical to believe they didn’t know Tundra was gone. Perhaps their actions were a testament to a brother and comrade they loved.
Cats, parrots, ferrets, and raccoons, Tundra was just one of several stars that shone in the small galaxy of animals in our neighborhood, a star that shot across the night sky and then burned out too soon before falling to earth. The lifestyle Tundra chose made it inevitable that his life would be shortened considerably. I’d assumed that one day he simply wouldn’t come home, and then I’d always have to wonder what had happened to him. Did he jump into the wrong yard where a quick dog was able to get him? Or maybe an angry cat owner who had finally had enough of Tundra tormenting his pet had put an end to his life with a pellet gun or .22. But, of course, the way he crossed the roads every day, it was only logical that eventually he’d get his beneath the tires of a car.
April and I, of course, knew the dangers of allowing our cats to roam the neighborhood at will, and certainly, when Tundra began coming home bloody, sometimes beaten, other times victorious, we could have ended it right there and kept Tundra and Elaine locked up in the house, prohibiting them from ever crossing the thresholds again. They would have meowed mournfully at the door, but then, slowly, over time, the dreadful realization that they were no longer allowed to enter the limitless and necessary joys of outside would settle uncomfortably over them. They would spend the rest of their lives as prisoners, lying on the windowsills, blinking away the muted and exciting exterior world that continued to turn and go on without them behind closed doors.
But that would have been cruel. Forcing Tundra to be an inside cat after he had experienced the triumphs and pitfalls of outside living would have categorically extended his existence, but at what cost? The rest of his life would have been miserable. His days would be filled with nothing but eating, sleeping, and looking out the window, which would never fail to break his heart. Tundra would have turned into a fat, bitter, old inside cat who, in his golden years, would sometimes wonder if outside was real at all … perhaps it was only a dream.
Tundra lived the life he wanted to live, that he was destined to live, and I am glad that we never stood in the way of his chosen path.
I’ve had cats as pets since I was very young. My grandmother, Dottie, gave me my first cat when I was two years old. I named him Chicken Ranch. There were others after him: Simon, William, Stubs, and Big Rubber Gorilla. Out of all the cats I’ve owned over the years, however, Tundra was my absolute favorite. He was more than just a common house pet. He had verve, spark, and personality, a personality that I witnessed expand and develop dramatically right in front of me. Yes, Tundra is gone, but he left me with a delightful inventory of extensive memories—cherished memories that will never let me forget how much I will always love and miss him.
Two years later April went to the Humane Society and adopted a male kitten. He was a small, fluffy tabby that Daisy named Little Mermaid. Elaine never accepted Little Mermaid, and she would hiss and strike him if he came too close. No other cat could ever replace the sizable hole Tundra had left in her heart. A car killed Elaine three years later, and, I suppose, it was only fitting that Elaine should die in the same fashion as her beloved Tundra.
As for Little Mermaid, April still has him (she and I are now divorced—thank goodness!), and he’s living comfortably in the shadow of Tundra. Little Mermaid doesn’t pursue life with the same abandon as his predecessor, which is fine with April. Maybe he’ll be her first cat to actually die of old age.
I suppose it’s the name Daisy gave him, but to this day people still often refer to Little Mermaid as “her” or “she.” But I really don’t think he minds. After all, for several weeks, April and I were convinced that Tundra, the White Tornado, was a girl.