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Summer companions

Every summer, I take the cats with me to the wild-rosed house on the Cape, not because I can't live without them, but because not taking them would entail greater complexities than I am capable of withstanding. "Now, look," I'd have to tell the owner of the cattery, "don't let them catch sight of another cat -- after eight years together, they hardly get along with each other; and please feed them in two separate bowls, at two separate times, because the smaller one needs to think she's eating first (which has nothing to do with her smallness -- she simply believes she's superior); and you don't have to entertain them, but if you could somehow provide a daily supply of pet twigs for the little one, it would be appreciated (otherwise, she'll chew up your desk, and if, by some chance, you can see your way to a mole or two, imitation preferably, for the big one, this would be a judicious move (otherwise, she'll mistake your choice, green carpeting for the molehill of her choice). . . . I can't think of anything else, except would you mind terribly if they sleep in your bed?" You do see what I mean. . . .

So the cats are taken with me in the car, the little one protesting her egregious red kid halter (the leash tied to the passenger door handle or better yet, to any available passenger), the big cat howling from the confines of her cardboard, regulation-size airline carrier (I still haven't had the experience of flying with these creatures but it pays to be prepared). "Now, now," I moo comfortingly, "it's not all that bad." Sometimes, I take my mother with me, too. "Now you know what it's like having children in the car," she says impishly. I point out to her, rather sensibly I think, that at least the cats haven't asked me when we're going to get there. . . .

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The trip to the Cape usually takes a swift five hours, but this summer, driving at a mind-numbing 50 m.p.h. in order to observe the law, it stretched out to six. Surprisingly, the animals behaved beautifully; it was the driver who began to unravel. "Say," I whined to my mother, "don't we have something I can read?"m

At last we arrived and at sundown. Sundown is the cats' favorite time; this is when wings flap low against the sky and mysterious rustling sounds occur in the bushes. One summer (her first, as a former city cat), the big cat was so entranced by the thickets of beach plum and Cape pine at such an hour that she took an unscheduled side trip: after four days and nights of frenzied search involving the entire neighborhood, I found her next door, perched on the prow of a Boston Whaler in Mr. Bearse's barn. She looked like a figurehead in command of the ship and I wondered if one of us hadn't been taken for a ride.

On the Cape, dusk comes a few seconds earlier than it does in New York State, but not before my mother and I could see that the driveway was again overgrown with daisies and witch grass, the lawn littered with branches and choked by pine needles, and clapboards and trim of the house ravaged by angry sea winds of a winder past. We looked at each other and sighed, sharing unspoken thoughts of the irony of home ownership -- the taxes, utility bills, and maintenance costs, all the funds which one dutifully sinks into a property, only to have the property itself refuse to hold up its end of the bargain.

I cut the motor and the cats became very quiet. I could hear the big cat in her box, sniffing the salt air, thinking. I took the little one off her halter, let the boxed one free -- and opened the car door.

There was a pause and then, like two children arriving at summer camp, they tumbled out of the car and we could almost hear the carefree, tinkly sound of the laughter ("wow, hey, look, here's where we almost caught the chipmunk last year; and here's where the tree toad was sitting when he ate the fly we missed; and here's our stump! oh, goodm ol' stump. . . ."). In high gear, they pranced in imagined battles with each other and ran up trees with joy.

My mother and I began to roar. Really, was it so long ago that we were each so lighthearted and silly (raiding the camp refrigerator at midnight, reading by flashlight under the covers) that we couldn't be on vacation, too? A half-moon was rising over Mr. Bearse's barn and the cats became, if possible, even giddier. You do see the real reason I take them with me, don't you?

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