South of France Sketchbook – the Cat Who Flew to France

I can’t draw worth beans, so instead, here are those 1000 words to color the canvas of your mind.

The Sketch: one very satisfied long-haired cat sunning himself in South of France

“Cat Alert!” I hollered, “He’s back!” I’d opened the door too wide and admitted that cat who wasn’t ours. All I saw was a flash of white and woodsy colors as the long-haired beauty dashed past me. For the second time that week, a call was made to the previous owner of our new house. I listened in on the other phone. Not keen to reclaim his cat, he hemmed and hawed saying, “Well, I’ll come over but he won’t stay; so I’ll have the vet put him down.” I heard the quiet outrage in my husband’s voice as he countered with, “Never mind, we’ll keep the cat.” And that was how Maleah, one of the grandest cats I’ve ever known, came to own us. (Here, he surveys the street from his personal window seat.)

His name, we were told, was pronounced “Mah-lay-ah” but calling for him to come in at night never worked. He was a cat and so only did things he wanted to do. He would appear when he chose. It quickly became clear that a pact had been struck with our Husky-Rottweiler mixed dog. Maleah would let the dog live as long as the cat got dibs on every cushy place in the house. This was obvious one afternoon when I glanced over at the new dog basket by the fireplace to see Maleah snuggled in the center and the dog sleeping off to the side.

Maleah was already feared by dogs up and down the block. The neighbors told us that even as a kitten, he stood his ground and would attack any canine, no matter what size. Thank goodness our dog was a pacifist. The years passed. Every day we walked our dog in the woods of the Pacific Northwest that surrounded our town and the cat would stalk us, taking the walk in his own fashion. He was already an old cat when we’d met him, and as we contemplated our upcoming move overseas, we thought it would be cruel to move the cat so far from his home. We asked around to see if any of our neighbors would adopt Maleah. The hysterical laughter was almost unanimous. There were no takers except one who said, “Oh sure, I’ll take him out and shoot him for you.” It turned out our cat had slept in that guy’s truck. When he tried to chase Maleah out, the cat thought a spray job would make it smell nicer. So, the cat was going to move, whether that was what he wanted or not.

He was an ornery cat but I told him, “Cat, you are going to wear a harness and like it.” Luckily, he had no idea what I was talking about and I managed to slip it on while he was still mulling it over. Maleah was only a little angry about that, but there was worse to come – the leash. This was the cat who had roamed the woods from birth. Now he found himself at the end of a tether or a leash twenty-four hours a day. He was not a happy camper, to say the least. (I love this photo of him, once he’d gotten used to the leash.)

We chose a non-stop flight to Paris and loaded our animals into their roomy carriers. The flight went well and we met them at the other end. The dog was fine but cat was not impressed. His eyes said quite plainly that disemboweling us was a definite option. Not wanting to risk it, we packed him into the back seat still in the carrier. The dog stretched out next to it. We drove the rental car down the highway while Maleah gave voice to his discontent every second of the way to the first rest stop. After a quick walk for the animals and ourselves we returned to the car. Maleah neatly avoided the carrier and launched himself over the seats trailing his extendible leash. It tracked his route to the footwell of the passenger side where he hunkered down. He glared at us with green baleful eyes daring us to move him. We didn’t. He traveled there for the rest of the two-day trip south. On arrival in our new home in a small village in the South of France, we attached his long tether to the kitchen table where he could explore both the tiny house and the shaded terrace. We didn’t want to lose him after over 3,000 miles of travel and so many expertly made scratches.

The next morning, we walked with our two leashed animals to the river to explore the park. Beyond it lay a small wood. Maleah realized that this was a good thing. Within days, he became “Le Chat” and installed himself as the sentry of the terrace. Thankfully the autumn was warm, sunny and long. Soon, he was the elegant cat on the end of his leash when we walked to the park. He glided along, head erect and tail held high next to his dog. The locals thought it was very amusing but also remarkable. We learned many French words because of our animals that year. Most notable among the phrases was “Il est beau!” (He is handsome.) We always suspected that cat understood French as he seemed to arch his back whenever that was said. After a month, the cat could roam indoors and once more, Maleah was the king of the house. Outdoors, he wore his harness and leash and now he was also the talk of the village. After a few years, he forgave us the experience of moving and became once more an affectionate, diminutive lion. (And in this photo, you can see the contentment in his eyes!) He grew long in the tooth and slept by the fireplace more and more. We wept for months when old age took him from us. He may have started out as “the cat who wasn’t ours” but he certainly became the cat who owned us. So, there you have it, a sketch of Maleah, the cat who flew to France.

Next time – A sketch of Our First Noël in France.

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