When prodigals return
They are sisters with nothing in common. Doris is a short-haired striped tabby, plainly proper, and is never absent from home. Moustafa, the prodigal who is more absent than present, bears a Turkish name because Angora cats originated in Ankara; and also because there is an air of romance about her, even though she has a decided mustache. She is extravagantly feminine, with eyes to rival Cleopatra's - long lashed and knowing.
While Doris is skittish of any contact, scurrying from cats and human beings other than me, Moustafa sallies forth to greet every stranger. She stands on her bushy hind legs, reaches up with both paws to grab a hand, and holds on until both her ears have been sufficiently rubbed.
I see in these two cats the sum of all mankind and womankind: the prodigal son and the dutiful one - the glamorous female outshining the quiet and unassuming. Moustafa is attached to me in the cold winter months when no sensible cat ventures forth into those frosty woods. But with the first hint of spring she absents herself for longer and longer weekends. Then summer comes, and for three months I may not catch sight of her bushy black tail. I used to wonder if she were one of those cats who walk alone, but I should have known Moustafa better.
For several years I had no clue as to where she went in the summer months until I visited up at the posh girls' camp adjoining my land. Their big caretaker's lodge was lived in by a family whose young daughter posed for one of my photographic children's books. As I stood talking to the girl's mother, I caught sight of a familiar mustache snoozing on their porch. ''Moustafa!'' I cried, ''what are you doing here?'' The mother turned to me in surprise. ''That's our cat. She lives with us every summer. We don't know where she goes in the winter.''
I looked at Moustafa, who had opened one eye to acknowledge me. ''She comes home in the winter, when camp's closed, that's what she does,'' I said tartly - my eye on the Prodigal. Obviously, with 140 campers to scratch her ears, Moustafa wasn't going to bother with me, especially since I have to attend to a dozen other furry ears.
There's another lure at camp. They have a superb chef - while I serve simply cat food. The prodigal was living riotously. Occasionally during the summer, Moustafa will pay me a brief call, always on Sunday afternoons. I used to wonder if this was her way of observing the Sabbath - until I found out that Sunday was the chef's day off.
When camp closes and the first frost nips our plants, I can be sure of a soft tapping on the solarium window. There is Moustafa at the balcony, counting on her extravagant welcome. Out comes the can of her specially flavored cat food, not the usual feline fare. It is pilchard, a fish that tastes exactly like canned tuna but isn't caught at the expense of dolphins, and costs half the price of tuna. Moustafa buries her nose, mustache and all, in this gourmet's delight and her purrs alert Doris, who comes into the kitchen wide-eyed at this pilchard orgy.
Doris accuses me with her ''Why don't I get the fatted fish?'' stare, and out comes another can for her. It is hard to explain to Doris that, while Moustafa has been gone three months she, Doris, has had all the loving, being always on hand.
When Moustafa is off at camp, Doris, the dutiful daughter, grows more eccentric daily. She has decided that water in a dish, even if freshly poured, is not to be compared with that running from the faucet. So several times daily she jumps onto the sink - pleading for me to turn on the water just the right amount so she can put her head under it without wetting her whiskers.
No one else would put up with this nonsense, and I shouldn't. But I sense that this is Doris's fatted calf which she feels is her right. It costs me nothing to comply, except a little patience, and Doris is content. So when the Prodigal returns we can make merry again, no hard feelings, with plenty of pilchard for all.