We were gone on our trip 19 days, during which time some friends stayed at our house, which was actually very nice. Yes, I had to do more cleaning in the days before we left than I would otherwise have done, but when we got back, the house was spotless, and even though I know it's unlikely that our house will burn to the ground, fall down, explode, implode or otherwise suffer major damage when we're away, I still always breathe a little sigh of relief when we come around the corner and see that minty green edifice we call home still standing there, and so on this, our longest trip ever (so far), it was good to know someone who had our cell phone numbers was staying here and it was likely she would call us if any of those imagined disasters were to befall the Green House in our absence.
We returned Monday evening to find everything as it was when we left -- everything, that is except for our garage, which was missing one cranky 14-year-old female cat. Further examination revealed that her litter box had been used at some point, as had the garage floor. Hey, she's old. All specimins, which were NOT examined closely, appeared to have been left a while back, but it's been hot, so, you know, things dry up pretty fast. In other words: Emma was not in the garage, and there was no indication that she had been in the garage for quite some time.
This obviously made Reasonable Man and me kinda sad. Emma was our first baby. We adopted her on December 27, 1992 -- our six-month wedding anniversary, and for the two years between then and Mermaid's birth on December 31, 1994, Emma was the princess of our household. She spent long evenings luxuriating on our laps on the couch in front of the TV. We squeezed the water out of tuna cans and gave it for her for a snack. We played string with her, took pictures of her, and delighted in her antics.
After Mermaid was born, Emma accepted her demotion in status gracefully. Right around the time Mermaid started to crawl, Emma waged a wily (and ultimately successful) campaign to be let out into the yard (until then she'd been an indoor cat) by yowling loudly by the back door whenever I was trying to get Mermaid down for a nap. She was in her element there in San Luis Obispo -- less so after we moved back to Davis and she was banished to the garage due to her unfortunate habit of peeing on the living room carpet in our new house. Since then, she's been cozy in the winter on her heated pet bed, not so happy in the summer. Sometimes Reasonable Man gets an earful when he's leaving for work in the morning, because her dish is empty or maybe there have raccoons or other varmints invading her space sometime during the night, and other times she will clamor for a little attention. Mermaid rediscovered her out there a year or two ago, after completely ignoring her for about 7 years, and she would go and spend time with her, but otherwise our contact with Emma has been pretty limited in the last 6 1/2 years.
Nevertheless, we're unhappy that she's disappeared. I liked to think that she had maybe felt unwell and crawled off someplace dark to die peacefully -- it seemed unlikely that something more violent would have happened to her after she'd lived in the garage without incident for so long. I asked my neighbor Kim, who is the only person I could imagine would have noticed her around, if she'd seen her. Kim said she hadn't but told me about a time one of her cats got cheesed off about something at her house and disappeared for six days, only to come back after she'd given him up for dead. That made me feel better -- maybe it's not like Emma to leave her shelf in the garage for any length of time, but then, this was also the first time we've ever left for almost 3 weeks and let other people live in our house while we were gone. Who knows what was going through her little cat brain? Kim recommended that I leave food and water for her somewhere outside the garage. I figured I had nothing to lose by following her advice.
Yesterday morning, there was a hopeful sign in the garage -- fresh cat poops under my car! (No, I didn't examine them closely -- I just kind of poked at them with my shoe to see if they'd squish. Sorry to get graphic on you there.) After I swept the garage out, I called Emma's name a few times, and I'm pretty sure I heard her meow back at me. I left some tuna juice out near the bushes next to the garage in case she wanted a treat. It was gone later on, and of course some other cat might have consumed it, but I'm choosing to remain hopeful that our first baby is still out there and might come back to live in our garage again soon.