This is my favorite story from Just Another Day in Paradise, but because it's the last story, it isn't among the free samples offered.
"In the Kingdom of the Cat"
Otto loved the Lady.
He had met the Lady when he was nine weeks old and not much more than a scrap of fur stretched over soft bones. She had seen him cowering under a car while some mean boys threw rocks at him, trying to hit him and getting very close. The Lady had jumped out of her car to yell at them. The boys had jeered at her at first, but they ran away when she kept coming toward them.
She’d gotten down on her hands and knees—shredding her stockings—and coaxed Otto out of his hiding place with the tuna-fish sandwich she had in a paper lunch bag in her car. (The Lady was thrifty and brown-bagged it most days.)
Otto had been hungry enough to eat the sandwich, but when she reached out to pull him from under the car, he’d scratched her in his panic, drawing blood in parallel lines down her plump forearm, ruining her new blouse. (She’d bought it at Lane Bryant on sale just the week before.)
The Lady had stopped at a payphone and called in sick, telling her supervisor she thought she had the flu. Then she’d taken Otto to the Vet. Terrified of the smells of sick and dying animals at the Vet, Otto had scratched the Lady again and then he’d pissed on her and the table and then on the Vet himself. He expected her to leave him then but she hadn’t. Instead she’d stroked his head and cooed soft words to calm him while the Vet went about his business. There were shots and tests and finally a snipping but in the end, Otto went home with the Lady and had been with her ever since.
The Lady had named him Otto von Orange Cat but mostly she called him “my good boy” and “my handsome boy” and “my sweet boy.” He loved it when she called him “my sweet boy” because then she would nuzzle him and kiss the spot between his ears where his striped fur formed an M.
When the Lady retired, Otto was thrilled. He followed her from room to room like a faded orange shadow and made certain that no spiders or other bugs dared enter her domain. In return, she bought him cat dancers and laser pointers and little leather mousies that he would eviscerate and leave all over the house for her to step on with her bare feet. (They felt uncomfortably real.)
There was only one room in the house he shunned—the magic room where the Lady made it rain on her command. Otto remembered rain and how cold and wet it was, so he never went in that room, but would lie across the threshold on a thick, fluffy bathmat to protect her.
As the Lady got older, she began to take a lot of naps. Her hands were still gentle when they petted him but Otto could tell her hands hurt her. She moved slowly and once he nearly tripped her when she got out of bed in the night. She stepped on his tail more than once but he never complained.
One night, she’d been more tired than usual and she’d gone to bed early. He had climbed up to the bed to be near her, using the little stool she had bought for him to make the climbing easier. He settled at her feet, as was his custom, and was still awake when the shadowy figure came into the room.
Although the shape was large and unfamiliar to him, Otto sensed the figure meant no harm. In fact, Otto could feel a sense of calm and love radiating from the shadow as it moved toward the Lady’s bed. He watched as the shadow looked down on the Lady and then bent and kissed her gently.
Otto meowed plaintively and the figure turned toward him. With a finger as light as a feather, he stroked Otto’s head in the very same place where the Lady always kissed him. Otto smelled a scent that was like fresh-baked salmon and then it was dark.
A concerned neighbor called 911 when she realized the Lady hadn’t collected her mail. A call from the police dispatched a team from the county morgue. It was their second call of the morning and the senior partner, a middle-aged woman going through a nasty divorce, had a throbbing headache. The sight of the old lady curled up in bed with the dead cat at her feet broke her heart. “What do you want to do about the cat?” her partner asked her.
“What cat?” she replied as she tucked Otto into the foot of the plastic body bag. She knew about loneliness and she knew about love and without making much of a fuss about it, she wrapped the Lady and Otto together and took them out of their home and slid them into the back of the ambulance.
The neighbor told the police that the Lady had a nephew back east and they located him and gave him the news of her passing. He was interested in knowing if there was any money coming to him and when he found out the answer was “no,” he suggested that the county go ahead and cremate his aunt and do whatever they wanted with her ashes.
The Lady had enough in her bank accounts to cover the cost of a county cremation, so in due time, she was removed from a shelf at the morgue and put into a cardboard coffin that looked for all the world like a banker’s box.
The man who oversaw the cremation saw Otto in the body bag and quietly slipped him into the box with the Lady, breaking all kinds of regulations and not really giving a damn. In the end, when the bodies were reduced to ash and broken bits of bone, it really wasn’t possible to tell where the Lady left off and Otto began.
That night the man in charge of the cremation went home to the apartment he shared with his silly little dog and took her for a very long walk. Then he fed her chicken tenders off his plate and let her get up on the couch to cuddle with him as he channel surfed. They fell asleep together sometime after the end of So You Think You Can Dance.
The scruffy gray kitten was three months old and had been at the pound since he was born to a pregnant cat that had been dumped by her owners because of sudden-onset allergies. His whole family had been red-tagged, but he didn’t know that because cats, although not color blind like dogs, have trouble seeing red.
One of his siblings, a long-haired calico, had been adopted when they were all younger, but it was kitten season and the pound was overflowing with cute babies and they were the ones that caught the eye of visitors—not scruffy, runty gray ones. The gray kitten hadn’t even looked up when a family walked in just before closing time.
“Look at that precious little sweetheart,” the mother said, pointing to a frisky, long-haired tuxedo cat who had come to the front of her cage to investigate the visitors. “Isn’t she darling?”
“Hmmm,” said her husband, who wasn’t really a cat person and thought the black and white kitten looked exactly like every other black and white kitten they’d looked at that day. And they’d looked at a lot of kittens. Their little girl had been asking for a kitten since she was old enough to spell C-A-T and they’d decided to get her one for her fifth birthday. And they had to find it today. Because her birthday was tomorrow and five year olds are not known for their ability to delay gratification.
He’d tried to beg off the cat-hunting expedition but his wife had insisted he come along—to make it a family experience. She was getting tired too, though, and privately hoped they could just grab one of the little fur-balls and get it over with.
“Look honey,” the mother said again, pointing to the black and white kitten. “Would you like to hold her?” The pound attendant hovered expectantly.
Ignoring the adults, the little girl walked over to the cage where the gray kitten was sitting and opened it. The attendant was about to protest when the little girl reached in and picked the kitten up.
“Otto,” she said happily as her parents exchanged puzzled glances over her head.
“Otto,” she said again as she cuddled him. Then she kissed the top of his head on the place between his ears.
And Otto remembered his name then and recognized his Lady even though she was small and brown instead of pink and large. He rubbed his cheek against her face to mark her as his own and then he started to purr.
Otto fell asleep in the Lady’s lap on the car ride home and did not wake up until she carried him up the stairs and into their house.