My blogeague Miss Kitty, over at Educated and Poor, is a real Cat Lady. Cats adopt her (and she them) without hesitation or fear. Read her latest here.
Her many tales about her animals reminded me of a stray cat in my life and I thought I'd publish that story here. I wrote it up long ago and it has been published in the Portland Oregonian and the Denver Rocky Mountain News, in years past.
The November night found me brooding, turning worries over in my mind. Lots of them: shaky finances, moody teenager, the ancient furnace, the prospect of an icy drive to work the next day. I felt burdened by obligations, including the one I was watching for at the window.
Where does he go in this weather? I cast a dubious eye at the scene outside: khaki-colored leaves driven by a sharp wind that had snow at its back, gray twilight lowering rapidly under heavy skies.
The old picnic table under the kitchen window was blown nearly clean of the seed hulls spilled from bird feeders, placed well out of the cats' reach. Water in an old plastic bowl was freezing fast. A dish of cat food congealed nearby.
My backyard feeding station would soon be out of business for the night. Would Macho arrive before the water and cat food froze? No way to tell. He came around whenever the spirit moved him.
I shook my head, trying to detach my thoughts from the feral tomcat who visits my yard daily, looking for a meal. He'd arrived about three years ago, yellow eyes defiant, black fur tattered, testosterone exuding from every pore, his attitude toward other cats aggressive, his attitude toward humans wary and fearful.
My two spinster cats, Skoshi and Wanda, would flee in panic when he'd swagger into the yard, spritzing shrubs and fences with his trademark. Our youngest, The Baby, hormones long gone, would watch benignly from his roost on a windowsill, protected by 15 pounds of cat fur and pitying acceptance from Macho.
My first instinct had been to get a live trap and take the intruder to the pound, but when my efforts netted only my own cats and Shadow, the mooch from next door, I gave up. Cornering Macho in the garage one day and seeing his terror convinced me to let him remain a wild animal, for better or for worse. At least I could give him food and water.
Wind and something else rattled the glass. The Baby was scratching to come in. I opened the window for him and turned my attention to preparing supper.
Later, cleaning up the kitchen, I glanced out the window into the black night. Yellow eyes gazed back.
"Macho! You look awful. Where have you been?"
When he's been eating well and not fighting, his coat is sleek, his eyes bright and alert, though cautious. Tonight he sat hunched up on the old table, face puffy and swollen, an ear chewed bloody. One eye was half-open, one cheek cracked and crusty-looking from an abscess.
Macho stared at me silently. The cat food, after an hour in the freezing air, was a solid block and the water bowl was a skating rink for squirrels. Clearly I was expected to do something.
Stepping slowly to the window, I slid back the glass panel, fully expecting him to bolt in fright as I reached for the bowls.
To my surprise, though his battered body tensed, he seemed to have no energy to flee, and he supervised my filling of the bowls through half-shut eyes. I wanted to reach out a hand to touch his ratty coat, but respect for his shabby dignity stopped me.
I closed the window and stood back. Macho crept to the food and began to gulp it down, stoking the inner fires that must have been flickering from injury and cold. He faced the window, watching me warily through the glass, watching me watching him.
Something in my throat began to hurt. My eyes felt hot and tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't believe it. I loved a beat-up old cat that was scared to death of me, who would scratch and bite me if I tried to pet him. I loved an animal who terrorized the neighborhood cats, who had doubtless fathered countless unwanted kittens, who preferred the uncertainties of homelessness to a warm house where he would surrender much of his independence. I wondered about his fear, about his past, about his future.
And I wondered about my own.