In the past year I have lost three cats and one husband — not exactly in that order. Since I’ve written a lot about my husband, today I’d like to write about one of the cats. I write about one and not two or all three not because I didn’t care for them all, but because the one had such an interesting — at times even bizarre — life.
His name was “Mistoffelees.” Not “Mephistopheles,” as some misunderstood the name to be. He was named after the “Mr. Mistoffelees” in T. S. Eliot ‘s poetry book, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Even more specifically, he was named after the “Magical Mr. Mistoffelees” of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Cats. Just in case you don’t know, Webber’s Cats is based on the felines in Eliot’s book of poems.
When Clay was in the fourth grade we made a family trip to Memphis to see Cats on stage. Magical Mr. Mistoffelees is described as “quiet and small; he is black from the ears to the tip of his tail…” He is called “the original conjuring cat” because in addition to being able to do card tricks and make things disappear, “His voice has been heard on the roof when he was curled up by the fire, and he’s sometimes been heard by the fire when he was about on the roof.”
Just a week or so after we saw Cats (which Clay dearly loved) I stepped out the front door to walk our dog early one morning and discovered a wee black kitten in our front yard. The little tyke couldn’t have been more than six weeks old — maybe just five — and it ran up to me mewing as if we were old friends. Since Clay was always difficult to wake up for school, I knew this would do just the trick. I suppose deep down I also knew I was, at that moment, choosing to adopt a kitten, because there would be no doubt about Clay’s reaction. I scooped Kitty, Jr. up and took it to Clay’s room, plopping it on his chest. He awoke with a start, and in a matter of moments I was hearing (you know what comes next) “Oh, Mom, can we keep it?” “OK,” I agreed, “but it needs to be an outside cat.” Ha. Famous last words.
Clay promptly decided that Kitty, Jr. was a she and dubbed his new pet “Misty” after Magical Mr. Mistoffelees. Misty didn’t have to get much older until we could tell that she was a he. So “Mistoffelees” he became.
Mistoffelees — or “Mistof” for short — was an affectionate little soul from day one. He much preferred being indoors to staying outside, especially in cold weather. My outside-cat-only mandate soon fell by the wayside. Mistoffelees’ favorite place was on Clay’s bed, where he tried to suck the blanket as he purred merrily. Odd, but cute as a furry little button. He knew he was Clay’s cat from the start.
He also seemed to know the talents of Webber’s Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, and was determined to live up to the name. I was always determined to keep him outside as much as possible, at least in nice weather. I would put him out and moments later, it seemed, Mistof would somehow be back inside again. My “Who let him in?” query would be answered by a trio of “Not me” responses. At other times I would have sworn he was indoors and I’d hear him mewing on the front porch to be let in. “What the heck? How did he — ” I finally stopped even asking the question. Mistoffelees was one talented cat and that’s all there was to it.
He was smart, too. He always knew when I was stalking him to toss him out, and he knew just where to hide. My favorite Mistoffelees story goes back to when Clay had bunk beds. His stuffed animals were stashed on the floor under the top bunk. One day I was trying to find Mistof to put him out. I knew he was in the house somewhere … wasn’t he? Do you remember the darling scene from ET where he’s hiding in Elliot’s closet among the stuffed animals and the mom looks right at him but doesn’t see him? I peered under Clay’s bed. Let’s see…stuffed dog…stuffed rabbit…stuffed horse…cat…teddy bear…Wait a minute! It was just like the movie scene; Mistoffelees sat motionless, barely breathing as he hoped I’d pass him by. And I almost did.
Being sneaky didn’t always serve him well, though. Mistoffelees was forever getting locked in rooms. He’d be hiding in Clay’s room and I would close the door in the morning to keep the dog from eating the action figures. That evening upon our return home I would hear Clay’s voice coming from down the hall: “Hey! Who locked Mistof in my room all day?” Several times my feline friend found himself locked in our shed. Once he probably would have died in there of dehydration if I’d not just happened to walk by and hear him mewing.
Mistoffelees’ worst habit and most likely his ultimate downfall was his penchant for fighting. Oh, yes, he’d been neutered. But for some reason he never lost that tomcat spirit. There always seemed to be another male cat in the neighborhood, either domestic or feral, and it was often difficult to tell who started the brawl. The fur flew — literally. The back porch would be full of little tufts of black fur plus the color of the day, depending on who Mistof’s opponent had been.
We always had Mistoffelees immunized, but that still didn’t keep him from sustaining injuries from his wrestling matches. I lost count of the number of times he developed abcesses. On several occasions I took him to the vet to have an abcess lanced and drained. No matter how uncomfortable it must have been, Mistof was always good about letting me doctor his wounds — a task I became rather expert at doing. In fact, I became rather expert at several veterinary maneuvers. At least twice I could tell an abcess had formed and I thought, “You know what? I could take care of this myself!” So in the style of Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber, I cooed, “Now hold still, Sweetie” — and then I stabbed him in the face with my pocketknife. (Warning: Don’t try this at home.) But hey; it worked for me!
My other favorite Mistoffelees story was related to a different face wound. He’d been bitten by a particularly nasty stray tomcat who routinely terrorized him. It abcessed. It drained. Little by little, new skin began to grow over the wound and Mistof looked better every day. Early one morning before I went to work, he jumped into my lap. Something about his face caught my eye and I looked more closely. I was surprised to see there was really no fur growing from the new skin, and the new skin looked…old. Weird. Dry and leathery. Curious, I reached out to touch the skin. It moved under my finger, revealing a bloody mess of tissue underneath. I was horrified to see that most of the skin on the right side of my cat’s face was barely attached. I drove to the print shop and dashed in just long enough to cry out to my shocked co-workers, “My cat’s face is falling off!” before rushing Mistoffelees to the vet.
A few months ago Mistoffelees went missing. It wasn’t uncommon for him to disappear for a couple of days. (I always figured he was locked in someone else’s shed.) But over a week went by with no sign of him. I learned that something had been killing cats in the neighborhood. A dog? Fox? Raccoon? Then I learned that one of our maintenance men had found the carcass of a black cat a week or so before, apparently done in by the same varmint. The body had been disposed of long before I heard the tale, but it had to be him. My little warrior had finally met his match.
When I told Clay about it, we were both sad. I said I hated to think of Mistof dying that way; he deserved better.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the bedroom with Maisie when I heard the soft thud of a cat jumping from the couch to the floor. Then I remembered I didn’t have a cat. I could chalk it up to my overactive imagination, but Maisie clearly heard it, too. For several minutes she lay on the bed, ears up, staring intently into the hall as if waiting for her kitty friend to appear. Now I don’t believe in ghosts. But nobody ever claimed Mistoffelees was a ghost. He was simply “the original conjuring cat.”
His voice has been heard on the roof
when he was curled up by the fire,
and he’s sometimes been heard by the fire
when he was about on the roof.
A toast to you, Magical Mr. Mistoffelees, wherever you are.