Tuesday, July 6, 2010

“Cat Of A Different Stripe” by Janet Yung

I’ve come to the conclusion the cat believes she’s being forced to spend her life with the stupidest human alive, unable to fully comprehend her needs no matter how she voices them.

After several days of non-stop rain leaving the gauge just outside the patio door full to overflowing, I’m finally able to deliver a sunny spot on the enclosed porch where she can wile away the afternoon, basking in the sun’s warmth.

We’d almost forgotten what the sun looked like after so much rain, causing us to wonder how people dwell in climates where more rainy days than not are the norm, assuming people learn to adapt, the cat looking up with an expression of incredulity on her face as if she can read my mind.

“Cats don’t have facial expressions,” my significant other is constantly reminding me, but his less than enthusiastic insight never bothers me. I know what I know having enjoyed the company of more than one cat in my lifetime, although the current one - Kitty - can be the most challenging at times.

“Not a very original name,” Art observed when the cat moved in, the result of an elderly neighbor’s change of residence.

“I guess Hilda opted for the most obvious.”

“Or, maybe she could never remember the name.”

Art might have been correct on that. Hilda grew more forgetful daily and her daughter, allergic to cats, bemoaned the fact her mother had adopted the gray tabby.

“She’s no business with a pet,” the daughter’s response, so I volunteered to help out with the more odious tasks involved with being owned by a cat--clearing out the litter pan and trips to the vet, Hilda preferring not to tag along, waiting by the window till we returned.

Throughout the process, I’d hoped Kitty would become acclimated to my presence in her home, but no matter my overtures at friendliness, she’d sit squarely on a windowsill in the living room while I visited giving me the evil eye.

“You don’t really believe in the evil eye?” Art was startled by my observation returning home one afternoon while pet sitting for Hilda off to visit her other daughter in California. The daughter who agreed with her sister the cat should go and Hilda would be better off in a more temperate clime and closer to her favorite daughter. Hilda delighted in the tug of war between the siblings, but refused to leave the house she’d known as home for over fifty years.

Then, one Saturday morning Hilda’s routine changed--the paper on the front lawn well past eight o’clock and Kitty seated in the front window looking out with a forlorn expression alerted me something was amiss in the tidy bungalow.

“Hilda brings in the paper first thing in the morning.” I told Art, who for once agreed with me, something was wrong.

“Do you have a key?” he asked and I nodded, having kept one for my pet sitting chores. Dialing Hilda’s number before barging in and scaring her to death, the phone rang until it went to the recorder, Hilda’s voice advising she couldn’t come to the phone right now and please leave a message. Then, I called Betty who sounded like she was half-asleep picking up on the third ring.

“Betty, this is Stacie, your mother’s next door neighbor.”

“Oh,” her causal reply easing my anxiety somewhat.

“I’m sorry to bother you so early in the morning, but your mother hasn’t picked up her morning paper yet and Kitty is in the window,” I added not sure why, except the cat’s well being suddenly seemed as urgent as her housemate’s.

“Oh,” a slightly chilly tone in reference to the cat, as if it was thoughtless on my part to lump the two together.

I debated advising her I had a key, offering to check the house when Betty said,
“Do you still have a key?” and responding in the affirmative, advised me she was on her way and asked me to go next door.

Long story short, Hilda had fallen. Walking through the front door, calling her name, Kitty raced from her perch, running towards the bedroom ahead of me, Hilda answering, “I’m in here.”

“What happened?” my first words squatting down next to her.

“I slipped and couldn’t get up,” Hilda embarrassed by the admission.

After a brief stay in the hospital, Hilda was moved into a retirement community where she could be looked after properly, according to Betty and June, the California sister who’d traveled east to help settle up the house, Betty winning out in the locale.

“Of course,” Betty stood on our front porch, “mother would never have agreed to the move if you hadn’t taken the cat.” the last two words sounding as if the feline were closer to an old piece of furniture rather than Hilda’s best companion.

“I’m happy to,” I smiled having made arrangements with Hilda on a hospital visit, the two sisters out of the room.

“You’re her surrogate mother,” Hilda said, a twinge of regret the cat could easily transfer her affections.

“What do you think?” I squatted down next to Kitty on the sunny floor and she deigned to open one eye the slightest. “I’m going to visit your real mommy tomorrow and she’ll want to know how things are going with you.”

The staff advised the cat was welcome to come along with me, “Animals cheer up the residents,” one aide said, but Hilda and I both agreed Kitty was a cat of a different stripe, hissing and growling at people she didn’t care for which encompassed most of the population.

“Yeow,” which I understood as “get lost” and did after brushing the warm spot between her two ears, but not before softly asking “Will you ever like me?” the feline sinking into a deeper sleep, soon to snore, perfectly content for the moment.

“She’s not going to answer you,” Art approached as silently as the cat, startling me from my reverie, imagining Kitty would become attached to us, happy with more than the food put out for her at her request and the two litter pans for her convenience.

“She might,” my response, and I truly believed she would, but understood it might never happen, memories of life with Hilda constant, me as an interloper. The person who invaded her territory and, then one day removed her from the only home she’d ever known, and hopelessly incapable of attaining the same intellectual plane she occupied.

The cat may be right.

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