The Cat Came Back

The early afternoon summer sun reflected off the lake onto my ceiling and danced on my desk. The front door to my little bachelor cottage was open and a slight breeze blew across my desk and out the door. The deadline story I was working on for a local paper wasn’t going well; I had rewritten several paragraphs and it still wasn’t right.

A blur of gray motion off my left elbow next to my printer broke my concentration. A gray tabby cat had suddenly materialized in my space. Her erect tail was twitching and steady green cat eyes studied me intently.

“Well there,” I said, “who the Hell are you?”

Satisfied she’d made the right decision, she sat down, curled her tail around her front paws and said, “Meow.”

My fingers were still on the keyboard as I studied this cat that had just walked into my life.

“Meow,” she repeated.

I slowly held the back of my hand out to her. She leaned forward, gave it the sniff-test, then rubbed in acceptance. My petting hand detected ribs with no meat on them.

“Damn kitty, you’re all fur and bones and stickers.” She purred her answer as I stroked her burr matted coat.

“Boy, you are one sorry mess,” I said to her still beautiful tabby-cat face. “Well, Hell, let’s see what I’ve got in the larder.”

I left off writing and went to my little kitchenette. I must have a food anxiety from my days of van living, for nowadays my shelves are laden with boxes and cans and bags of food. Right in front, stacked one atop the other, were eight cans of tuna in water. Perfect, I thought. Opening one I emptied it in a saucer, took it back and set it beside the now very interested cat. She sniffed, the way cats do, then gobbled in a most un-catlike manner. She was starved. I brought another saucer with milk and put it beside the tuna. She glanced at it but kept at the tuna.

I went back to my story, glancing over every once in awhile at the feeding feline. She licked the bowl, arched her back and with a shudder, opened her mouth in a great yawn. Ignoring the milk, she lay down, wrapped her tail around her side, tucked in her front paws and went back to studying me through half closed eyes.

“Well, why don’t you make yourself at home?” I said to her, not realizing the cat was taking me seriously.

I returned to my writing; the stray yawned once more, put her head down and closed her eyes.

After more agonizing, I finally wrapped the story and needed to get it to the paper.

“Up puss! Get up I said,” as I put the copy in a little briefcase. The cat gave me a hurt look, but got up, jumped off the printer desk and high-tailed it out the door in front of me.

I locked up and drove off to deliver my copy, giving the stray not another thought.

The next afternoon I was fixing a sandwich in my little kitchenette when the tabby showed up again. She walked in and stood a few feet away looking at me.

“You again,” I said to the skinny, gray fleabag.

“Meow,” she said with the most plaintiff of meows; I reached for another can of tuna.

This routine went on for several days until the day I saw my tuna stash was down to two, a critical supply for me — I love my tuna fish sandwiches.

There are three stages when a cat decides to adopt you. The first stage of eating up most of my tinned fish had already passed. The second stage happened that day at the market when I came down the pet-food isle and made the bright decision to save money and protect my tuna stash — I bought the puss her own food. I also threw in a box of flea powder and a flea comb. The food she liked, the flea powder was a bit of a fight.

She was putting on weight now and the flea-combing and powder did their jobs. She took to hanging around my front door and coming in and out like it was her house (which of course it was, I just hadn’t figured it out yet).

One afternoon I came in from watering my little garden and there was the cat curled up on my yard sale, multicolored comforter covering the sleeping bag on my bed.

“Well puss, why don’t you just walk in and make yourself at home?” I said to the semi-comatose pussy, “Walk-in, ‘Walkin’,” I said. “That would be a good name for you,” and unwittingly completed the third and final feline adoption step — my cat now had a name.

Walkin and I worked out routines; walking across the computer wrist pad was ok, but keep off the keyboard; it was OK to sleep on the desk to my right by the window overlooking the lake and Mount Konocti, but the little stub table in the kitchen was off limits. We were a couple groping our way into a comfortable committed living arrangement — something I had never done in real life.

She kept putting on weight and looked quite pleased to hang about my desk watching me at work. She annexed my in-box as her personal bed. My papers were replaced with a fluffy towel. It was nice having Walkin to blame for my missing pencil or slipper.

When Tugboat Jim, my neighbor and landlord, isn’t driving tugboats around San Francisco Bay, he drops off the papers he reads at the cafe where he does his coffee and breakfast. One morning, as we stood by my door discussing the latest headline, Walkin walked by, giving his leg a tail swipe. Jim glanced down and observed that which was obvious to all but me, “Oh, I see that abandoned cat from the tweekers across the street is pregnant.”

“What?!” I said in a startled voice, and looked at roundness that indeed was incipient family — not fat.

“Oh man — just what I didn’t need!” I groaned.

“Where’d the tweekers go?” I asked Jim.

“Don’t know,” he said. “I heard the law was after them and they packed it in one night and took a hike.”

Oh great, I thought. Here I was happily content living my bachelor life, free from the constraints and demands of committed relationship, and now this walk-in stray was presenting me her gift — a litter-family. I was not a happy camper. Well, I thought, if this is what Kismet has served up, I’ll just see where it goes.

Walkin started doing the nesting prowls. She would emerge from all the little hidey-places wiping spider webs off her face with her paw. She came out from behind furniture, from inside my one closet, from behind floor cabinets,

I decided to build her a kitty house. From behind the local grocery I chose a cardboard box with the top flaps intact. Back home I put some shredded paper and old towel inside, taped it shut, cut out a little front door and put it under the old massage table I use for a bed. Of course the cat ignored my creation and continued searching for the perfect secure cave for her litter.

Late one night I was awakened by the slightest of “mews.” As I lay in the dark listening I realized they came from behind the cabinet where I store my record albums. As the night progressed, the tiny mew grew to a chorus — I was now a family man.

“Good God, Walkin, how many did you drop?” I said to the darkness. I left her alone in her faux-cave and didn’t move all the stuff it would take to get a peek.

A week later she emerged from behind the cabinet with a tiny orange kitten in her mouth. She walked past me at my computer, giving me the eye in passing, and disappeared under my desk and behind the cabinet by the kitchenette. Back she went and emerged with a gray kitten, then a black, and so it went.

When she went outside to do her business, I closed the door and pulled the bottom drawer. There was my family — all eight og them! Eight kittens! Oh man, what a bummer.

I took the torn paper and towel out of the unused box-home and put them under the eight little darlings. How in the world am I going to get rid of eight kittens I wondered? I, who had purposefully striven to keep my life simple and uncluttered, was now the surrogate father of eight multi-colored kittens.

Reconciled to my fate I went to Marie’s Feed Store and bought the special Science Diet for momma cats and even bought milk to supplant the water for Walkin.

At the taverns that night, I bewailed my plight — me, the consummate confirmed bachelor, was now the head of household of eight kittens and a momma cat. I was amazed by the response.

“Oh, can I have one please?” said Annette. Trying not to show the joy I felt at finding a home for one of them already, I answered. “Why certainly, would you like an orange tabby, or perhaps a gray tabby? How about a beautiful all black?” And so I made a shopping list of who wanted what color, and much to my amazement, soon all the kittens were spoken for, with others asking for more.

A favorite aphorism came to mind — “In for a penny, in for a pound.” So using this bit of folk-wisdom logic, I decided to keep the blue-eyed Siamese with the neat, friendly personality. Besides, I said in justification to myself, it will give Walkin a companion. I thought it was a wonderful idea. Walkin didn’t agree. She became all catty and sulky and let me know in no uncertain, growling terms that she didn’t think this was such a good idea at all.

After the weaning, Walkin became increasingly edgy around her pseudo-Siamese offspring who was still trying to snuggle up to his momma. She began taking swipes at him. Her fur stood on end, low growls, high-pitched hisses, and flat-eared yowls issued from her mouth. My peaceful existence was shattered.

This went on for several days until finally I’d had it.

“Well if that’s the best you can do with your own offspring, you can have a time out — outside,” and so out she went, with the door slammed behind her.

“I won’t have all that going on in the background,” I said to the thoroughly confused Siamese kitten.

So peace came to my small kingdom with Walkin living outside and Psst-Puss, the Siamese, now the indoor cat.

One day, Walkin didn’t show up for food, nor did she come the next day, nor the next. I figured she’d gone off and adopted someone else, or a dog got her, or something dreadful had happened to her, but such was life close to Highway 20.

A few months passed and Psst-Puss, the Siamese, grew into a beautiful, big cat. She had the Siamese markings, but her blue eyes weren’t crossed and she loved to snuggle up for the warmth at night. That all ended out on Highway 20 one night when she wasn’t fast enough. I came home to find him smashed almost beyond recognition. I buried him down below in the garden with his favorite toy.

Two nights later I was tucked into my sleeping bag just dropping off to sleep. It was late and cold; rain was blowing in hard from the southwest, as it usually does in the winter. In the back of my emerging consciences I thought I heard the tinniest of mews. I slowly awakened and listened to that remembered sound — yes, I definitely heard it again and a gradual awareness took over me.

“No,” I said to the darkness. “No, no, no! You didn’t.” I turned on the light, got up and opened the door. There, flush up against the doorjamb, was a tiny, soaked, orange kitten. Her eyes were still closed and her ears hadn’t stood up yet. Her little head swept back and forth seeking her mother and the most pitiful of mews issued from her tiny pink mouth.

“You did it again, didn’t you Walkin? I know who did this, you whore,” I shouted out into the dark, wet night.

I picked up the soaked little creature, went back inside and closed the door. I fluff dried the trembling little creature with my best and thickest towel. I put on my softest flannel shirt and slid the trembling little guy into one of the pockets to share my body warmth. I could feel waves of tremors as her tiny body generated its own heat.

Now, thoroughly awake, I went to my desk and turned on the computer. No more than a minute passed and I heard another pathetic little mew outside my door. There, just as before, was another shaking little sodden mass — this one gray.

“Damn you Walkin,” I said again to the darkness. I picked up the pathetic little creature, took it inside, repeated the drying and fluffing and slid it into my other pocket.

A few minutes later I heard a meow, but this was an adult meow. I knew who it was and opened the door. There, in all of her disheveled drippiness, was the long gone Walkin. Her green eyes looked up at me asking if it was ok. My face must have said yes, for she strode past me like she’d never been gone, looked around to see if the offending Psst Puss was still there, then looked to see what I had done with her babies. By now the kittens had stopped shaking.

“Christ, how do I get myself into these messes sitting down?,” I said to the wall. Oh well — I pulled out the drawer where the last litter had lived and prepared a new kitten nest. I put the two kittens on the floor in front of their new home and took the bag with the old litter and towel out to the trash, leaving the door ajar.

When I returned, as I expected, Walkin was putting the kittens in their new den, taking them behind their heads and carrying them over the little wooden ledge.

Well, I thought, there’s only two of them this time. Now, thoroughly awake, I made a pot of coffee checked my e-mail, then opened a book and read for awhile listening to the tiny mewling and that funny language momma-cats speak to their offspring.

She must be hungry I thought. With the death of Psst Puss, the remaining Science Diet had gone into the trashcan. Walkin smelled the tuna as soon as I opened the can and came out and sat by her feeding spot. I put the bowl down along with some water.

While she was eating, I lifted the little curtain I had thumb tacked over the hole where the lowest drawer had been and looked at my new family.

“Oh no,” I said aloud, “You sneak. Look what you went and did, you sneak.” There, in the beam of my flashlight, were three kittens, not two. She had smuggled in the third while I was out at the trashcan. She looked up at me with all innocent green eyes like she didn’t know what all the fuss was about — but she knew, I know she knew.

Eventually the kittens grew and eight weeks later were adopted out. Shortly after, when I saw her sniffing around again, Walkin made the trip to the SPCA over by Kitt’s Corner and had “the operation.”

We still live in the same little cottage on Highway 20 doing our thing, and every so often I hear her back in one of her faux-caves shredding papers in anticipation of that which will never happen again.

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