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© rauldukeblog and The Violent Ink 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to The Violent Ink and rauldukeblog The Violent Ink with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Duke the Cat.

“A cat is all essence. Essence remembers.”

— Jane Heap



I was living in Baltimore and I had just moved to a large row house. It was next door to an old barn. In the backyard, along one side of the yard the wall of the barn ran back to a fence and beyond the fence there was a narrow aley. In the wall you could see the openings where the horses used to cran their long necks to be fed.

In his autobiography, Frederick Douglas described visiting the livery stable that had been there and I would, from time to time, look out the big kitchen window to the yard and imagine him standing there watching the horses.

Beyond the alley were other row houses and in one of them Billie Holiday had lived as a young girl, and all along the street were murals of her, with a flower in her hair or standing in front of a microphone.

The first weekend I was there, after the manic rush of moving, and making sure my cat Duffy was alright, I went and sat in the yard. It was September and warm. It was very quiet. Duffy was at the window watching me. I had found her seventeen years before in a park in San Francisco. She was black and small and liked everyone. I didn’t hold that against her. There is, after all, no accounting for taste, and she was, by being a cat, smarter than I am.

I was sitting there thinking about who knows what when a very thin, orange cat, appeared at the top of the fence, looked at me, jumped down to the ground and, with the air of a gentleman with reservations at a nice restaurant, walked to me, jumped into my lap, curled up and went to sleep.

I didn’t move, but laughed a little at the pure and brazen assurance; the sublime sense of trust he displayed and we sat there he and I, for about an hour and then then I picked him up, put him down and went inside and explained to Duffy she was about to have company.

I put out food for him and worked on developing enough trust to get him into a carrier to bring him to a vet to make sure he had the requisite shots and wasn’t going to give anything to Duffy that we would all regret.

One of his ears had been cut so that the rounded tip was gone and the vet said it looked as if he had been caught, neutered and tagged then released.

Estimates run as high as 60,000 feral and stray cats in Baltimore and there’s a rumor that the city, in its depravity and decadence, in its bespoke sadism, in the cycles of endless poverty, uses the cats to keep the equally massive rat population under control.

On any given night you can see dozens of rats running from one dark corner to another and it’s common to pass a row house with a cat colony of a dozen or thirty cats. Some people are kind to them and you can see shelters and bowls of clean water and food and you can see the cats being themselves within the world as it is.

A few months after the orange one came inside, Duffy died. She had been with me from one side of the country to another and in her gentleness, in her endless calm and empathy, she had been a pure soul and when she died I knew that some part of me was dead as well.

It seemed too obvious to say that there was a connection between the arrival of one and the departure of the other and yet, who am I to tell the world what it is or what it is not. I named him Duke by which I mean he told me his name was Duke, and it took a while for us to adjust to each other as he had been out on the street for a while and someone had not been kind to him, so when ever he saw a broom he would run and hide in the basement.

He did not take quickly to people and whenever anyone visited he would retreat and wait for them to go before returning and rubbing against me as if to say, as you were.

A few months after he had moved in he began to cough – a kind of hairball in the throat cough but deeper and with more crack to it, as if dry leaves were being broken.

A visit to the vet and I was told he had a heart murmur. The options were heart surgery or medication. The surgery was beyond my means and the medication, a blood pressure pill, worked. He still coughed from time to time but otherwise he was Duke and he was who he was.

I said to someone once that cats are here to teach us to be kind. You can retreat from that, reduce it to the bleached out, dull details of evolutionary theory, scientific facts, the passionless and correct points that define the symbiosis between humans and mice and grain and cats but they are here to teach us to be kind.

Duke died today.

He had a seizure and all of a sudden his back legs became stiff and he fell down and couldn’t move. I brought him to the vet and they did everything they thought was right and then they said there was nothing else to do.

I have known some decent people. I have known sadistic people and I have known good people with crippling problems and people who, I have no doubt, are proof that evil exists.

But of all the people I have known, of all the souls I have ever touched or been touched by, there is not one who has been more pure, more gentle in spirit, more basic and sublime in his being than Duke who, without hesitation, said, I’m here to be your friend and to teach you to be kind.

I have known other cats, and several dogs and each of them in their way have graced me with their absurd dignity, their noble silliness and their pure souls.

I am looking at his food dish, and his bowl of water, and his litter box that I will never again have to complain about changing. I am looking at someone else’s cat, who has been sniffing around looking for his companion, whiskers out, nose shifting, eyes locked on to shadows searching for a scent that should be attached to a body but, there is only a small empty space where a giant soul used to live.

From time to time I wonder at the visits this blog receives – from countries next door and those that might as well be on another planet. I see your streets and your ideas, your secrets and your dreams, and I hear you in the ocean of infinite zeros and ones and I wonder, if you know a soul with four legs and a tail, who is here to guide you towards being a better soul among all the wayward souls.

A beautiful light has gone out the world. A ridiculous and noble soul has vanished and taken part of me with him.

I did the best I could for him and if I fell short the fault was entirely my own. And I know that he never once fell short in his efforts to make me a better person or to teach me to not give up, and to find a way to be more kind, more resolute, and more like him.

I have no doubt that he saved me that day he came over the fence and said, I’ve been waiting for you. I did not know that I had an appointment to keep or that the universe, in its infinite dimensions, could disguise itself as an orange cat, who knew so many true things, but he knew, and he shared them with me and now he’s gone and there is a hole in the world, by which I mean there is a hole inside me and I will miss him.

3 comments on “Duke the Cat.

  1. Duke sounds like a great cat. I’m fond of more reclusive cats. Though he sure was devoted to you.

    It is always sad when a pet finally dies. But some leave a bigger hole than others. The cat from my childhood, Marmalade, lived for most of the first half of my life and I regretted not being around when he died. As you might have guessed, I’m still attached to his memory. He taught me an appreciation for the world.

    More recently, one of my cats, Grimalkin, had to be put down and my parents’ cat, Sammy, did also. Grimalkin was my buddy who followed me around, but Sammy was a friend to the world, a big fat ball of pure love and devotion (almost dog-like). Sammy was the opposite of reclusive, not that I could hold that against him. He was a gentle giant who adored all of humankind, although he was circumspect about other cats. He had a way of making his presence felt and so, once he was gone, it was palpable.

    There is only one cat left in my life and that is my old lady, Stella Blue. She is in her early 20s and she had a health crisis that she amazingly recovered from. I found her paralyzed. The doctor said it was a blood clot because of an overactive thyroid. She is medicated now and seems to be doing fine. Calicos apparently have long lives or maybe its extra lives.

    For all that I’m a cat person, I’m not sure I’ll get another cat for various reasons, the main one being that I live in a small apartment. There was only a brief few years after high school that I had no cat around and admittedly it was the darkest depths of my depression. Yet cats have a way of showing up when there is a vacancy or when they’re needed. That was the case with Stella and our relationship so far has lasted longer than either of my brothers’ marriages.

    I came across a friendly kitten the other day. I thought of capturing her because she was in a dangerous area of high vehicle traffic, but she had other plans. Instead, she sized up another couple passing by and followed them. She wasn’t meant to be my kitty and that is fine (besides, Stella wouldn’t have approved). I hope she did find a home with someone, as she seemed to be on the search for the right humans to take her in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris says:

    Hey, I came here by way of the comments section in The Guardian today, Sept 25, 2019. Read your blogpost and understood very well. I was ‘saved’ by a street mutt when I was living in Chile more than 30 years ago now. It was a bad time for me and probably for him as well, but we met up and it changed where we both were headed. We came out together into better pastures. He lived to be about 16, 17 and I miss him still.

    Now I’ve got 4 dogs and 2 cats. They all get along and all have their own personalities. I live in the countryside in Spain, at the end of a one lane road, and I think these animals are happy as clams. At least I get to know them as ‘free’ animals and they’re not like most peoples’ descriptions of dogs and cats. The dogs aren’t servile and the cats are amazingly sociable. They know where food, love and shelter is, but otherwise do as they will. The interactions between them all are something to see. They do indeed teach one how to be a better person if one takes the time to notice.

    Though your Duke and Duffy have passed, that probably taught you something as well. The same situation taught me a lot. My unsolicited advice would be to stay open and see what animal may come along looking to adopt you. A small apartment is not an insurmountable situation. That’s where I lived when my Luciano and I found each other. He thought it was a castle.

    Thanks for your writing. It really came across.



    1. rauldukeblog says:

      Thanks for writing. Much appreciated! Your comments reminded me of this poem – perhaps you already know it but here it is:

      Currently I live in a house with a dog and a cat – not mine but I interact with them every day.

      I’m sure another soul will arrive to tell me something.

      Take care:-)


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