Martin Davis: Pawsing in memoriam for Penny

Contributing Columnist

Had she been a tiger, I’d have died a thousand deaths.

Penny slipped into and out of my days stealthily. She would arrive with a rush of air as she leapt to the space I occupied. Her small, white-booted paws landing true, without concussion.

In braver moments, she would invite me into a conversation by giving my leg a gentle head bump, or rubbing her head against my foot. And some days, she’d offer a chattering cackle. Just to remind me she was, in fact, around.

Many days she’d just lie still, amongst a stack of just-washed bath towels in the linen closet. Waiting for someone to open the door, insert a hand, and find it batted back by a paw.

At night, just as my mind was shifting from wake to sleep, she’d step lightly across my night stand, onto my bed, and under the covers. There, my hand would pull her close and stroke her nose, until all around me I knew only silence and darkness and the images my mind conjured.

Aloof. Stand-offish. I suppose I understand how those who’ve never fully given their homes to a cat can imagine these felines as arrogant, self-righteous, retaining professional distance just in case their inner-tiger emerges.

Writers are often accused of the same behaviors. And I suppose that’s why Penny and I bonded.

The life of the writer is by definition isolated. When we are in and among others, we are observers, listeners, wallflowers. Just as happy to stand in a corner and watch two people circle, talk, raise their hands to make a point or express frustration or celebration, move closer and further apart. Storing it all away for that novel or story that’s always hiding in our conscious.

We spend days locked away, surrounded by notes and coffee and left-over dishes searching for that perfect turn of phrase to catch a moment.

Writers don’t talk about their work when it’s in progress. We occupy another space and time when working. It’s a place filled with creativity, and fraught with traps.

Penny understood my moods and moments. Every day during COVID, and the days prior when I would work remotely or do my creative work at night, she would join me on my fold-out white table. And into a white milk cart she would crawl, sit, and stare. Feeling every word that I was trying to draw out.

She understood what it is to spend your life observing, then making sense of what you see and what you know.

She knew not to try and drag it from me. Writing, like so many creative practices, comes when it comes. We can’t force it, no matter how we try.

Daily she sat there. Patiently watching. Sharing in the deep moments of silence and quiet that define my days.

When the frustrations became too great, she would nudge my computer screen, inviting my fingers to scratch her head. And when the success came, she was always there to remind me that the writing life isn’t about this accolade or that publication, but the act of daily capturing what it is to be alive. And to record, as best we can, the beauty and depths of the mundane.

She wasn’t a tiger. She was Poe’s Raven; Melville’s whale; Steinbeck’s Charlie; Morrison’s caged bird.

She was a smallish charcoal gray short-hair, with white on her breast and paws.

And from her perch along with me breathed life into tens of thousands of words.



An afterword

Editor’s Note: For all those of us who have lost a beloved furry companion, Martin’s column is perfect as written. We did ask Martin to add an “afterword” for readers wanting to know just a little more about Penny’s passing. Martin sent back this: “Regular readers know me as the guy who writes from the perspective of those who practice no religion. In fact, I like to describe my vocation in such columns as exploring the extraordinary spiritual wonders in everyday life without preconceived notions defining them. I appreciate awe. I marvel at the natural world. I am happy simply to live these experiences. Death does nothing to change this. We take comfort in the pleasure of having walked this life together. Even when it’s our pets. My cat Penny died suddenly three weeks ago. She was only 8.”



Care to read more?

ARE YOU INSPIRED by this column from journalist Martin Davis? Right now, Martin and our editors are completing on a book filled with uplifting stories about high school coaches and players nationwide—men and women, black and white, famous and unsung heroes alike.

His book will appear soon in our series of 30 Days With under the title: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.

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  1. Duncan Newcomer says

    This is a saga of real relationship. Maybe only writers (and some elderly folk) know that cats are not aloof or imperiously controlling witches of narcissism. They companion seriously. Sonnets, my orange Abyssinian is sitting here on the ottoman waiting for me to finish this so we can go to bed, with that arm around her head. Scout, my one completely unrequited grief, is in her burial box on my book shelf behind me here. My son-in-law Adam out in Colorado, a journalist and Irish Folk Singer, just had a root canal done on one of his two cats. This is all real. Don’t tell us it’s sentimental.