Sometimes they charged each other from across the room, like jousting knights. But just before they collided, they would spring into the air and make scary faces at each other.
Half-Blind chased Calico around the house a lot, and if he got lucky, he could drop her with a flying tackle. But Calico had a razzle-dazzle defensive move. In the middle of a breakaway sprint, she would execute a half flip with a half twist, landing on her back facing her clumsy pursuer, claws first.
Half-Blind may have been a bully, but he was a gentle one. He never extended his claws. Calico seldom returned the courtesy. But she didn't exploit his handicap as she could have, and she was highly protective of him.
Because of his poor depth perception, Half-Blind had to claw up to roosts that Calico easily bounced onto, and he pawed for the bottom before he jumped off anything. But he could stay with bugs on the floor—it helped if they buzzed—and he was a crackerjack snake hunter, a skill he flaunted one memorable day to the horror of Calico. Although she wasn't into snakes, she did like the occasional bug or spider. He also was the first to hear deer in the woods at night. His ears would perk up, and he would trot to the screen and perch like a squirrel, staring into the dark, breathing heavily.
Half-Blind got a fever and slept for three days, and Calico moped and hovered. Then Half-Blind's good eye clouded over. The vet said the fever had blown it out like a light bulb getting too much juice. Half-Blind started stuffing his face inside the desk lamp to gaze at the bulb. "You can't imagine the incredible rainbows and kaleidoscopes he can see," said the vet. Soon Half-Blind had two hazy green globes for eyes, yet his mobility seemed scarcely affected, and his spirit was unbroken.
We took walks into the woods behind the house, along an old stone dry wall, built during the Depression, according to a neighbor who had farmed the land by ox 70 years ago. Half-Blind stayed in my path—I was his seeing-eye dog—propelling himself through the tall grass in soft porpoiselike leaps, a style he had developed to clear unseen roots. Calico weaved at a discreet distance behind us, like some dark-suited Secret Service agent.
I knew when I got the cats that they would have to go after Thanksgiving, when I was to move south, back into town. My mother had said she would take "the" cat. I surprised her with the news that she would be getting two (I knew how easy she is about such things), and when Orphan made three, she was still cool about it.
Orphan was a shadow wandering out of the woods at daybreak, the day after Labor Day. I watched as he reeled himself in, a few feet at a time, drawn by Calico and Half-Blind on the deck. He had probably been abandoned by people returning to the city; every year on the day after Labor Day, the town is besieged by stray cats.
He was about the same age as Half-Blind and Calico but less secure. When you petted him, he tried to get out from under the untrusted hand by collapsing into a gray puddle. There was a streak of desperation in his getaway leaps, but he was graceful, nonetheless, like a swimmer making racing starts. He bleated when he was hungry and ate as desperately as he leaped. He kept his distance, looked inscrutable, smelled funky, didn't like to go outside and didn't purr.
Orphan had a quick, staccato jab, which he liked to fire when backed into a corner under the steps or in the woodpile. When he thought he had an opportunity, he lunged like Floyd Patterson. At first I would worry that he would murder Half-Blind, but it never happened. They were buddies from the start, and a good match. Orphan was someone Half-Blind could sink his teeth into.