The following litter can be found in Letters of Note: Cats, a pawsome book that can be purrchased in the Letters of Note shop and sent as fur as you like. On the accompanying pawdiobook, this purrticular tail is brought to life by Benedict Cumbercats.
One afternoon in 1960, a balding cat was thrust upon unsuspecting novelist John Cheever by fellow writer Josephine (Josie) Herbst, an old friend who while visiting for lunch explained that she was no longer able to keep the cantankerous feline. Cheever reluctantly homed the cat and renamed him Delmore after the poet Delmore Schwartz, the former wife of whom had once owned the cat in question. Alas, Cheever and Delmore didn’t get on; so much so that Cheever’s friendship with Herbst soon deteriorated and they ceased contact. It wasn’t until 1963 that the rift healed, thanks to an olive branch from Cheever in the form of a letter to his estranged friend that contained an update on the very cat that had driven them apart.
It’s been years since we had anything but the most sketchy communication. I’ve long since owed you an account of the destiny of your cat and here we go.
The cat, after your leaving him, seemed not certain of his character or his place and we changed his name to Delmore which immediately made him more vivid. The first sign of his vividness came when he dumped a load in a Kleenex box while I was suffering from a cold. During a paroxysm of sneezing I grabbed for some Kleenex. I shall not overlook my own failures in this tale but when I got the cat shit off my face and the ceiling I took Delmore to the kitchen door and drop-kicked him into the clothesyard. This was an intolerable cruelty and I have not yet been forgiven. He is not a forgiving cat. Indeed he is proud. The next eventfulness came on Thanksgiving. When the family had gathered for dinner and I was about to carve the turkey there came a strangling noise from the bathroom. I ran there and found Delmore sitting in the toilet, neck-deep in cold water and very sore. I got him out and dried him with towels but there was no forgiveness. Shortly after Christmas a Hollywood writer and his wife came to lunch. My usual salutation to Delmore is “Up yours”, and when the lady heard me say this she scorned me and gathered Delmore to her breasts. Delmore, in a flash, started to unscrew her right eyeball and the lady, trying to separate herself from Delmore lost a big piece of an Italian dress she was wearing which Mary said cost $250.00. This was not held against Delmore and a few days later when we had a skating party I urged Delmore to come to the pond with us. He seemed pleased and frisked along like a family-loving cat but at that moment a little wind came from the northeast and spilled the snow off a hemlock onto Delmore. He gave me a dirty look, went back to the house and dumped another load into the Kleenex box. This time he got the cleaning-woman and they remain unfriendly.
This is not meant at all to be a rancorous account, but Delmore contributes a dynamic to all our relationships. People who dislike me go directly to his side and he is, thus, a peace-maker. He loves to play with toilet paper. He does not like catnip mice. He does not kill song birds. In the spring the rabbits chase him around the lawn but they leave after the lettuce has been eaten and he has the terrace pretty much to himself. He is very fat these days and his step sounds more like that of a barefoot middle-aged man on his way to the toilet than the settling in of a winter fog but he has his role and we all respect it and here endeth my report on Delmore the cat.
I hope all is well with you. Mary teaches, I write, the children go to various schools and all is well.
Originally from The Letters of John Cheever by John Cheever. Published by Jonathan Cape. Reprinted by permission of The Random House Group Limited. © 1989 / Copyright © Benjamin Cheever, 1988, used by permission of The Wylie Agency (UK) Limited.
To you, and to Benedict, I would like to apologise profusely for these opening sentences. I tried to stop but could not find the strength.
This was a delightful read, indeed. I read some of it out loud to my sister and man, who knew 'mundane' letters could be such time capsules
While grinning like a Cheshire cat, I gratefully accept your apology before I disappear . . .