The first time I saw him, Jake was standing up in a small cage, which had been placed squarely in the middle of a card table strategically positioned to attract attention at the entrance to the pet store. The store was on the bottom level of the swankier of the two Greensburg malls, the one with the major local department store, the Walden Books, and Au Bon Pain, a chain bakery that served the only latte in town. It was 1990 and very pre-Starbucks.
I'd come to mall to get my hair cut and to find another daily meditation book to add to my collection. I was not in the market for a third cat.
Jake was thin and leggy, like a red-haired high school basketball player. He looked at me as I went by but we didn't speak. On the table was a large tented sign that read "Marked down. $9.95." I stopped and put my fingers through the bars and he rubbed up against them.
I walked on, got my hair cut. Didn't find any new books that I needed at Walden Books. Tried on a couple of tops that I didn't need at a clothing store. All the time I kept thinking about the little orange cat who'd been marked down. I went back.
I'd never seen a cat marked for quick sale and I went into the store. The teenager at the cash register told me he was too old for them. "We sell only cuddly kittens. We sell a lot of them. But nobody bought this one and he's getting too old. He isn't cute anymore." When I asked what would happen if they didn't sell him, she shrugged and said, "He'll go to the pound. We can't keep him here." She looked at me as if I should know that.
Jake wasn't handsome, he wasn't winsome,. He wasn't even particularly friendly. But in the way we know these things, I knew he was mine.
$9.95 bought me 20 years of affection, devotion, fondness, and amusement. Jake never turned into anything special. He wasn't a curious cat, a purring cat, a playful cat. He liked my lap, catnip, and a lazer pointer. He liked baskets that were too small, he liked his terrace water dish (I used to joke that he had an obsessive dish-order) and he'd follow the sun around. Mostly he loved me, and I loved him back. And that's plenty. Jake, I miss you.