(Excerpt from: LIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE by Roberta Morgan)
It is very hard for me to write this now.
He became my son, and I always told him he was my real little boy, that I had given birth to him, that I always dreamed of having a little boy with red hair named Justin, but it turned out to be Ernest Scott, named after Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I figured it couldn’t hurt my own skills to have such a handsome prince with those names at my feet.
I was at The Key West Theatre Festival. Without going into too much tour guide shit, Key West is a totally different place than Miami; you get to it via one straight road which at one point is only road over water. Takes about four hours. Key West boasted several thousand people before Miami was even settled and stood with the North during the Civil War. A hang-out for artists in general, both Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams owned houses there.
Most people drink way too much, but it would be a blast to be alive and kickin’ in Key West.
The Key West Theater Fest is ten days long and features plays from groups all up and down the other Keys, like Islamorada, Key Largo, etc. That year they were almost all, down to the last act of the last play, bad.
But some local society had decided to give me an award for critical writing in poor Mr. Hemingway’s name and some other mixed-up person believed a polydactyl came with it, though that was in debate.
Hemingway had 68 or so polydactyls there, but in reality they were not kept in Key West; I believe he kept them in Cuba, and they only changed the myth to spark Key West tourism and of course, any mention of Castro’s Kingdom was forbidden.
Polydactyls are cats with more than the usual number of toes on each paw. Some can actually hold pens and scribble. I was in a room with a bunch of them, but had no intention of bringing a pet (which Brian would never like) four hours home in the pouring rain.
I’ve told this story a million times and now my eyes tear up.
Just as I was about to offer my apologies and I think they were about to withdraw the offer, from behind the couch comes an orange tabby, highly alert, a bit bigger than the other kittens.
He looks right at me and with that telepathy we had for 20 years, says, “Mom! I thought you’d never come.”
Oh, he’s from the street, one of the women says. He doesn’t have extra toes. A stray that climbed the wall. Going to the pound tomorrow.
And I thought. Where he’ll be put to death.
The cat, who I’ve already named Ernie, grabs my ankle, looks up at me and mind melds: “Did you hear that shit?”
He never complained. For the whole drive. I didn’t know to give him water. I got litter and box, food dish, water bowl, Iams. Guy at the Pet Shop told me. Basic kitty kit. When we got home, he drank and drank and peed, then took a shit. He clawed the wall to cover it, as if somehow the litter was in the sky. What did he know? He had been raised an outdoor cat. And he never learned. We never cared.
He walked around our fantastic apartment, with a view over the Intercoastal spotted with small Islands all the way to Miami. He covered every room, every corner. When he was done, he came up to me and rubbed against my legs. He approved. That night, he slept under my armpit, and my insomnia went away.
The next day Brian called and I told him the news. He said we didn’t need a cat. After all he’d put me through, I had enough. Besides, I’d found a new love.
“It’s you or the cat for me,” I said. “So don’t come home if you won’t love him.”
“Well, I won’t love him, certainly.”
The irony of the things we say in life. Although when they first met, it wasn’t love at first sight. Ernie and I had been living as husband and wife for ten days. Then this lunk appears and ignores him with a bad attitude to boot. Ernie scratched his suitcase. Brian yelled at him two days later for bending one of his precious medical textbooks.
I don’t know when the change occurred. But felines rule in a subtle way, and eventually they steal your heart.
Ernie held the page open for my mother’s prayers when my father died. Ernie needed a pride to rule so we ended up with six cats. Ernie had a book written about him, and several portraits done of him. He was smart and feisty, and no cat challenged him. He cleared the walkway of our complex in California when we took him out. Ernie ruled by virtue of his confidence and intellect. He never lost either; well, maybe the former, when he was trying any kind of food to stay with us just one more day.
His only problem was that he was an outdoor cat, and that was not convenient or safe, so in Miami he was confined indoors and made himself quite vocal about it. In Los Angeles, we had a little garden, so we could take some of them out and watch they didn’t climb the wall. He did escape one or two times, but we always managed to find him, hearts pounding with true fear.
In this house where I write, Horror House I call it, he finally had his own garden with a pool and he loved it. He wasn’t allowed out on his own, because it was coyote country, but he got a good hour or two playing, exercising, taking toys out and having fun until he chose to go inside and nap.
He became so affectionate in his older age, and strangely enough, adoring of Brian. The feeling was mutual. They’d cuddle up and nudge each other. He would sleep next to Brian, with his head on the same pillow.
That last week, when Ernie weighed nothing and it hurt to look at him, Brian said to me: “I don’t want to leave for work, because I’m afraid I’ll never see my dear little chap again.”
Well, he didn’t, but I know one thing. Whenever I regret leaving New York, I realize that if we hadn’t gone to Miami, I would never have had a son named Ernest Scott Morgan.
Are you out there?
Can you hear me?
Can you see me in the dark?
- Ernie Knudson celebration of life (kitsapsun.com)
- Fundraiser for Crohn’s Disease will be Sept. 21 at Good Time Ernie’s (b-townblog.com)
- Ahhhh…Saturday….. (thesandwichlife.typepad.com)
- Hemingway Shoots His Cat (brainpickings.org)
- Paula Deen’s husband runner-up as Hemingway lookalike (savannahnow.com)
- Video – Masterclass on the terroir of the Mosel, amongst the vines with Ernie Loosen (winesleuth.wordpress.com)
- From the Left (offroad2084.wordpress.com)
- Man Am I Ever Spoiled (Missing Ernie) (thesandwichlife.typepad.com)