Pooka was a tiny cat. She weighed only 4 pounds and next to her, Toby was an elephant. My roommate and I picked her from a huge litter of farm kittens, where she was the scrappiest one, standing her ground despite her size and ignoring the rambunctiousness of her siblings.
She was so small I worried about crushing her when she crept into bed and curled up beside me. When I sat on the sofa, reading, she would perch on my shoulder or around the back of my neck, a tiny black and white collar. I could walk around with her like that.
A little princess of a cat, Pooka kept her fur clean and soft and her paws perfectly white. She had, however, no compunction about showing her displeasure if things didn't go her way. Forget to clean the litterbox a day too long or commit an unwitting transgression and you'd find a smelly present waiting for you, usually on the softest surface she could find: the bed, a rug.
If I lifted her up from the front, thumbs under her armpits, she would stre-e-e-e-tch her body long and hard, front legs up in the air, back arching, in what was obviously real cat pleasure.
Toby disturbed her greatly, with his big dog-like dumbness and his clumsy attempts at camaraderie. They rarely fought, but she would smack him with a paw and a hiss if he came too close to the royal person. The only time I every saw them happily within 10 inches of each other, was in the only apartment I ever lived in with a working fireplace, each stretched out in opposite directions, basking in the heat. Mostly Pooka ignored him completely.
Once she disappeared in a new apartment, and after frantic searching and the beginnings of panic, partly because we weren't supposed to have pets in the building, we heard a faint response to the calls of her name and finally realized that she had managed to crawl down a mouse-sized hole under the bathroom sink, into the inner crevasses of the pipes and plumbing between the walls. We lured her out with ham and Pounce cat treats.
I find now, writing about her, that I've forgotten many of the good Pooka stories, and all I have left is the love I had for this small furry child of mine. She was a comfort in a time of great sadness and despair in my life, and a joy for many years.
When Anders and I made the decision to move to Sweden, there was never any question that we wouldn't take the cats with us. Toby, however, died 6 months before our move, and so we went through the procedure of vet checks, cat carrier exceptions and quarantine reservations for just one cat. In November of 1996, we came to Sweden to look for a place to live, prior to our move after Christmas. In order to get at least part of the quarantine period over with before we arrived permanently, Pooka came with us, tucked in a sturdy little fabric cat carrier under the seat in front of me. She seemed to know that she couldn't meow and only made a few solitary protests during the long flight. I kept the carrier in my lap most of the trip, with my hand inside petting her, and occasionally her little head poking up to look around.
We took the catamaran from Copenhagen to Malmö across the worst choppy seas I've ever had the misfortune to be on and both Pooka and I were green with seasickness. We staggered off the boat 45 minutes later and collapsed on the dock. I took her out of the carrier and sat with her in my lap, recovering. The lady from the quarantine came out to meet us, to my dismay, and I turned Pooka over to her to begin the 4-month quarantine.
Back in Chicago, 2 weeks before Christmas and our departure, after receiving weekly bulletins on the health and happiness of my cat, I came home from work to the hotel we were staying in, and Anders told me he had received a fax from the quarantine facility. Pooka had been fine the evening before, playing with the keepers and content, eating her dinner, and curling up on the blue cheneille blanket we had sent with her. In the morning, she was dead. Only 11 years old, and in perfect health, the quarantine could find no cause of death.
Who knows what kind of despair a little cat goes through in the midst of apparent abandonment? Despite the kindness and some familiar objects, with no end in sight and everything and everyone she'd ever known gone, perhaps she just gave up. But, knowing that tough little heart, I suspect it was just time for her to go.