Here’s another bit of fiction, one that follows Scotch Hangover, though each story stands on its own. I decided to publish this today to honor my kitty, Boris, who is gone, and has been gone for a week now. I don’t think he’s coming back. I wrote this piece shortly after I got him, inspired by his arrival. There’s not much about Wendy’s interaction with this cat that differs from my interaction with Boris when he arrived.
It was just a flash of white at first, a puzzling, feathery tube bouncing on the seat cushion on Wendy’s deck, but the movement had captured her attention. She looked purposefully out her patio doors trying to clarify what she’d seen.
Then she saw the flash again, the movement really more of a twitch than a bounce. Her eyes followed the path of the twitching thing. It led to a larger white blob from which two pinkish points jutted.
Wendy turned her back on the scene. So a cat had discovered her new porch furniture, had found the pink and blue flowers or the Egyptian cotton of the seat cushions more comforting than her neighbor’s green plastic ones. Errant cats were a familiar sight in the condominium complex: on the decks, on the front stoops, on the sidewalk in front of the units. She didn’t give it a second thought. She was busy getting ready to go to work, to the job that filled her life after the devastating demise of her last relationship, some two years before.
When she returned home that evening, the cat was gone. Wendy looked indifferently at the place where the cat had been. Good riddance, she thought. Though she liked other people’s cats well enough for a few moments, she was not really a cat person.
The next morning, Wendy got up early, hoping to beat the traffic jam that she had hit during her commute the day before. In the kitchen, with a cup of fresh brewed coffee in her hand, she looked out her sliding glass doors to the landscaped backyard she shared with the seven other unit owners in her cluster. The radiant heat of the sun streaming through the window made her feel luxuriant, like a cat.
She opened the sliders and stepped onto the porch. To her right, she heard a dull thump, then several quieter thuds in quick succession. She turned and saw the same white tail she had seen the day before as it darted away.
Wendy pulled out a chair from the table and sat down. The seat cushion was warm from the cat’s body heat. Feeling a little indignant about the animal’s attempt to take over her spot, she sipped her brew and inhaled the fresh morning air, mindlessly taking in the frantic sound of the birds. A cardinal flew by, a fleeting burst of red. Wendy followed its course until it disappeared between the pines, then she raised her face to the sun.
A mew came from somewhere below her. She looked down. Through the deck’s gray floor boards, she saw a flicker of white. Silly cat.
First thing the next morning, having become accustomed to her daily visitor, Wendy looked for the animal and saw it was asleep in its new spot, on Wendy’s chair. Wendy put her nose against the window and studied the sleeping creature. It was curled into itself, with its face stuffed into its full tail and its eyes squeezed shut. Until that morning, the cat had not hung around long enough for Wendy to get a good look at it. Now she could see that its body was all white except for a gray veil on its crown. The sun shone through the thin fabric of its ears, making them glow pink. Though she could see that the cat was full grown, sleeping, it had the look of a baby. Not even a kitten, but a human baby. Wendy smiled.
She really did not have this time to waste staring at the cat. A full schedule of meetings awaited her at the office. She turned away, bumping her elbow on the window by accident. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the cat pop its head up and then scuttle down from the chair and off the porch. A loud mew echoed off the glass door.
The urgency of the mew impelled Wendy to open the slider. Though the cat was not in view, Wendy could hear it mewing intensely. She stepped onto the porch, sap and pine needles sticking to the bottoms of her bare feet. Making her way to the edge of the deck, she looked down, in the direction of the increasingly urgent yowl. The cat was sitting on the grass.
“What?” Wendy said to the cat. “Go home.”
The cat continued mewing, its pose exhibiting a kind of fearful skepticism that made Wendy believe it would bolt at any moment.
But it did not run from her. It continued to yowl, exposing its high arched palate and a jagged row of teeth.
“What’s the matter, huh?”
Her tone was soothing, and the cat moved toward her, continuing to mew in the same agitated way. When it reached her, it rubbed its head against her legs, all the while meowing persistently. Its fur was soft against her legs.
“What do you want, kitty cat?”
Now that she thought of it, Wendy realized that she’d seen this cat skulking around her yard before the last few mornings. Hadn’t she? Wasn’t it the same cat she’d nearly hit the other day while she was pulling into her parking space?
The cat’s activity started to become more frenetic as it rubbed its head against every object on the porch, yowling miserably. Yes, it was this cat, Wendy decided, and it had been at least a week before. The cat was probably lost and hungry, though it was impossible to tell whether it was emaciated beneath its thick pile of white fur.
Wendy cautiously reached down to touch the animal, admitting to herself that she was a bit afraid of the thing, with its fangs continually exposed as it cried. Was this a domesticated kitty or some vicious, feral cat from the nearby woods, ready to pass on a dread disease with its pointy little teeth?
It seemed unlikely that a feral cat would be quite so friendly, so she bravely touched it, her fingertips finding their way through the fur to the animal’s gaunt frame.
Wendy did not know much about cats so could make only one guess as to the meaning of the animal’s strange state: it was hungry. It crossed her mind that the cat might take a nibble out of her if she didn’t do something quickly to satiate it.
She went inside (“No, kitty. You stay out here.”) and took a can of tuna from the cupboard, guessing that feeding it—especially tuna—was the wrong thing to do. But, at the same time, she had a feeling that she had no choice with the cat’s insistent cries increasing in volume each moment. Using the electric can opener, Wendy removed the tuna can’s top, noting that the cat had suddenly quieted at a presumably familiar sound. It was sitting politely by the door, though its eyes were still frantic.
Wendy could scarcely get the tuna out of the can and onto the little plate she’d set on the deck when the cat raced over and started eating, its teeth slicing into the fleshy fish. Moments later, the tuna was gone, aggressively devoured in large chunks.
The cat started yowling again, looking up at Wendy with wild eyes.
The precious thing had suddenly become the Cujo of kitties. Wendy dashed back into the house and hid apprehensively behind the screen door, though she was still eager to do whatever it took to stop the yowling. Desperate, she hustled again to the cupboard and took out another can. The cat pressed its face against the screen while the can opener whirred.
This time, the cat was so impatient to get to the contents of the can, it started eating the tuna before Wendy had a chance to pour it onto the plate. Wendy dropped the full can on the porch and backed away, watching the cat voraciously consume the contents.
The cat was on the fourth and last can of tuna from Wendy’s cupboard when it finally took a break.
“That’s all, Kitty,” Wendy said. “That’s all I have and now I’m late. I have to get ready for work.”
The cat was cleaning itself, licking its chest like a contortionist, when Wendy went into the house to shower. Later, when she came back downstairs, her hair carefully blown dry and makeup in place, the cat was gone.
Matt, the lead engineer on her project, greeted her with a playful dig as she rushed past him on the way to her office.
“I thought you were going to try to make it in early today.”
“Feeding that damned cat,” she muttered. “Late, late.”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Just grabbing some coffee. Tell them I’ll be right along, will you?”
When she joined the meeting, the rest of the team was still chatting, apparently waiting for her before getting down to business. She thanked them for waiting, feeling pleased at the deference shown her. She wondered if it was because she was the sole marketing person at these meetings and was therefore considered “Management” in a way that the engineering lead was not or if it because she was the only woman on the team. She thought it was more likely the latter. On the other hand, she never felt they treated her with less respect because of her gender. It was more like she was the sole sister among seven adoring brothers—Wendy and the lost boys, as it were.
“So Wendy got a cat,” said Matt.
Wendy shook her head. “No. I fed a cat, a stray that’s been living on my porch.”
Steve, an engineer who always spoke in a commanding and deliberate tone, pulled at his long, salt-and pepper beard and let out a smug, “Heh.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Matt looked at her and interpreted the knowing glances that were being exchanged around the conference room table. “You feed a cat, it’s yours.”
Wendy shook her head. “Oh, no. I just fed it until I can find the owner. I’m sure it’s lost. This is a beautiful, beautiful cat. I’m sure it belongs to someone.”
When she heard the snickers, she realized how naïve she sounded.
“Cats don’t get lost, Wendy,” Matt said gently, with only a trace of the smirk the rest of the members of the team were wearing.
“I think it’s safe to say, you now own a cat,” Steve said, stroking his beard and speaking with the wisdom he usually reserved for describing the architecture of his code.
“No, no. I…” It was pointless, and she didn’t want to feel like a ninny in a business meeting. They would see—or she would, anyway. “I don’t want a cat.” She looked down at the scribbles in her notebook, avoiding the condescending expressions she knew were being directed at her. “Can we give status now, please? I have another meeting in…” She looked at the pearl face of her elegant watch, which she’d bought as a gift to herself with last quarter’s bonus. “…forty-seven minutes. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”
She had no doubt that the cat would be back on her porch, especially after having been fed something so decadent as human food. Despite her reluctance to involve herself with the animal, she’d asked around at work and was advised to get some real cat food until the owner could be located. (This last part brought snickers from the cat people.) She felt like a sap when she stopped at the mobile-mart at the gas station and picked up a four-pack of canned cat food.
She’d also been advised on how to look for the owner, so she’d placed calls to several veterinarians and animal hospitals in her town and in the surrounding towns. While no one was looking for a cat that fit this one’s description, each receptionist gladly took down Wendy’s information in case the owner called in.
It was puzzling to her that no one seemed to be looking for this cat. That evening, after the cat devoured two cans of cat food, it approached Wendy. Even though she was not a cat person, the soft fur beckoned to her and she stroked it, feeling the cat push itself into her hand. Using two knuckles, she rubbed the cat’s head as the animal seemed to demand of her. Then it dropped on the ground with a thud and presented Wendy its belly.
“Oh no, Kitty. None of that. You’ll scratch me. I know you will.” She’d risked enough already by touching it when it could be carrying fleas or God-knows-what-else. “I’m going in now. You stay out here.”
The last thing she wanted to do was let it into her home. She went inside and closed the slider behind her.
The cat looked at her plaintively through the glass. Wendy could see its mouth form a “mew” in objection. It stared at Wendy with mournful eyes until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She shut the blinds, relieved that she could not hear the animal’s soft cries.
“So how goes it with the cat? Did you find the owner?”
Wendy gave Matt a look. “You know I didn’t.”
“Did you call—?”
“I called everyone.”
“Put up posters?”
“In the condo’s post office and at the supermarket.” She shook her head. “I knew from the start, I guess. I mean, when you think of it, my complex is the perfect place to dump a cat. Five hundred unit owners, there’s bound to be at least one sucker who’ll take it in.”
Matt gave her a soft look that took her by surprise.
“Not a sucker. Just someone kind enough to take in a lost soul.”
“Sounds like a description of a sucker to me,” she said, her eyes nervously studying the maroon industrial carpet that lined the hallway.
“So…What are you going to do about it?”
She rolled her eyes. “What do you think? Of course I’m going to keep it.”
“Oh, I thought you didn’t like…”
“It’s not that I don’t like them. I just don’t understand them. But I would never have fed it…I mean, somewhere deep down I knew what that meant.”
Matt chuckled. “So you knew all along, did you?” He stretched his arms, allowing his hands to settle, entwined, behind his head. His longish, light-brown curls were flattened as he pulled his arms in toward his ears in a flapping motion.
With his arms raised, Wendy could see through the gap between the sleeve of his T-shirt and his upper arm to a tuft of hair. His arms were muscular and tanned. At company outings, she was always amused by the engineers’ skinny white chests and spindly white arms, exposed for perhaps the only time all summer on the lounge chairs beside the pool. Matt’s physique was decidedly different from the other engineers’. It reminded her of…
“Oh my God!” She let out a little laugh.
“Nothing. I have to get to my meeting.”
“Come on now. You can’t leave me like this. You’ve obviously had some sort of epiphany right here in front of me. I think I deserve to hear about it.”
He brought his arms down and crossed them across his chest.
She knew she shouldn’t, not here in the hall at work, but the immensity of the thought was so large inside her she had to let it out.
“I shouldn’t talk about this here but…” She did a mental calculation to determine how much she could tell him, then brought her voice down to a whisper. “…It’s really quite a good thing. While it’s true that I never really wanted a cat, if you had asked me as recently as six months ago, I would have told you that a cat for me was impossible.”
“Why was that?”
Wendy moved closer to Matt, looking up and down the hall for eavesdroppers. “My ex-boyfriend is terribly allergic. Terribly! He can’t breathe if he’s within ten feet of cat dander.”
Matt looked puzzled. “This is your ex-boyfriend you’re talking about?” Wendy nodded. “How long has he been an ex?”
Wendy dug at the short pile of the carpet with the tip of her shoe. “Two years.”
She looked up at him with an embarrassed smile. His eyes met hers and he smiled back.
“Do you know anything about women, Matt? Anything at all? Of course I still believed, or rather hoped…”
Matt shook his head; he got it. “So what is your big epiphany?”
She would not tell Matt about the nights she lay awake, waiting for Michael to call, saying he wanted to work things out, about how ceaselessly Michael Schofield had stayed in her thoughts. She wouldn’t tell him how she had vowed she would never move on from Michael, would never love anyone but him, that she’d sworn to herself that the door would always be open for him.
Yet she’d allowed the cat to hang around for over a week. And last night, it had slept in the house for the first time. Wendy had made an appointment with the vet for Thursday; then she would find out if the cat was a boy or a girl, her Hansel or her Gretl. She was keeping the cat; that was for sure.
Matt was studying her intensely, watching the flickering of her eyelashes and the expression in her eyes.
“The epiphany is that it didn’t even occur to me until just now… If I have a cat…”
“You’ll never get back together with him.”
“Right. Obviously. But the bigger point is, it took this long for it to even occur to me. What does that say? How great is that?”
As she said the thought out loud, she had an impulse to leap through the hall, doing grand jétés past the baffled QA department.
“Seems pretty great.”
Wendy wondered if he was uncomfortable with this disclosure, because he’d suddenly gotten quiet. She tried to make light of it. “It’s just a little thing. Just a way of looking at things that was kind of novel to me. I’m sorry if I…” She wasn’t exactly sure how to finish the thought so she decided to let him fill in the blank with whatever it was he thought she should be sorry for. “In any event, I’d better get to my meeting.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said, seeming to be working a problem over in his mind. Then he looked at her. He really seemed to have lost his composure, Wendy thought. She was starting to seriously regret what she’d told him. She started to turn away from him.
“Wendy,” he said.
“Hmm?” She turned back to face him.
“We, um…We should have lunch some time.”
“Oh.” She was relieved that she had apparently not alienated him after all. “Sure we should. That’d be great.”
She started to turn away from him again.
“You free today?”