Hugo Moshulu Arons Sherwin-Davis, Dead at 18.5 (in People Years)
Hugo Moshulu Davis-Sherwin died today. He was eighteen-and-a-half in people years. One of the shiniest, softest and snuggliest cats in feline history, he never met a lap he didn’t like.
Caught by animal control at ten weeks old while wandering along the shoulder of the Moshulu Parkway in the Bronx, he was adopted by David and Jennifer Arons of New York City for their nonagenarian grandmother; she named him after her favorite novelist. Hugo, in his kittened frenzy, proved to be an unsuitable companion for her; after he scratched her fragile skin with his sharp claws, she locked him in the bathroom.
The Aronses then requested that a friend, Lisa Davis, take Hugo on. Davis arrived at the Upper West Side apartment to find Hugo, an adolescent by now, at 10 weeks old, suckling on the shirt of Dave and Jen’s mom, RoseMarie. His fur shone, and he smelled like perfume. He tucked himself neatly under her chin.
Later, at the vet, when Hugo was punching his paws through the breathing holes in the cardboard carrying case, the vet told Davis that Hugo was a “monster” and slapped his chart with a “Warning: may bite” sticker.
A few days after his branding at the vet Davis’s roommate, Amaranta Viera, agreed to pet-sit for a two-year-old caramel-colored Rhodesian ridgeback/great Dane mix named Oscar. Rather than cower in the corner, young Hugo nestled into Oscar’s arms. They spent the weekend entwined. A monster? Not.
Hugo slept with Davis every night, his body contouring hers, one arm draped over her chest. He purred constantly, but very, very softly, perhaps as a way of getting her to come even closer.
The apogee of Hugo’s existence occurred in his fourth year of life, when Davis had the numbskull idea of getting a graduate degree in a godforsaken suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. Hugo loved it. He hadn’t been outside since animal control had nabbed him on the Moshulu Parkway, and this suburban scene—it was where it was at, man.
Each morning Hugo walked with Davis to the Dunkin Donuts near South La Rosa Drive. He waited in the alley while she got a 20-ounce iced coffee with milk and sugar (no wonder she went manic) and then the two of them walked back to their little guesthouse in the back of some nondescript ranch house on a neutron-bombed street. Humans never walked, but always there were cats, and sometimes there were dogs, and Hugo loved them all.
Most of the stray cats were beautiful: gorgeous gold patterns, dynamic tabbies, sheer black. But on this block of South La Rosa there was one nasty, mangy little guy, creamsicle-colored, long in the rotten tooth. From the beginning he had his eye on Hugo, that high-minded shiny New York City house cat—who did he think he was, chatting up all the ladies on the block?
One night, Hugo’s hind leg erupted. It had an abscess the size of a quarter. Mr. Nasty Pants stray cat had gotten him good. The vet told Davis to cut off the leg or put him to sleep. She did neither. She just let him use a couple other of his lives.
When he and Davis moved across town, Hugo immediately made friends with a petite gray tabby that Davis and her friend, who were likely both self-conscious that they were getting MFAs in creative writing but had never read James Joyce (or, well, they’d read it, but hadn’t understood it), called Ulysses. Ulee had a brother, a big fella with the same markings, that they called Finnegan. This was before they had children on whom to bestow pretentious names. They were practicing.
Hugo fell for Ulee, hard. Each morning he asked her to come for breakfast, and he stood sentry by the bowl while she ate his food, then looked proudly at Davis, requesting more. He taught Ulee to use the litter box and sleep on a bed, and she showed him how to knock the tails off of lizards.
It was a magical time for Hugo. He climbed on the roof. He rolled in the dirt. He walked with Davis to the mailbox and back every day. He was friends with the cats and the dogs of South Westfall Avenue, and many of the humans, as well. Several times Davis came home to find Hugo in other people’s apartments. Sometimes he was visiting. Sometimes they were trying to steal him.
One evening Davis came home to an awful sight and sound. From the strip of dirt in front of their apartment building came a curdled yelp. It was Ulee, pressed into the dust by her older brother Finnegan. Their nasty orange tabby friend, whom Davis just called “Asshole,” seemed to be waiting his turn. Davis snarled at them, scaring them both off.
Times were great for Hugo. For Davis, not so much. She was crying. She was crying all the time. She brought too many men home, though one had the greatest dog in the world and the others all seemed to like cats. When she cried, she just needed more snuggles, and since Hugo could never get enough snuggles, it wasn’t such a problem for him. She could stop crying long enough to buy cat food, and that’s what counted. “If it weren’t for you,” she’d sometimes say to him through her tears. She wouldn’t finish her sentence. But he got it.
In spring, Ulee crept into Davis’s Chinese straw laundry bag for a nap, but a few days later, she still hadn’t come out. Slowly Davis reached her hand into the bag, near Ulee’s fuzzy light gray tummy. She felt three tiny kitty heads, the heads made by Ulee and Finn together. She cried, but it was a different kind of crying, and it didn’t scare Hugo.
“I have five cats in my apartment!” she cried, the kind of crying that means saying something loud, with feeling.
She named the cats Nasty, Brutish and Short. When they were six weeks old, she brought them on a plane to New York City and gave two to her brother and his girlfriend, and the other to her ex-boyfriend Mike. Hugo never felt the same way about Ulee again. He still let her eat his food, but he didn’t love her.
Davis moved them back to Brooklyn. His days as an outdoor cat were over. It was okay. There was almost always someone home to snuggle in the Brooklyn apartment. He figured he was a confirmed bachelor, but then the next chapter in his romantic life began.
Davis found a mate, Alex Sherwin. Sherwin had a cat, Bob. He had a neurological condition, and he looked like a bobble head. The humans married, and so did Hugo Moshulu Davis and Bob “J. Robert Katzenberg” Sherwin. It was an arranged feline gay marriage and, despite what the critics predicted, it worked. They fought and played and loved.
Bob, generous of spirit himself, sat down on an IKEA Poang chair in 2012 and bit the dust. Just climbed up there and died. But Hugo, so lucky in life, wasn’t quite as lucky in death. His health declined slowly. There was kidney disease, though Sherwin gave him his daily injections of subcutaneous fluids to manage it. His hips were going. As were his eyes, and his hearing. He lost weight.
Then the tumor grew, quickly, in his armpit, and eventually Hugo gnawed at it so much that it began to bleed. It bled every day. Because kitties can’t wear band-aids, Davis and Sherwin outfitted him in a doggie t-shirt, light blue with a green dinosaur (“the cheapest one that was Amazon Prime,” Davis explained), which, eventually, he learned to wriggle out of. His family became inured to the sight of kitty blood drops on the parquet floor.
Then one day he forgot how to use the litter box correctly. He stood with his feet in it and peed on the floor. And it was time. Or, well, it was time as much as it could be for the king of all cats, the snuggliest, sweetest, most generous feline ever to walk the face of the earth. It was time, because it wasn’t time. There is no time anymore. There’s just Before Hugo and After Hugo. Hugo Is. Hugo Always Was and Always Will Be. Never was a cat more loved, or more loving. Never. A king among cats, that Hugo was. A king among cats.