Readers asked if I had found a recreational replacement for Benjamin BadKitten, my cute Maine Coon cat, who died nearly five months ago. Benjamin appears often in this column, and I usually need all the word count assigned to describe his adventures in the park. It was difficult to include his full name in the headline, so I referred to him as BBK. I always felt happy when one of his fans approached me and asked about this bastard, BBK. I wrote about it with a light touch, but my love for BadKitten was deep. This is my first season without it, and I feel less happy in my garden because Benjamin is not here with me. I’m not here to follow me to the flower bed, or weave around my ankles while I move buckets of compost. I’m not here to pretend to listen as I describe my next reckless gardening project. Five months is not a long enough transition period for me to move on with another animal, even though a different cat lives in our house now.
Four years ago, Benjamin met a big, skinny cat on his front porch. Up close, I could see the outline of the cat’s ribs through its filthy golden fur, coarse cracks on its ears and dry blood on its palm. Angry neighbors told stories of a yellow cat who fought with her kittens or crept into their homes for food and spray to mark his territory. But the BBK, who slept every night on a fluffy duvet and never missed a meal, developed a massive hero-worship for the homeless strongman. I was feeding the yellow cat outside, but when me and I realized he had never been aggressive with Benjamin, we agreed to let him through the cat’s door, so he could eat and sleep in our laundry room. Lee called him Marlon, for Brando in The Wild One, and Benjamin quickly got used to sitting on his cat tower after dark, waiting for his rebellious older brother to return from a night on the prowl.
At first Marlon was too feral for us to be contained in a tanker and taken to the vet to be neutered. When the old man finally learned to trust me, he quietly rode into the conveyor for the surgery, which ended his reign as a neighborhood employer. After Benjamin passed away, Marlon gave us more access to our house, but we also made sure to keep the cat’s door open, for whenever instinct called him outside. He has lived most of his life as a street cat, homeless and roving, still turning into the wild if he had no escape route.