GF_Fiction

 

Cat Lovers

by Maryetta Ackenbom

 

 

Brakes screeched right in front of my house followed by an animal screaming on the street.

 

Was that a cat howling in pain?

 

I rushed out. I didn’t have a cat, but my neighbor did. As I stepped off the doorstep, I saw Judy’s tiger cat on her front porch, his back arched, watching the street. At least Stripe was all right.

 

A small, late-model Chevrolet was skewed sideways on the street, its driver’s door open. A well-dressed young woman crouched over a wiggling, whimpering animal.

 

“How does it look?” I asked as I approached her.

 

“I don’t know. He’s hurt bad. I’m afraid to touch him.” She looked up at me.

 

I was a little embarrassed at my worn cut-offs and grubby tee shirt. I’d been at the sink, scrubbing flower pots and preparing my plants for the winter. But I knelt beside her and examined an elegant blue Persian cat that I had never seen before. The animal writhed in pain, making  little mewing sounds that made my heart break.

 

“Let me call my neighbor, she’s a nurse,” I said. I started toward Judy’s house, but she had heard the commotion and was already coming out of her door.

 

She knelt over the cat and ran her hands over his body. “I think he’s got something broken, but he’s not bleeding, and he’s moving around a lot. That’s good,” she said. She stood and pushed back her long platinum blond hair as she turned to me. “Can you take him to the vet? I can’t go with you—I’ve got a cake in the oven.”

 

“I’ll take him,” said the driver. “Can you tell me where the nearest vet is?”

 

“There’s one a few blocks away,” I said. “I’ll go with you.  My name’s Carol, by the way.”

 

“I’m Brenda.” She answered, her eyes never leaving the cat.

 

 

I rushed into my house, grabbed a towel to wrap the cat in, and pulled on a clean blouse.

 

“Such a pretty creature,” I said when we were in the car, the cat in my arms securely wrapped in the towel. “But I don’t recognize him. He doesn’t have a collar.”

 

“Maybe he’s an indoor cat. Listen, I’ll pay the vet. Would you mind asking around your neighborhood about him?”

 

“Sure. I hope you don’t feel guilty—I know it wasn’t your fault. Cats always think they can make it across the street right in front of a car.”

 

Brenda handled the car expertly as we drove through the quiet suburb to the veterinary office. I held the cat close, trying to avoid any unnecessary movement. I was conscious of my uncombed mop of sandy hair and my lack of makeup.

 

***

“Percy,” as I decided to call him, was ready to leave the vet the day after his two broken hind legs were set. Brenda had left me her telephone number but said she couldn’t take him in. Her husband was allergic. So I took Percy home with me. I spent a week canvassing the neighborhood, posting fliers and advertising in the local papers, but no one claimed him. Happy to have company in the house, I adopted the cat. Percy’s beauty was an added attraction.

 

I had a chore dealing with a cat whose hind legs were in casts, but Percy was the most loving animal I’d ever known. He couldn’t walk, but he would watch me, purr when I came near, and call for me when he lost sight of me. I put him in a box with a pillow and carried him from room to room with me.

 

He began to drag himself around after a few days, and then he was always at my feet. When the casts came off, life got easier—he soon learned to move away from my swinging feet when I turned in a different direction. But he was still right there.

 

Percy never wanted to go outside—he was content to use his litter box. Except for occasionally entangling himself with my feet, he was well-behaved. He only scratched the post I provided for him, and he kept his long fur immaculate. I brushed him every few days, too.

 

Some time passed before Percy was able to jump. But when he discovered his hind legs again, I couldn’t keep him off tabletops and kitchen counters. I was not an untidy person, but when Percy began to learn where food was kept, he reinforced my habit of keeping things clean and put away.

 

After he’d been with me for about two months, Percy disappeared. Again I went from door to door, posted fliers, and advertised. No one responded. Winter was coming in Iowa, and I was terrified that Percy might be lying in agony by the roadside somewhere, slowly freezing to death.

 

Then Stripe disappeared as well. Judy was heartbroken

 

A month later, Percy reappeared on my doorstep as clean and well-fed as he had ever been. The following day, Stripe turned up looking just as healthy.

 

I told Judy as we celebrated their homecoming over coffee that morning, “Percy must have a second home. I’ve heard of cats moving around between houses. Do you think Stripe went with him?”

 

“I don’t know, but Percy must be a bad influence on him. He’s never gone off before.”

 

I smiled. Sometimes Judy could be quite innocent about human and cat nature.

 

I put a collar with the cat’s name and my telephone number on it around Percy’s neck, in case he wandered away again.

 

A few weeks later, he did.

 

It wasn’t long after that my phone rang.

 

“What have you been doing with my cat? Why did you put a collar on him?” an angry male voice demanded on the other end of the line.

 

“What! Who is this?”

 

“Name’s Andy Sullivan, and I’m calling from Jenkins’ Crossroads. But how did you get hold of my cat?”

 

I gasped. That was more than six miles away! I explained how Percy had been hurt and I had taken care of him.

 

“Uh, you haven’t seen a tiger cat by chance, have you?” I asked, subconsciously drawing him into more conversation, finding myself straining to hear this stranger’s baritone voice again.

 

“Oh, you mean Yeller? Yes, he’s here with Blue.”

 

“Blue. That’s what you call the Persian?”

 

“Since he was a kitten.”

 

“Well, Stripe—uh—Yeller—is my neighbor’s cat. Can you tell me how to get to your place so we can pick him up?”

 

The next day, Judy and I went to pick up Stripe and to see Percy/Blue.

 

We met Andy, Percy’s number one owner. He was a tall farmer approaching middle age with a shock of black hair and a striking Roman profile. He showed us around his well-kept dairy farm with obvious pride. He seemed to be interested in both of us, drawing me into describing my efforts to open a garden shop and asking Judy about her work at the county hospital. Looking at him closely, I had a feeling I’d seen him somewhere before.

 

“I’m sorry to lose Yeller,” he told us. “He’s a love. Somehow I suspect he’ll be back. He and Blue have been having fun chasing mice in the barn.”

 

“Oh dear,” said Judy. “I didn’t think he’d ever seen a mouse before. I’m deathly afraid of them.”

 

 I couldn’t tell whether Judy was flirting or just showing her native innocence.

 

Andy grinned. “Well, Yeller will keep them away now.”

 

Percy/Blue kept coming back to my house, and Stripe/Yeller kept going to Andy’s farm. Judy and I patiently retrieved Stripe and returned Percy every time. And every time I looked at Andy, I longed to brush back his hair like I brushed Percy’s—just to get close to him. I began to dress better and arrange my hair with more care before we took these trips. I saw that Andy noticed, even though Judy put up tough competition. Andy’s eyes always seemed to cut toward Judy, with her fabulous hair and doll-like face, before they turned to me.

 

“Andy,” I asked one day, “I’ve seen you before somewhere. Do you happen to go to the classical concerts they put on in town?”

 

“Sure. I catch them whenever I can. I think I’ve seen you there, too, now that you mention it.”

 

Well, I thought, Judy couldn’t compete in this area. She was supremely bored by classical music.

 

Andy began to call me even when both cats were at their proper homes. I loved hearing his voice. Soon he invited me to dinner and a movie. The first time I saw him in a suit, I wanted to hide behind the nearest tree. He looked so debonair with his thick hair slicked back and sporting a lively print tie. But he had seen me and, grinning, came to throw an arm around my shoulder. We kept up an easy relationship for several months, attending concerts and other shows when they came to town.

 

Both Percy and Stripe disappeared one day. The three of us were afraid they’d been killed on the road, so we drove slowly along the shoulder of the highway, hunting for them. We found nothing and sadly returned to our homes.

 

The next day, Brenda, whose car had hit Percy, called me. She said her brother lived in a town five miles on the other side of Jenkins’ Crossroads. Two beautiful cats had found their way to his door. When Brenda heard that one of them was a Persian, she figured it was Percy.

 

Judy, Andy, and I got together immediately and went to meet another friendly cat-lover. Entranced by the story of the two cats, Robert welcomed us to his home. He took an instant liking to Judy. His sharp eyes followed her every move. On the way home together in my car, Judy couldn’t stop talking about his bright blue eyes and soft auburn hair and beard.

 

The four of us double-dated, frequently attending cat shows, dog shows (we weren’t prejudiced), and other animal exhibitions. Andy introduced us to the joys of the livestock shows at the county fair. He was as happy as a boy with a new bike when one of his milk cows won first place.

 

One afternoon, while on the phone, Andy said, “We need to get married.”

 

I was shocked.  “Just like that? I think you’re supposed to be on your knee beside me with a bunch of flowers!”

 

“You will have my entire rose garden at your disposal, Madam! And please, help me with the trimming and dead-heading. It’s getting out of hand.”

 

“Oh, Andy, what a ridiculous proposal. Of course I’ll marry you and dead-head your roses!”

 

I could hear the laughter in his voice, “I meant to tell you, you’ll be marrying Percy, too. And Yeller, when he’s here. And Elsie, and Bessie, and Rover . . . .”

 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

At the simple ceremony, Judy and Robert acted as attendants. I gave up my garden shop project in favor of creating a market garden in Andy’s immense back yard.

 

When I moved into Andy’s farm and Judy moved to Robert’s place, the two cats became well versed with traveling through the fields that connected the two properties. This left them in little danger of being ran over, and gave us a sense of family that stretched across the miles that now separated our two cat connected homes.