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Nina.

My mother-in-law helps to run a sort of cat refuge. It's an old lumber mill in town, slightly dilapidated and rundown, and home to a clowder of feral cats. When I moved out here, I started helping to take care of them. I deliver water and dish out food and watch for medical issues (and the occasional stray kitten).


All of the cats have names, of course. There's Henry, an old orange cat with fluff around his head that makes him look like a lion. There's Trinity, a calico kitten who'll run from one end of the yard to the other, yelling the whole way, if she sees you pulling up to dish out the food. Kenny, a big black cat, will sometimes let you pet him and sometimes hiss if you look at him wrong. Princess, Kahuna, and Ninety are our orange cats - they have made the end of the yard their home, complete with kittens that don't like being spotted.


And then there was Nina. Nina was the matriarch of the group; she was an old, long-haired dark-furred cat with several teeth missing. I call her the matriarch for good reason - she'd had so many kittens that there was always a good chance at least a third of them were hers. She liked to people watch; when I rolled up with fresh water, she would slide under the gate and walk languidly up to greet me.


She wasn't particularly touchy - it took a long time to be allowed to pet her, and even then, it was rare that she'd let you without hissing in annoyance. Still, show up often enough with food and Nina would grow to tolerate you. She would headbutt your leg on her hungrier days, especially if you put her food down first.


Nina was paired off with Henry. It was funny; he liked to stay in the yard, far from people, while she liked to get out and explore. Every time she returned, though, he was there to rub his head against hers and cuddle when it got too cold or wet.


Nina was also good friends with little Trinity. The kitten was her hyper opposite - always running where Nina walked. It almost seemed at times she tried to imitate the old lady. Then she'd spot food and be off running again. Nina didn't mind, though; Trinity was her companion, and she was content enough with that.


Nina's favorite place to be was the front porch of the lumber yard office. It's a small slab of concrete under an awning, placed perfectly to soak up the sun in the afternoon and stay dry during rainstorms. From her perch, she could see the whole neighborhood, even into town. She would watch the trains pass on the nearby tracks and the cars as they ambled by. She waited there when we brought food, especially on hot days when the shade was well appreciated. Too often, I'd watch her scratch the posts as she waited for her food, before coming over to inspect my offerings.


How appropriate, then, that I found her there today. She could almost have been asleep if she hadn't been so still.


Henry and Trinity didn't follow me around today. They stayed close to the gate. They kept guard. They watched as we took her away. Henry came closer than he had ever done. Trinity didn't make a sound.


We laid her to rest in the front yard, between the sunflowers and the roses. That spot is grassy and soft; it gets lots of sunlight and stays warm most of the time. I hope that it's comfortable enough.


Tell the others that we love them, Nina. Tell Sister and Stella and HB and Chromia that we send our love and that we hope they're doing well.

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