It was late summer, Y2K. A shabby B & W female, a stray, loitered in my back yard. Sometimes I feed the strays, especially in winter. More often, my neighbor Jill, a lusty, wig-toting woman with a feline way, nourishes them. She harbors five cats in her carpetless home, kind of like a cat half-way house, or a half-way cathouse. She also ministers to the endless procession of raccoons, possum, skunks, and the occasional fox or wounded coyote that creep to her door in a midnight pilgrimage, setting off the motion sensors on my patio flood lights. Feral cats lead short, desperate lives. But this B & W has been more prolific, more long-lived than most wild ones. She’s bred once and produced at least one tom, Buster, whom Jill dutifully took in.
One late July morning, I was running late for work. I rocketed down the stairs, flitted past the patio door, and skidded to a stop as much as one can skid on pile carpet. There was the shabby B & W (who I later named MOACAH—Mother of All Cats Around Here). Engulfing her scrawny legs were four, three-week old kittens: two long-haired pewter grays, and two B & W’s, just like mom. Sunning, dancing, prancing, bashing one another in running starts. I spied on them for awhile. Eventually, mom saw me, spat out a call undecipherable to us hominids, and her progeny scattered into the impenetrable weed orgy that had become my back yard.
If Moacah played hard to get, the kittens were unattainable. Jill had more success, even coaxing Moacah into her doorway once for a quick kiss with her son, Buster. But now Moacah had other heads to worry her.
I fed them. Jill fed them. Feral ones never had it so good. Gradually, Moacah began to trust me around her kittens. I could slide open the patio door and watch them through the screen, and they wouldn’t scatter. I’d sit quietly on my carpet, and see them frolic, or sun themselves in the professionally lazy way cats do. I even sat out on my patio a respectable 10 feet or so away and she’d let her kittens nurse or somersault on the grass.
After a week, I knew what was going to happen. Feral kittens don’t last forever. In fact, most of them don’t last at all. Disease, especially the contagious feline leukemia, predation from coyotes, foxes, other males, and cold winters knock off most. Great prides of relatively prosperous lions in the shelter of Africa’s Ngorongoro Crater have spent years unable to bring one cub to adulthood. How much less of a chance does a lone female cat have in the cold winters of the North American interior? And so, I’d take them in, find homes for them. Jill and I made a deal. She’d take in Moacah, and be officially designated Crazy Cat Lady of our neighborhood.
I consulted a vet. They had to be weaned. Five weeks was a good time. So I bided mine, buying the cat food, litter boxes, and endless kitten toys I’d discarded quickly after my last cat died.
I lobbied coworkers. Who wanted a cute little kitten? Through my Rasputin-like powers of persuasion, I built a constituency of one. One whole person who decided to take a kitten, and even she took some convincing. Me? I didn’t want the responsibility.
One afternoon, as I spied them scampering innocently on my lawn, I got this sick feeling, this idea of inevitability, and I knew that sunny August day was the day. Maybe it was all the neighbors outside. Marianne and the dachshund to whom she was married, Toodles So was Jill. And Kathy, my neighbor, and her out of town friend, Tom. Moacah was sunning with her budding pride in my yard, between one stand of weeds and another. I came out of my house with garbage man’s gloves on. I enlisted Tom, and tossed him my imitation leather gloves. Marianne took the western flank. Jill womanned the southern approaches should they flee that way. We had all their escape hatches clogged with the arches of human legs.
They’d lazed and loved and romped together that whole innocent summer, the only summer they’d ever known. I’d soon crumble and scatter their blameless bonds forever, through a decision I made “for their own good.” I was a home wrecker, the severer of the most powerful tie in all reality, that tender link between a mother and her offspring.
How should I approach it? I wasn’t an expert. There can’t be any training for such things. I just walked over, clumsy, awkward, and started grabbing Moacah’s litter, betraying her trust. She screeched and, to my surprise, instead of fighting, she ran. That made me feel even worse, as if I’d revealed her weakness, her shallow maternity, to herself and all the universe of living things.
The kittens scattered like windy autumn leaves; into the dense undergrowth-mint, under the ivy, between the daisies, trembling in the evergreen shrubs. I went for one of the grays, who bared her fangs and “spit” at me. I jumped back. As a defense, kittens “explode” their bodies, jumping up wildly and freezing in a contortion, baring fangs, and hissing with a spitting sound. The first few times encountered, it startles. But after that, the gesture became cute, laughable.
I bagged my first wild animal of all time, a several ounce gray kitten of undetermined pedigree and even more uncertain gender. Tom did most of the other work. He’d grown up on a farm and wasn’t nearly as afraid as I was of miniature fangs and claws. He first snatched the runt of the litter, a black and white, then the other B & W. My greatest fear was losing them, even one of them. Even one night alone without mom might be enough to end he or she. I couldn’t stomach that.
It was like fishing for trout with your hands in a shallow stream. ‘Here’s one!’ Wade your hands in the deep weeds, spot a patch of gray or black & white in the stream of green, grab, hear the spit and hiss, open my patio screen door, toss the little sucker inside. Soon, we were 3 for 4. The Kittens were losing the series to the Humanoids. But the last one, a gray, we spent half an hour hunting. I expanded my search across the vast townhome development wilderness area. My dragnet went on for all of six blocks, expanded by the rumors spread by nosy neighbors. Finally, we found him hiding in the ground cover on the lot line between my place and Jill’s. “Gotcha!” What relief when the last little dude had been thrown into its strange new interior universe, the one where all the electric plugs had been pulled from the sockets.
Next week: A Cat House, without the Hookers
© 2021 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+dirt+journey+of+a+mystic+cowboy&crid=1S40Q4BXSUWJ6&sprefix=the+dirt%3A+journey+of+a+m%2Caps%2C180&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_23
Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002
Two of his short stories have recently been published online. The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW
I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October