“…for every animal of the forest is mine,  and the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.”  Psalm 50:10-12 

             He invited himself onto our apartment patio late one summer evening as we braved the hundred-degree heat to grill steaks.

            His head was boxy, his body short and taunt, and he sported scars and oil slicks around his face, neck and back.  We called him Boris and he purred his approval as he rubbed our hands.  He made no move to leave, but rather courted us, freely sharing his affection before perching atop the picnic table, tabby tail curled politely around him, blinking golden-green eyes.

            We melted. 

Bites of steak were offered and he graciously accepted.  We offered water and, again, he accepted with purrs of thanks.  His social skills extended through dinner and beyond, as he stayed just long enough to show his appreciation, and left before the conversation stalled.  We adapted our schedule to meet his, eating on the patio in anticipation of his nightly visits.

Inside our tiny apartment lived our three pampered felines, never exposed to the dangers outdoors.  They jealously watched our visitor and inhaled his scent as we moved in and out the door.  Once he left and we settled back inside, they’d come sniffling, mouths open, ears flat, eyes squinting and breathe in as much information as their noses could hold. They’d rub where he had rubbed, reclaiming us with their own familiar scent. 

            Ours weren’t the only heads that turned the day he followed us in, neatly sidestepping the gawking, hissing creatures confounded by this brazen transgression.  We watched, wondering, waiting.  His movements seemed determined, planned, as if he knew what he was doing and meant to do it, willy-nilly.

The housecats fled to lick away their disgust in places of safety – the open closet, the bookcase headboard, and as far back on the bathroom vanity as possible.  Snarling as he approached, they hunkered in horror.

He ignored them.  He didn’t care for their approval or acceptance.  He was on a mission padding grandly from room to room, sniffing, seeking, golden-green eyes taking in everything before returning without a word to the glass door where he asked with a startlingly high-pitched mew to go back out. Amused, both by the improbable sound from this street-wise tom and by his inspection of our home, we wondered how we measured up and what would happen next.

She sailed with him, side by side, over the patio wall, landing with as much grace as her swollen belly allowed.  Blue-green eyes watched us warily, but he took his place beside her, rubbing against her then rubbing against us.  It’s okay, he seemed to say, blinking at her. 

Obviously, this was his lady.

We hastily responded, offering a can of cat food to the mother to be, not even surprised when he allowed her to eat her fill before finishing the treat.  She was loathe to have us touch her, yet submitted to a quick pet, lowering her body as close to the table as possible to avoid our hand.  Boris, however, was grateful.  A rub, a weave, a tiny mew of thanks, and they were off, over the fence, leaving us speechless and the inside cats in a frenzy of excitement. 

            We called her Bluebell.  There was something beautiful yet sorrowful about this homely white cat with gray tabby patches.

            From then, they came together each day over the patio fence, Bluebell struggling as her body grew larger.  There wasn’t a gate or we would’ve opened it, and when we offered the front door, she backed away.  The patio was the only acceptable entry, so we prepared a birthing box and left it there, not sure if she would use it, but hopeful she would.

            As we fed them one evening we were surprised when Boris pushed his paws against the glass door and began a scratch, scratch, scratch motion.  He had only been inside once and that had seemed enough.  He’d never asked to go in again. 

We opened the door and he trotted in, Bluebell wobbling beside him.  He led her to the food dish and water bowl then the litter box while we watched, open mouthed, shushing our indoor kitties that backed into corners and hissed their disdain at this new intruder. 

Bluebell sat plump in the middle of the living room with Boris beside her, his golden-green eyes finding ours and holding them steady.

We brought the birthing box inside.

Blinking his approval, rubbing through our legs, Boris went to the door, but Bluebell remained, turning her head toward him as if saying good-bye.  We let him out, stood by the door to see if she’d follow.  She stood and looked hard toward the door before waddling to the birthing box, oblivious to the protests of our own cats.   Boris leapt the patio fence, leaving his beloved safely in our care.

Four tiny kittens were born the next day.  Bluebell serenely lay back and suckled them, bathing each in turn, leaving them only to eat, drink or use the litter.  We admonished our own cats to leave them alone, but there was no need.  Bluebell was a protective mother, snarling her threats when one wandered too near.  With us, however, she was tolerant, allowing us to cuddle and stroke, pet and hold the squirming fur balls in her box.  She accepted our affection, our food, and our shelter, but her heart wasn’t in it. 

Her blue-green orbs lit only in the evenings when Boris sailed clear of the fence and landed smartly on the patio table.  She’d abandon her babies and race to the door, insisting with a shrill meow to be let out.  At first we were afraid she’d leave and never return, but her distress and agitation at seeing Boris and being unable to get to him was real, as was his.  We opened the door and were treated to the sight of lovers reunited.

They touched noses, rubbed against each other, bathed one another, shared the dish of food set out.  After fifteen minutes or so, he cleanly leapt the fence and she sat beside the door looking in.  We quickly opened it and she returned to her kittens.

Bluebell was a firm mother, not over warm, yet never nasty to her growing, rowdy children with teeth that bit nipples and claws that dug into the soft flesh of her belly.  She played with them, showed them how to lap the baby food oatmeal mixed with water and milk that we set out for them to try.  Little curtain climbers, the babies were strong, healthy, remarkably beautiful, and unlike their mother, entirely tame, seeking us out for a romp or falling asleep nestled on our shoulders or laps.  When she wanted them back in the box, she’d mmmrrrruuuppph and they’d run to her, or she’d leap upon them and grab them by their napes, dragging protesting kittens back to the box. 

Boris and Bluebell continued their nightly trysts and when the kittens were three weeks old, she began to go with him when he left, returning within the hour and asking to come back in.  It wasn’t our affection that held her, and we sensed that though we had fallen in love with her, she was merely doing what was best for her kittens.  We had been chosen to act as temporary shelter and provision in this play of life orchestrated by an urbane tom smattered with car grease and war wounds.  In a way, it was surreal.

Eyes open, eating kitten chow and spending more and more time away from their mom, the kittens prospered, blending with our cats, even enticing them into play at times.  Bluebell observed without joining in, ever maintaining her aloofness.  She spent more time with Boris now, he coming earlier, both staying away longer. We’d rub his chin and neck and he purr his gratitude for all we did, sometimes squeaking a word of thanks.  Bluebell once or twice offered a brief rub.  Her heart belonged to Boris and we knew it. Certain she’d never desert her babies, we remained comfortable letting her go, watchful for her return.

Then it happened.   

We scoured the apartment complex, put out food that remained untouched, and asked everyone if they’d seen “our” two strays.  Some recalled seeing them heading towards an empty field but couldn’t remember for certain.  We checked the animal shelters, the pound, the pet notices, and even the dead animal pick up to no avail.  As the weeks passed without a sight or hint of them, and the food was clearly uneaten, we realized the truth.

Boris and Bluebell had left by choice, and they left the kittens to us. 

We found homes for all except the one, Pumpkin, who remained a precious reminder of her parents with a loving, giving, graceful, gentle spirit housed in a plain, homely, package. 

Twenty-three years have passed yet the memory and mystery of Boris and Bluebell lingers along with a question. Did these cats truly plan their own form of open adoption? 

We do believe by their deliberate actions they chose us for their offspring.  They sought something better, safer than they could offer.  They weren’t looking for personal gain, but rather they offered us the sweetest portion of their love.  And it may sound silly, but we believe they trusted us to honor their gift and understand the sacrifice they made wasn’t selfish or neglectful, but thoughtful and loving. 

I like to think they listened to the voice of their Creator and allowed us a bittersweet glimpse of God’s care for all creatures, great, small, scaled, feathered, or furry.  And I like to think He chose us for them as much as He chose them for us because two years later, our lives were touched by the adoption of our oldest son. 

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