Alfie is a picky eater. Unless you’ve got a tuna-and-chicken bisque on hand — and not just any bisque, it’s got to be a specific senior-branded bisque made by Hartz Delectables — he won’t give a shit what you’ve put in his bowl. I learned this lesson the hard way. Over the last few months, I have spent close to $200 on different brands and flavors of cat food, always to no avail. Any time I’ve tried a divergence, he’ll simply perch next to his food bowl and glare at me through cloudy narrowed eyes. The message is clear — don’t get cute.
I met Alfie about a year and a half ago when my girlfriend and I started dating. He was 15 at the time, and not even his plush white-and-gray coat could hide how thin and sick he was. Just a few months after our meeting, Alfie was diagnosed with stomach cancer and remains on chemo to this day. He’s still kicking though, and he’s spent the last eight months living with my girlfriend and me in Northeast Pennsylvania, where I grew up and where we moved in March just as the death toll was starting to rise. After my girlfriend, I’ve probably interacted the most with Alfie — Alfonzo if we’re being formal, though I also call him Alfo, Alfster, Fonz, Fonzy, and, inexplicably, Fuzz Rat — since the pandemic started.
Given our close proximity, I’ve filled a mental scrapbook with notes of his idiosyncrasies: He only likes water that comes out of the glass a human is already drinking; his tongue sometimes hangs out of his mouth as if he’s — forgive me, Alfie — some kind of overeager puppy; and he looks like a wheezing bureaucrat when he falls asleep while seated upright on the back of the couch.
This may all sound weird, and believe me, I used to think cat people were weird. Cat people gape from across the room as their pet yawns and scratches up the furniture. They speak in hushed tones about how precious their feline looks as it snoozes two-thirds of the day away, mindful of their volume lest the creature wake up and scamper away for the nearest dark corner. Compared to dogs, who return your love and affection, cats offer up an almost parasitic relationship. You feed and house them and in return, they allow you the occasional pat.
Or so I thought. Alfie may not run over to sniff my crotch the second I walk through the door, but he does walk over and plop down next to me when I’m working at my desk. He takes care to give my hand a single appreciative lick whenever I dump some more bisque into his bowl. That whole thing about cats’ standoffishness — it’s bullshit. They’re not as needy as dogs, sure, but they’re not the slinking sociopaths we make them out to be.
Alfie’s companionship is boring, but it’s real and it’s constant. He is quiet and sleepy. He has an annoyingly picky palate and he has a nasty habit of batting at my feet when he’s ready for another round of bisque. But he’s also here, and in a year like this one, that’s more than enough.