i found levi at a garage sale, on what must have been a saturday morning in april, 2003 (the heyday of my garage sale habit, as i worked on furnishing the empty flat i had rented in march).  this particular assortment of second-hand furniture and knick-knacks held nothing appealing, and i was turning to leave when i spotted a gorgeous, ink-black beast lounging in the sun, every hair-tip afire and obviously the king of all he saw.  i asked the smart-ass question ‘your cat’s not for sale, is he?’ and what do you know – it pays to be a smart-ass.  for sale, no; free to a good home, when the owner moved to australia in five weeks, yes.  she called me a month later and we arranged a pick-up, which turned into several pick-up attempts as he demonstrated his strength and unwillingness to travel in a cardboard box.  eventually i drove her son to my house, hugging ‘tom’ to his chest in the toweled kitty-burrito method we would use to transport him ever after.

he lived in my room for several days, getting accustomed to me and his new home; by the second night, he came out from under my bed to sleep on top of it, a post he would faithfully keep every night for the next eight years.  we tried out a variety of names on him: spades, scutus (which was perfect except that it just didn’t stick), others i don’t remember.  eventually we settled on ‘levi’; he seemed to like the long ‘ee’ sound.  he introduced me to the anxieties of ‘outdoor’ cat ownership, including despair when he first escaped outside and didn’t return for 24 hours, a non-negotiable need to live on a quiet street to minimize the risk of car danger, and the joys of regular flea prevention (or else the consequences).  on summer nights, when i turned the light out from reading, he would patrol my windowsills and snack with appalling gusto on the hapless ‘christmas’ beetles that had trapped themselves inside the panes.  in future houses he would chase flies, and when he grew too lazy (or spoiled) to chase, he followed me when i took the fly-swatter in hand, and hoovered up the twitching carcasses.

he was black, black, black from nose tip to whiskers to his tail and his pads, with one tiny white freckle on his lower right eyelid.  following some minor scuffle later in life, five white hairs sprouted over a healed scab on the top of his head, but otherwise, his fur was a moonless night and nearly impossible to photograph.  he was my hallowe’en kitty, silhouetted sentinel in the window waiting for me to come home, a pool of deeper darkness guarding my dreams at night.  he was the only exception to a friend’s dislike of felines, earning the name ‘stealth cat’ from an idealistic admirer who chose to ignore his companionably steady sleeping half-purr, half-snore.  he had impeccable instincts for the moment i had finally resolved to get out of bed, arriving inevitably to re-settle his rumbling bulk on my chest.  he was hopelessly conditioned to make use of any lap covered in a shark-printed fleece blanket that my grandmother made (probably for the still non-existent great-grandchildren).  he followed us through four houses, learning where the sunniest spots were in each within a matter of hours, and greeted us at the door, waiting to smell everyone’s breath in turn.

he hated the rustle of plastic bags; the sound of someone talking when he wanted to sleep on a comfortable, quiet lap; and, to my endless amusement, my phd supervisor.  he had little love for tanuki when we adopted her, but had begun to play with her (claws in, no hissing) over the last several weeks, and may even have had a little soft spot for her in that outwardly growly old heart.  he was crazy for raw meat scraps and would streeeeeetch his right paw up to the counter (a good meter in height) when he could smell it; a rare snack of wet food would send him into a focused ecstasy of slurping.  he tolerated brushing only while being liberally bribed with cat treats.  his warm, inert, heavy body was the best insulator by miles, through a series of chilly houses, and only with great regret and (unaccepted) apologies could one put him aside once he had chosen his nap site.

these are some of the memories, and none of them do him justice.  we wrote him into our wedding vows, loved him deeply, spoiled him, missed him whenever we traveled.  his steady, loyal presence throughout our entire relationship cannot be reconciled to the knowledge of his body now curled forever in the sunniest part of the garden, under the bench where he basked.  his clear green eyes never faded, never clouded over; his purr grumbled on until the end.  bedtime is incomplete without his settling-in routine and mornings without his early awakening; arriving home to an empty front window is heartbreak anew.  yesterday there was time for snuggling, following the sun, saying all the important things and countless strokes of his warm, sable, purring side, but it was nowhere near enough.  today there is peace for him, and only the ache of his departure for us.

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