This is the story of my cat, Pascal-Pazuzu, and how he came by this two names.
When the workers who were repairing the roof of the administration building brought down the nest of kittens, each was no bigger than a large egg. Their eyes were closed, and their skin showed pink through their sparse coat. They had that generic look of the very young: they could have been bunnies, or mice, or even puppies. Their mother, one of the dozen feral cats that roamed the campus, had taken good care of them, though: their skin was warm, their stomachs full, their coats spotless.
I chose the black-and-white one and named him Pascal, in honor of Blaise P., who wrote that the heart has its reasons which reason does not know. And certainly reason had had nothing to do with my decision to adopt the kitten. I was in a demanding new job, and had a house full of dogs and teenagers and moving boxes that I hadn\’t yet unpacked. But once I felt the warmth of that little body in the palm of my hand, there was no way I was giving him back. The registrar, who was a serious cat lady, handed me a pamphlet on fostering kittens, a can of special milk, and a tiny bottle with a tiny nipple. I put Pascal in my pocket and took him home.
As I read the pamphlet, I began to wish I\’d ignored my heart\’s reasons. First of all, Pascal\’s survival appeared extremely doubtful unless I could somehow get him to accept the nipple. Secondly, he had to be fed every two hours, round the clock. Thirdly, since kittens that young cannot excrete body wastes on their own, I would have to simulate his mother\’s tongue after each feeding, with the aid of a washcloth dipped in warm water. Fourthly, he had to be kept warm at all times….
Feeling that I had taken on a desperate cause, but realizing that I had to get Pascal through the night before I could make alternative arrangements for him, I filled the doll-sized bottle and gingerly brought the nipple to his little pink mouth. He latched on in an instant, and began a loud, ferocious sucking. But as he finished the bottle I knew we were not out of the woods yet. What, I asked myself, were the chances that he would accept my warm washcloth instead of his mother\’s tongue? Visions of death by constipation ran through my mind as I swabbed Pascal\’s nether parts with my washcloth. I needn\’t have worried: the washcloth worked right away.
Limp with relief, I dried off the kitten, made him a bed inside a shoe box, tucked him in and poured myself a glass of wine. Later, as the alarm woke me in the dead of night for another feeding, I hardly dared to look into the shoe box. Would I find his cold, inert little body among the blankets or, worse still, would he be writhing in pain that I wouldn\’t know how to relieve?
(To be continued.)