Grimaldi’s Thanksgiving

Grimaldi knew something interesting was afoot. There was much hustle and bustle in Anna’s kitchen. She and Salvatore were speaking loudly in strange words that Grimaldi was just beginning to understand, although when they spoke to him they said the familiar words that Jon had used. Grimaldi had twigged that when Anna talked about latte, she meant milk and that carne meant meat. When he heard these words no matter what the language, Grimaldi would come running to his bowl.

Grimaldi still missed his old home. He still grieved for Jon, although he loved Anna. The combined hubbub and melancholy drew Grimaldi into the kitchen, where he jumped up on the windowsill to sniff good smells and try to figure out what was going on. His thoughts drifted to the beings that had disappeared from his life. He knew that after Jon had vanished, Jon’s mate Lucy did not want him and had moved to a place called Naples, leaving Grimaldi with Anna and Salvatore. He would henceforth be Anna’s cat.

As far back as Grimaldi could remember Lucy had never liked him. Lucy did not like cats and for his part, Grimaldi did not like Lucy. On a bustling day like this, just before Jon vanished, and Grimaldi was still in his old home, he had stretched out on the kitchen table, knowing that Lucy had gone out, so would not come in and throw whatever was at hand at him. She had no business being there, but was allowed to stay only at Jonathan’s sufferance. Lucy cooked and cleaned. That Grimaldi would give her. She did not encourage him to stay around when she was cooking, however; so he would plop himself down in the middle of the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, pleased when Lucy would just miss tripping on him. She never shared tidbits from her plate. Jonathan did. Grimaldi heard the key. He jumped down from the table and stood in front of the door.

As Lucy entered, he put his tail in the air and slowly walked away from her up the stairs. Lucy snarled at the cat’s departing rear and went into the kitchen to continue her preparations. She noticed cat hairs on the table and felt the surface. Warm. “Damn that cat!” she shouted. She left the kitchen and went to look for him. She felt like throwing him out the window. Jon spoiled that cat and that cat was awful! When she couldn’t find Grimaldi, Lucy returned to the kitchen. She grabbed paper towels and soaked them with soap and hot water and scrubbed the kitchen table. She could not begin to think of cooking with cat stuff all over.

Grimaldi in the meantime was very pleased with himself. He had gotten away with something. He considered jumping up on the bed but then thought he’d better not push his luck. He knew that if Lucy eventually figured out that he had been sunning himself in the middle of the kitchen table she would have it in for him.   He meandered into Jon’s studio.

Jon was absorbed in his painting. There was a cup of cold tea and a cheese sandwich on a side table. Grimaldi jumped on the table, lapped up some spilled milk and nosed the sandwich. He pushed the top piece of bread off and ate the cheese. Then he yowled his Siamese yowl. Jon turned around and smiled. He loved to look at Grimaldi. The cat was beautiful. Grimaldi sat and regarded Jon, blinking his blue eyes.

Jon stopped painting to admire Grimaldi. His colors were perfect – dark brown tail that began to meld into a sandy tan touched with sienna on the body and to flow back into dark brown down the graceful legs and upward to the ears. This warm autumnal brown, color of dried and dead leaves, was startlingly interrupted by the blueness of his eyes. There was something in the eyes that recalled the Mediterranean. But viewed from afar. Gazing down on the sea from the mountains above Amalfi. A blue like a cool bright turquoise (but not quite) sliced by glints of white sunlight. Jon could never quite capture their luster in paint. They were defined by light, not pigment.

In Jon’s mind Grimaldi was always associated with Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Years ago he had spent the autumn in Naples, looking at art and taking classes at the Accademia di belle arti. One day, returning from hiking the mule trails that wind upward from Amalfi, Jon had arrived in Naples and was making his way through the Circumvesuviana train station when he had spotted a mother cat in the dilapidated garden on the side of the passageway. She was nursing a number of kittens. Kittens of all colors – black, tiger, calico, even a single Siamese. It was odd that this mother cat was nursing so publically. It occurred to Jon that she might be hoping that some passersby would adopt them, for they were big enough to be on their own. Jon had been tempted to take the Siamese, but did not because the difficulty of getting a cat back to the States would have been too great.

Later, when a friend had two Siamese kittens he wanted to “get rid of” Jon took them, much to Lucy’s dismay and over her objections. They were regal; their coloring told of sand and sea and a distance that no human could ever transverse. He named one Grimaldi, for the ferry company that travels the seas surrounding Italy, and the other Grazia for the grace by which the kittens were saved from the kill-shelter.

In Jon’s studio, Grimaldi finished Jon’s lunch. He warbled, jumped down and careful not to disturb Jon’s paints, wove himself around Jon’s legs. He rubbed the easel with his upper lip to mark Jon’s place as his own. That was when Grimaldi smelled it. He smelled not Jon’s scent but an odor that meant the end of life. Grimaldi’s instinct was to hiss and run away from him.

Grimaldi had not forgotten his littermate, Grazia who one day suddenly emanated this same deadly odor that rendered her unfamiliar to him. From the time he first smelled it, had Grimaldi kept her at a distance. Grazia crept into the basement where she hid behind the furnace. She had stayed there for two days until Jon crawled underneath the furnace and pulled her out, limp and dusty. He had wiped her off and laid her ever so gently in a box. He then had put the box into the car and drove off. He returned alone.

Grimaldi did not like the way Grazia had changed and then vanished.   Jon seemed dispirited too, as if he were retreating behind his easel but Lucy did not notice. Only Grimaldi was aware of the sense of something coming to an end.

These events had happened a long time ago in the span of a cat’s life, yet they were still with Grimaldi. His recollections were soon, however, sidetracked by Anna who was unusually busy in the kitchen. Interesting smells were floating all around. Grimaldi decided to take advantage of Anna’s good nature and plop himself down in the middle of the table to see what he could procure to eat. Anna didn’t mind. She was glad of the company and happy to be in a place that did not relegate cats to outdoors where they were expected to hunt their own food. Her adopted culture condoned treating animals as sentient beings, which Anna knew they were. So, working around Grimaldi, Anna began her American Thanksgiving preparations. She was making pumpkin pie, another custom she had adopted.

She offered Grimaldi crumbs of crust; she put a bit of condensed milk into his bowl. He happily consumed all, but when Anna opened the can of pumpkin, he went mad with delight. He mewed and rubbed her legs, nearly tripping her.

“Pumpkin is for cows, not cats,” she told him.

When the pies were finished baking, Anna put them on the dining room table to cool. Grimaldi jumped on the table and tried to lick one. Anna picked him up and carried him out of the room. Then she closed the door.

While Anna was relaxing, reading the Corriere della sera Grimaldi made his way to the door of the dining room. He jumped and grabbed hold of the door knob with his paws. As he dropped, the knob turned and the door opened a crack. Grimaldi pushed it open, jumped on the table and ate the center of one of the pumpkin pies, grateful that he had figured out a way to get in and grateful that Anna loved life too much to deny any creature a measure of enjoyment.