Author’s note: So I erred last time. Looks like there’ll be a Part 3 forthcoming, as soon as my subconscious tells me what it is.
She hadn’t intended to keep the cat more than a couple of weeks, or however long it took for the torn ear to heal up. Dr. Hepplewhite, the vet, pronounced the stray fit and healthy apart from the ear and some fleas. “He can’t have been out very long,” the vet said. “Even his teeth are in good shape. Either he’s lost, or someone dumped him recently.” He chucked the tabby under the chin. “You’re a big strong boy, aren’t you? You just need to go home. Or find a nice new one.” He gave Nora a look as she nudged the stray cat into Guildenstern’s old carrier. “You might try putting up a few posters, or an ad in the Evanston Review. If no one claims this fellow, I’d say you’ve got yourself a pet.”
Two weeks became three, then a month, then six weeks. No one called her number from the posters she’d put up, or dropped by her door to claim the stray. The cat’s ear healed up nicely, and he was vocal in his demands for food every time she used the can opener. Tuna was a favorite, she discovered—the real stuff, not the catfood kind. “All right, keep your fur on,” she chided him gently as he twined himself between her ankles, caught up in feline ecstasy at the prospect of tuna shreds in his bowl. He bolted for it the second she set it down, and she watched him eat with the closest thing to a sense of well-being she’d had in quite a time. It was nice, having the cat around to talk to. Though no mere animal could fill the hole Nicholas had left.
She told Father Joseph about the cat, and Sarah, who was delighted at the newcomer in Nora’s life. Yet she still hadn’t given him a name. She had no idea how old he was. Dr. Hepplewhite had said he was healthy, but animals were like people—illness could strike at any time. Her throat ached as thoughts of Nicholas crossed her mind. Seemingly healthy one week, the next in terrible pain from what turned out to be bone cancer in his spine. No, she thought, watching through blurred vision from her seat on the sofa as the cat cleaned his paws, she was best not getting too attached. Anything could happen. The cat could get sick, or escape from the condo when she went out to get the paper and run into the street where a car might hit him. It wasn’t worth the risk.
She should advertise, see if someone wanted a cat. Healthy male, sweet disposition. Fixed. Why did people always describe it that way, as if a cat with its reproductive parts intact was broken? She could almost hear Nicholas asking that question, a smile in his voice and on his face. He would have loved this cat. Called him “Fleabag,” grumbled when the beast woke him, but taken every opportunity to cuddle and pamper him like a baby.
As if aware of her scrutiny, the cat looked up. He ambled over and head-butted her legs, then jumped into her lap and settled there. “You’re a big marshmallow lap cat, aren’t you?” she said, smiling in spite of herself. His fur was soft, with a subtle musky scent. The cat started purring. A soothing sound. She felt her muscle tension ease, the ache in her throat slowly subside. “A lover, not a fighter,” she murmured. “I’ll call you Rodolfo. The poet from La Boheme.” She chuckled at herself. As if the cat knew or cared about Puccini. Still, the name fit him. His purring grew louder as she scratched around his ears. “I’ll put an ad in the Review next week. See if anyone answers. Until then, Rodolfo, consider yourself at home.”