The Tale of Nym

The Tale of Nym

There is little better time for the telling of stories than such, and so as I sit here sipping my brandy and diving into Laurie R. King’s Holmes adaptations, I find my mind wandering to just that. Stories, and the spirit that they inevitably carry. There are candles burning around me, illumination on specific paintings and books, and a myriad of twinkle lights around the ceiling that I have been told are excessive. I should also mention that my cat is sitting on my immediate right, her paws tucked under chin, and she is watching me with the corner of one yellow, glowing eye.

                If you don’t know my cat, you probably are better off. She detests that which is new, particularly dogs, certainly humans, and may the tiny gods protect any cat that ventures near her domain. Her name is Nym and as shouldn’t surprise you, she was born in a barn.

                I remember the ranch with something close to sorrow, as it is truly one of the more precious places I have visited, and I likely will never visit it again. Time does that, you know. Not that you took something or someone entirely for granted, but just the absence forces you to realize that yes, perhaps, you didn’t put quite enough love into it as you should have.

                The ranch was upon a hill, a hill alive with grass and flowers and the deep, saturated green of ponderosa pine. In the fore, the snow-capped peaks of a disinterested mountain range, to the rear a valley—no, a canyon—deep with the red of old rock. There were horses who grazed amidst flowers, and a precious creek that sometimes ran dry. I can remember sprawling in the sun, my palomino grazing by my feet, and thinking that this was likely as happy as a body had reason to be.

                When I found the kittens, it was on something of a dare. The black kittens in the barn, I was told, were “demon kitties”. In so many words, not actually spoken, if I could get close to them, then surely some form of witchcraft was involved.

                A challenge, was all I heard.

                I found the kittens on my first visit. One of the back stalls had long since ceased its original purpose of equine inhabitation and was now—as is the way of barns—turned into a kind of makeshift storage. There were heaps of equipment that one would expect to find on a ranch: old hoses, horse blankets, cabinets and things that I remember only the vague shape of. Behind all of this, behind the dust and the straw and the memory, there was an abandoned horse feeder. And in the feeder, encased in a green blanket, were three black kittens.

                The mere sight of me sent them scampering to the shadows so suited to their fur, and I began to understand my quarry. I too slip quietly away upon the intruder’s footfall. And so, rather than taking chase, I took my seat in the corner of the abandoned stall, and simply let my presence take its own place in the refuse. I breathed quietly, I turned my thoughts inwards, and before the end of the hour, the kittens had returned to their feeder. They watched me, six yellow eyes like lamps in the dusty dark.               

                I continued this for days on end. I should probably regret the lack of adventure that I found during that time, but I cannot make myself. There are things that can only be learned in the silence of one’s own presence. And, yes, there was a challenge laid bare before me. I wasn’t about leave it there.

                The momma kitty came and went, with various birds and mice for her babies to enjoy. She would hop onto the barred stall door—it was always kept shut, for fear of dogs—and look at me with cautious eyes. Unlike her kittens, she was accustomed to humans. She knew that we meant the occasional food, a quick pat, perhaps even a warm lap on a cold day. But that was where her familiarity ended. And so, she would look at me, decide that I didn’t warrant her feline concern, and deliver whatever treasure befell her that day to her kittens. She was a grey tiger cat, and as I never saw a black cat on the ranch, I can only assume that her affair had been as successful as it was brief.

                The first time a kitten ventured from the back of the stall, I didn’t look at her. She was a flicker of motion on the edge of shadow, and I knew better than to startle her with my attention. I think that I was braiding horse hair into a dream catcher at the time, and she had taken an interest in the twitching fibers in my hands. Perhaps ten minutes passed, her assessing, me gently ignoring, and eventually she padded free of shadow.

                She was perhaps the size of a softball, all black with three white hairs protruding from inside her ears. She had curious eyes and she was, I will always remember, unafraid. She was defiant, as only a cat can be, and she sat perhaps a yard from my feet, quietly certain that she could outpace this blundering intruder with ease.

                I continued working the dream catcher with my left hand while my right took up a piece of baling twine, which I had brought with me for just such an occasion. With a casual flick of my wrist, the knotted end twitched out in front of my companion. She moved with such eager ferocity, I burst out laughing. Even being born in isolation, raised with the certain fear of all that is not family, even spending her young life in an abandoned horse feeder, a cat is a cat. She ignored my humor and pounced and attacked and chased.

                By the end of the day, perhaps a week since I began my vigil, the kitten’s name was Nym.

                I named her brother and sister, as well, although the one time I mistook them for Nym and attempted to pick them up I received a vicious bite and scratch in reward for my effort. They were dubbed Summer and Dorne, and I never did manage to touch either without a sharp reminder that they did not care for my company. That was alright, though. I had Nym.

                Or, far more likely, Nym had me. The first time she ventured onto my outstretched leg—due in no small part to the coaxing of the baling twine—she dug all of her claws into my shin and looked at me with a question. I didn’t let the claws bother me. I held very still, let her settle in, and soon she was watching the twine from the comfort of my lap. I didn’t let her see it, but I was very proud of my achievement.

                I had proven myself capable of the challenge, I had tamed the demon kitty. But, as the days went on, having Nym’s companionship was more than mere achievement. I found myself enjoying her presence, enjoyed reading in her stall on rainy days. She would hear me coming, and be waiting by the door when I came in. She would step quickly toward me, not quite rubbing against my legs, but so close that I would pick her up and kiss the top of her head. And we would play with the twine, and she would perch on my lap while I wrote and read and sketched and napped.

                I will never forget the day that I lost her.

                I had been away for the morning, on whatever human errand necessity demanded, and when I returned in the afternoon, it was to find the abandoned stall impeccably cleaned. I should have realized this was on the horizon—and it certainly was in the ranch’s best interests, as a stall is for horses, not demon kitties—but when I returned to find the stall empty, the feeder cleaned, and the kittens gone, I felt my heart break.

                I found a place well away from the rest of the ranch, and I had a solid cry.  Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good cry. Sometimes—like champagne—you just need to get the extra out. So, I cried. And then, I went back to my stall, put my head back in order, and began my search.

                I looked in her momma’s favorite haunts. I found six tiger kittens, small as my palm, tucked under a porch. I found snakes and spiders and mice. I found places in the barn that I doubt anyone had found since it was built. But I did not find Nym.

                Eventually, crestfallen and lonely, I returned to the stall and took up a quiet vigil. Just as I had at the beginning of the summer, I sat in silence, turning odds and ends through my hands, being quiet and letting that quiet calm the air around me. The stall was safe, I would make it safe. I waited.

                Momma kitty returned for a few days, but she too soon tired of the stall. I think that one of the songbirds she left outside of the door was intended for me, and I buried it out back of the barn. When she quit coming, I decided that I should take momma kitty’s example. After all, she had a sense of right about her that my years couldn’t understand.

                I stood to leave the stall, and there, perched between the bars of the door—as her momma so often did—was Nym.

                Her yellow eyes regarded me. Even though I couldn’t see her tail, I knew it was twitching in silent regard. I froze, my heart in my throat, and when I knelt and held out a hand, she pounced down and gave her body a twist against my fingers. I fed her the cat food in my pocket, gave her pets and the small hug that she barely allowed. And the next day, when I returned with a harness and a leash, she surprised me by protesting not the least. She wore her harness with her little chest puffed, and allowed herself to be carried from the barn to where I was living.

                And that, as they say, is that.

                To this day, I think that Nym chose me more than I did her. Despite all of my hours and patience, in the end, she wanted to come home. She had had her taste of the wild, had hunted and climbed trees. But when she came to the stall, not one day, but the next—when she had let me put the harness on her wild body—I think that she knew what she was doing. I think this, because I never saw Summer and Dorne again. They were not interested in my treats and my talents with twine. But Nym came back.

                She has more grey hair now, it flecks her back and chest and belly. She doesn’t like it when I put the harness on her—that was a temporary necessity, and she knows it. She hates the leash and the one time I attempted to take her for a walk, I ended up dragging a sack of fur for ten feet before returning her to the cabin. I let her outside whenever she requests it, although it’s only in the summer that she does so, and even then—she climbs a tree, chases a bird, and returns to the door before I or my dogger are ready to go in.

                She chose her home, chose her human, and even chose her dog—who both loves and fears her. Even now, as I type, she has made her way from the arm of my chair to my lap, where she sleeps just enough on my wrists that I am still able to write. She licks my arm, wraps her tail around my arm, and looks up at me for the expected kiss on the top of her head.

                I tell this story, of all the stories in my hands, because it is warm, familiar, and I like telling it. More than that, it’s a story about a home, and about the ways we make one.


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