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Chapter One:
The Wisp in the Woods

Kitty Cornered Cover Linda burst into the house in her usual doorknob-through-plaster fashion shortly after I had finished feeding Agnes. The floor bounced like a drumhead as she stomped the snow off her boots. Peering around the corner from the kitchen, I felt grateful that I wasn’t still climbing the basement stairs, or the tremors might have pitched me off where an underfoot Agnes had failed. Linda tossed her boots onto the porch then shucked off a pair of plastic bread bags, which provided the waterproofing that her thrift store boots lacked.
            “I saw that white-and-black cat again,” she told me with the mixture of excitement and disbelief of a child glimpsing Santa Claus. “She was on the edge of the woods kitty-corner from the trailer park, but closer to us than when I saw her the first time I went to the store today, and I better not have forgotten to buy the shredded cheese again.”
            I went back to cleaning Bella’s cage as Linda chugged into the kitchen. The parrot pinched my finger with her beak when I whisked her off the countertop to save her from getting clocked by a sack of groceries. “You have to be a better girl,” I said.
            “I couldn’t see her very well through the trees,” Linda said. “She was definitely after something and headed in our direction.”
            I pictured the stray running in that oddly unhurried but determined feline fashion: erect body, stiffly trailing tail, legs flickering like the frames of a silent movie. She trotted in a straight line toward our house until the honk of a diesel horn sent her scampering off in the opposite direction.
            “She better not come here,” I said.
            Bella squawked to come out of her cage and resume her battle with an ice cube on the countertop. “Shh,” I told her, leaning my face close to hers. “You’re giving me a headache.”
            I loved our three cats, but I was a bird person at heart. Sixteen years ago, Linda had indoctrinated me into her world with an ever-increasing parade of fowl creatures who now lived with us, both inside and outdoors. And I'd discovered, after a long struggle, that I understood birds and their mysterious otherness. The cats had slipped in under the radar while we were otherwise engaged cleaning parakeet cages and making toys for parrots, and I’d assumed that in comparison to birds, they were the tame ones. The ones who basically followed domestic rules. Hadn't we always learned that cats were ‘domesticated animals?’ I found more to laugh at than lament in naughty behavior from our birds. But I expected better manners from a fellow mammal and not the long stretches of brooding aloofness and general lack of gratitude of our cats. I wanted them to either act more like us or to play the role of cuddly toys, but time and time again they disappointed me on both counts.
            “I forgot the cheese again,” Linda said after pawing through two bags. In a noble, self-sacrificing, wounded tone of voice I volunteered to return to the store for her. But the errant cheese had become an orange badge of honor, and she resolved to retrieve it on her own. Moments later she thundered back into the house, an envelope of arctic cold clinging to her jacket as she kicked off her boots. Fortunately for her good mood – and for the church potluck supper – she had found the cheese inside the car skulking between the passenger’s seat and the door.
            In the kitchen, I watched her stash the cheddar in the crisper, where it was instantly swallowed up by a vegetative tide of ‘baby’ carrots for Rudy the rabbit, hunks of ginger root for my tea, partially filled boxes of margarine sticks, shriveled flat bread, an empty plastic lemon, and, of course, another package of shredded cheddar cheese.
            As I was taking inventory of the drawer, Agnes skittered up the basement stairs to rub against my leg until she had my attention. I turned toward her, and she trotted back down the stairs and stared up at me from the bottom. All I could see in the gloom peculiar to unlit basements was an incandescent pair of sulfur yellow eyes. Even in the full fluorescent light of indoor day, our black cat’s facial features tended to merge into an inscrutable blur, especially compared to her inverse counterpart, the blindingly white Moonbeam, aka Moobie.
            “I think she wants to go out,” Linda told me.
            “I think she’s just angling for another treat.” With Agnes safely planted at the foot of the stairs and out of range of tangling up my legs, I decided to make the descent, despite the futility of it all. To convince Agnes to come inside each evening, I had initiated the habit of rewarding her with a dollop of canned cat food. This turned out to be a huge mistake. She would beg to go out, come in, go out, and come in again several times a day in hopes of earning a spoonful of food, and darned if I wasn’t weak enough to succumb to her sheer audacity.
            This time, though, she didn’t step outside by as much as a toenail. I opened the basement door, and a blast of Michigan air hit us like a frozen anvil. She pivoted, raced to her dish, and shot me her best ‘you might as well feed me’ look. I scooped her up in my arms, rubbing her face in an attempt to rustle out a facial expression that I could see. I squeezed her and received the bleat of a crabby sheep in response. “I just fed you fifteen minutes ago,” I said putting her down next to her empty bowl.
            But I failed to exercise necessary vigilance on my ascent. Just a few steps away from the kitchen landing, Agnes intervened between my foot and the stair. I pitched backward trying to avoid her, my hand attempting to latch onto the nonexistent railing which I had been intending to have someone else install for years. Slamming my shoulder against the wall saved me, but I had come so close to falling that I felt the cold, clammy fingers of the cement floor reaching for the back of my skull.
            Oblivious to my close brush with the reaper, Linda said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the white-and-black kitty shows up at our back fence.”
            I didn’t give the matter a single neuron of attention. Once or twice a year, cats materialized in our yard only to disappear as soon as I opened the door and tried to engage them in conversation about how they needed to do something productive with their lives. These fleeting and possibly mythical creatures didn’t much interest me, and a cat a mile away that I hadn’t even glimpsed was completely off my radar, especially when we had a cat of homicidal bent literally underfoot.
            “It’s probably not a stray,” I told Linda. “It probably lives with some long suffering family at the trailer park who didn’t realize what they were getting into when they took in a cat.” I directed this last remark at Agnes, who had returned to the gloom of the basement to glare up at me from her bowl.

            In the post-potluck days that followed, as Linda rattled back to the store for soymilk, or to the post office for stamps with pretty flowers on them, or to the dime store for plastic wading pools for our pet ducks and geese, she saw the cat in ever-increasing proximity to our home. I feared that it was only a matter of time before the kitty would stumble onto the secret messages that other strays had left in the woods to guide others to our doorstep. In a language of scents and signs that only felines could decipher – an old mouse skeleton here, the heavily scratched bark of a sapling there – the cat calligraphy would tell her that in the blue house between the river and the road lived people who would shower her with food and affection – two softies whom even the dullest witted critter could effortlessly wrap around its little toe.
            Food and affection she would get, assuming she was just stopping by for take-out and not intending to reserve an inside table. We already had three cats, and we definitely didn’t need a fourth. Agnes, Moobie, and our most recent acquisition Lucy gave us more trouble than our other fifty-some pets put together. I kept telling myself that their good qualities more than outweighed the negatives – just as I also imagined that our parrots were mild mannered and our geese as quiet as falling snow.
            I hadn’t grown up loving animals. In fact, I had been diffident to my boyhood beagle Muffin. But marrying country gal Linda Sue seventeen years ago flipped on a switch that had been so deeply embedded in the whorls and dead-ends of my fractured psyche that I’d never even dreamed it existed. Two of our first pets were profoundly unsuitable for companionship with humans. When we weren’t besieging their previous owners for advice, we were trying to eject them from our lives, until we discovered that we had fallen hard for them. Belligerent bunny Binky and the Mussolini of ‘pocket parrots’ Ollie relentlessly bossed us, but their sparkling personalities filled our house with jagged light.
            My brother-in-law soon brought us a Muscovy duck that his co-workers had been pelting with stones. So more homeless quackers and consequent backyard pen expansions followed. Then came a quartet of geese abandoned in a roadside ditch, an increasingly affable succession of rabbits, African grey parrots, parakeets, doves, hens, and cats, not to mention the orphan songbirds that Linda raised and released each summer.
            Though I might call any of them ‘baby,’ I never thought of our animals as surrogate children. I was the infant of the house, whiny, weak, helpless, crabby, and frequently in need of a nap. I was still trying to learn resilience from our pets, since the smallest bantam chicken was stronger, smarter, and more emotionally balanced than I was. But the best that I could muster was an extra smidgen of patience. I needed it to deal with the parrot who had devoured the dining room woodwork or the goose-size duck with the vice-grip beak who thrived on chasing us around the barn.
            Mostly I loved our animals for their flighty yet constant companionship and the way their wildness was mitigated by an addiction to comfort. Dusty the parrot had learned to call Moobie by name. Rudy the rabbit had started mountain-goating up the backrest of the couch. Liza the goose stared longingly at the bowl of cat food that Linda had set for the white-and-black stray.
            The kibbles went untouched. Then one afternoon the wisp of the woods became flesh and dwelled beneath our sunflower seed feeder, scattering the tree sparrows to the winds, and I grew alarmed. I didn’t want her munching on wild birds that already had enough trouble surviving a cold and sunless winter.
            She was white with mostly black hind legs that made her look as if she were wearing a pair of tights that were falling down. Her tail was black. A black continent floated in a sea of white on her right side, and a few black islands had broken off and drifted to her left side, shoulders, neck, and head. Although her eyes weren’t large by cat standards, they formed an alliance with her pink nose to dominate her slender face when she peered up toward the house.
            She looked smaller and more delicate than I had expected. The bright white expanses of her fur embarrassed the dinginess of the compacted snow, made the cloudy sky seem even gloomier. The flitting of goldfinches to and from the seed perches apparently didn’t interest her, nor did a feeder-robbing squirrel who hung back behind the pump house flicking his tail as he scolded her. She seemed fixated on some other concern.
            Her body twitched as she sat. It could have been a reaction to the cold, but I feared that she was pretending to ignore the birds while on the verge of an explosive strike. I leaned forward to scare her away before she managed to snag a goldfinch. But before I could knock on the bathroom window she glanced up at me first with that heart-shaped face. One moment, she was crouching on the icy ground a leap away from the feeder. The next moment she was melting into the woods, running until her white-and-black coat faded to a gray smudge on the riverbank.
            The merest flicker of eye contact had passed between us. But in the brief instant between the crouching and the rocketing away, as my cloudy blues met her metallic yellows, I felt the spark of a connection between us. It was a serious crush, though I had no idea at the time how deeply she would set her hooks in me.
            Partly, she had moved me in the same way that any homeless animal would. But I also recognized a special quality in her that resonated with my own temperament. In my scant few seconds observing her, I had identified a kindred spirit, a creature who in spite of her many strengths was apparently as anxiety laden as me. She was a shadow afraid of a shadow.
            I told Linda about my encounter, leaving out the touchy-feely, neurotic aspects. “I put a dish of kibbles out for her in Don’s driveway last night in case she didn’t find the dish out back,” she told me, referring to our former neighbor’s empty house. “But it looks like a raccoon got to it first. The food was spilled all over the driveway and the dish was all chewed up.”

            I was ashamed at myself for blowing the white-and-black kitty’s chance for an easy bowl of kibbles, but Agnes soon reminded me why I should be focusing on the troublemakers inside the house. After ducking into the kitchen to retrieve my coffee from the microwave, I padded down the hallway toward Moobie. She broke off from noisily crunching on her food to fix me with a high-voltage ‘I Want’ stare, intent on scoring a tastier morsel. Agnes was nowhere in sight – for the moment. Puffing on the hot handle of my South Dakota Badlands mug, I bent down to scratch the top of Moobie’s head as I passed her on my way to check my email. Then I took a fateful step around the corner.
            Agnes, having overheard Moobie’s noisy grazing, had positioned herself on the other side of the wall and was lying in wait for her. My stocking foot unfortunately made an appearance first. Needle-sharp teeth pieced my skin. I went airborne, ejecting a sparrow-size glob of hot coffee from my cup. The liquid hung in space, whistling a happy tune and biding its time until my as-yet-uninjured other foot moved directly below. Then it descended in a steaming splash. Deeply offended by my hopping and cussing, Agnes shot up the stairs.
            After fortifying my feet with shoes, I felt contrite all over again about having uprooted the white-and-black cat. Although I couldn’t make atonement to the stray, I could do the next best thing by apologizing to Agnes for spoiling one of her few indoor pleasures. Agnes was the embodiment of rolling-on-the-ground warmth if you encountered her outside in temperate months. But imprisoned inside the house during our endless winter, she got so grumpy that if someone substituted a wolverine in her place I wouldn’t have noticed.
            I discovered her curled up on my office chair doing her best impression of a life preserver. Her eyes shuttered open and regarded me warily.
            “What a good, good girl you are,” I said and I reached out to stroke the curve of her back. Quick as a chameleon’s tongue, a paw lashed out to bat my hand away. I had ignored the fact that Agnes could only be petted at certain times of the day, and only then if a particular set of legalistic conditions had been met. Although no one but Agnes had a clue as to what these conditions might be, a bad mood rendered every other consideration null and void. For failing to take her temperament into account, I had earned the exercise of her claws clause.
            That night, just before Linda and I snapped off the light for an all too brief respite, Agnes leaped upon the bed and rubbed her face against my fingers. Complex feeding, watering, and out-of-cage shifts for our pets meant that there was barely an hour of daylight that didn’t involve a task, although strangely I had discovered that I liked the structure that it lent my life. Each chore was like the picket of a fence that helped keep worry, obsessive thinking, guilt, and fantasies of success out of reach. But reliance on routine also made me less open to deviations from the norm, and I didn’t embrace this unusual eleventh-hour interplay with Agnes.
            She was insistent to the point of nuzzling my hand even after I had stuck it under my pillow, and one, two, three, or even fifty strokes weren’t enough to satisfy her. She demanded to be petted, neck rubbed, and back scratched until she had covered my entire arm in an eletrostatically charged coating of shedded hair. In the end I enjoyed it almost as much as she did. I could never look at a cat without longing to touch it, and Agnes had quenched my kitty petting thirst far into the distant future.
            “What a good, good girl you are,” I told her as I hugged her, and this time she agreed.

            As I squirted green dishwashing detergent on the living room rug and scrubbed our newest stain, Linda mentioned having seen the white-and-black stray eating from the bowl behind the fence. “I’m glad you’re feeding her,” I said, “But I don’t want her hanging around all the time and thinking she belongs here. Next thing you know, she’ll be throwing up on the carpet like Moobie.”
            “Did you give Moobie her hairball medicine?”
            “I squeezed a slug into her food this morning. It’s already gone.”
            Linda assured me that a stray cat this skittish would never come anywhere near us, much less amble indoors, confer with Moobie, and leave me a present to step on in the morning. Still, even the most misanthropic wild creatures sometimes developed a tolerance for humans when they needed help. We had experienced this with injured songbirds, hungry turkeys, and down-on-their-luck realtors.
            The past summer, a friend of ours had found a juvenile downy woodpecker on the ground after a storm and brought the tyke to us. He was already weak when we put him in our large outdoor flight cage. He refused to eat and spent every waking moment hammering away at the cage. Finally we opened the door and let him go, because there was nothing else we could do. Two days later, Linda’s gardening helper said, “Did you see that bird on your wreath?” The little woodpecker was clinging to the plastic dollar-store flowers that adorned our front door. Back in his once-hated cage, he let me feed him with a syringe and by the next morning was eagerly pecking at a block of suet. After we let him go, he still frequented the yard, and he trusted us to come quite close while he was feeding.
            So as I spotted the kitty hunched up against our pump house the following afternoon, I wondered whether the bitter cold might make her more people friendly. She was obviously lingering in our yard. I snuck a long look at her through the bathroom mini-blinds. Her face was beautiful, small and sleek like a ferret’s and with a steely demeanor that had little in common with the complacency of a domesticated cat. She bristled with nervous energy. Even at rest, she seemed in implied motion and never relaxed her guard. But a divided cap of black fur on top of her white head undercut her serious expression. It reminded me of Alfalfa’s slicked-down hairdo from the Our Gang comedies and increased the inexplicable stab of affection that struck me as I stared. She seemed to sense that I was watching. I ducked just as she lifted her head toward the window, but not before I noticed a strange discolored strip that ran down her nose and lip.
            I decided to venture out with food, so that she would associate me with something positive. I also wanted to get a closer peek at the mark on her face. After donning fifteen pounds of winter outerwear, gloves, boots, cleats, and scarves, I made my exit from the basement as unobtrusively as possible – softly easing the door open and letting her see my cherubic expression through the pickets of our gate. “Alfalfa-gal, I’ve got food,” I started to coo, but she wasn’t ready for her close-up. Before I could get the phrase past my tongue she was already just a memory.
            Over the next few days, I assured myself that I was simply indulging in the feline equivalent of scanning the snowy wastes for redpolls and other winter finches. But my thrumming heart gave the lie to my brain when I saw the stray at a distance stalking mice in our frozen swamp or skulking near a pile of branches where tree sparrows hid. The close encounter had evidently spooked her. Now she wouldn’t come anywher close to the house. Once, I caught her glancing up from our field to see my stick figure in the dining room picture window and even that lo-res view caused her to hightail it. Churning up a spray of ice crystals in her wake, she tore across the tundra racing all the way to the river, where a trickle of unfrozen water might wash away the hideousness of the sight.

            Later that week, the day started with a bang. A crash like a meteor hitting the house jolted us as we ate breakfast. Ice blocks weighing ten, twenty, fifty pounds, or one hundred tons thundered, rumbled, and scudded down the roof, exploding on the ground with crater-forming intensity. An alienated chunk would occasionally teeter on the edge of the second-story roof and drop straight down to wallop the first-story roof directly above my head as I cringed with a bowl of grits. The terrified parrots flapped their wings, hovering inside their cages as if they occupied a falling elevator.
            The massive berg-size rectangles of ice on the ground reminded me of the ruins of an Aztec city. “I’m glad the geese weren’t out in the yard,” Linda said, shuddering. “Or the little kitty,” which was how we had started to refer to the stray.
            “I’d better stay home today,” I told her as I pushed a lump of grits from one side of my bowl to the other. “I’ll be killed walking out to my car.”
            “I don’t think a thaw is a reason to skip work.”
            As I ducked out the door, rivulets of water funneled down a row of icicles under the eaves and onto my head. Our skating rink driveway had turned into a bog of slush. It would be thunderstorming by evening, according to our weather radio. While this wasn’t what you’d call bikini weather – at least not for me – I welcomed any respite from winter misery. But later that day as I wrote sales copy for my employer’s hi-fi products website, waxing poetic about a pair of loudspeakers that cost more than my car, I fretted about the stray. I wondered what she would do if she got caught in the rain and the flash freeze that was predicted to follow.
            I worried about Linda’s safety, too. We’d be pratfalling as we struggled with our outdoor chores the next day. I wasn’t concerned about myself. I moved too slowly to easily slip on the ice; when was the last time you saw a slug lose its balance? But Linda always scraped her feet, and she had worn her boot cleats down into polished bumps.
            Home for the day shortly after lunch, I had a plan to wrap a few strips of fencing around her boots as a makeshift traction device. But Linda was just back from her chiropractor, and I could tell that she was bursting to share a piece of news.
            Linda’s chiropractor was located midway between Michigan and Ulan Bator, and he was the only chiropractor in the hemisphere who could fix her up. Since she couldn’t drive herself much further than down the street due to her sacrum slippage, every Monday her friend Jan drove the sixty-mile round trip as Linda lay flat in the aptly named back seat.
            “Jan dropped me off, and I was standing outside talking to her, enjoying the sunshine, when I felt something rubbing up against my leg. I looked down, and guess who it was.
            “Agnes was in the front yard? She knows better than that.” We didn’t mind our cats losing themselves in the mud, weeds, and impenetrable thickets that lay between our house and the river. But we didn’t want the cats anywhere near the busy two-lane road out front.
            “No, not her. Agnes is waiting for you in the basement. It was the little kitty. Miss Run-If-I-See-A-Face.”
            “The white-and-black cat? “Are you sure it was her?” I couldn’t imagine our fraidy cat rubbing against someone’s leg. And if she did, why didn’t she choose the leg attached to the person who was every bit as anxiety-laden as she was and who carried her around in his mental worry bucket like a precious gem?
            “She was rubbing against my leg and even let me pet her. She might be still around.”
            I tried not to judge my wife too harshly. I’d been reading how polar explorers subjected to prolonged periods of sensory deprivation often suffered from delirium, and our winter had been brutally cold, unusually snowy, and extensively icky even by Michigan standards. Plus, she had been living with me for over fifteen years, which would send anyone over the edge. She had probably encountered a frostbitten squirrel or, more plausibly, the Bigfoot-like creature that I believed inhabited our woods.

            Just before dinner, as I trudged toward the barn carrying a bucket of table scraps, the scaredy cat darted out from under one of our monster pines and them began a full-body massage to my booted calf. She cupped my leg beneath her chin, bumped me with her hip, and snaked her tail around my ankle before making a U-turn and doing it all over again. I wondered how this could be the same high-strung beast whom until this very moment I had only been able to glimpse like a holograph. She certainly seemed real enough. She purred and rubbed her head against my hand just as Agnes would, arching her back and halving her length as I stroked her.
            “I wish we had room for you inside,” I told her. I took a mental inventory of spaces in the house currently unoccupied by cats, birds, or rabbits. A few dresser drawers and the wastebasket in my upstairs office were all that I could come up with. “Maybe we can set up a bed for you in the barn. You’d like that better anyway.”
            I had imagined that her fur might be coarse and matted from the hardships of living outdoors, but she felt as luxuriously soft as any housecat. Then the housecat underwent a sudden transformation. Shifting her weight to her hind legs, she raised her nose and every nerve ending in her body went on alert, from the slits of her eyes to her cocked tail. For a moment she inhabited a world that I knew absolutely nothing of, a realm far older and deeper than my plodding-out-to-the-mailbox-for-the-daily-bills existence. Then just as effortlessly she came back to Planet Bob. The feral look slid from her face, the tension exited her body, she went back to rubbing against my leg, and I went back to petting her.
            I sunk into an approximation of bliss, but not for long. A cat as distrustful of humans as she had been would only resort to intimate contact out of desperate need. I squished through melting snow back to the basement, dipped a plastic margarine dish into a bag of cat food, and pushed it under her snout. Then I stood by with grandfatherly pride while she vacuumed up the food. She danced tight circles in appreciation before zipping back beneath the evergreen – leaving me with an ungloved outstretched hand and nothing to pet except our propane tank.
            Tossing spaghetti, potatoes, and chunks of bread to our mysteriously fat ducks and hens a few minutes later, I thought about the discolored strip of skin across her muzzle. I wished that she had followed me into the barn so that I could shelter her from the coming weather and whisk her to the vet if necessary.
            Shortly after dinner, as Agnes waited for my feet to hit the basement steps, I carried an empty plastic pitcher through the living room and out onto our front porch to refill it from our refrigerator-size sack of kibbles. The television blaring from the other end of the house warned me about the eighty percent chance of precipitation after midnight. Rain already started to fizz against the sidewalk. How would the white-and-black cat fare in the downpour, I thought, and then jumped back as I noticed her peering in at me, her paws propped against the aluminum door.
            “Sorry, honey, you can’t come in,” I told her, though I had already opened the door.
She shot onto the porch, but it was obvious that she was going through an internal tug of war. Before I could close the door again, she bulleted back outside then turned to stare up into my eyes with a sweet Sunday school expression. “You can stay out if you want to,” I told her. She emitted a squeak so high pitched that if I hadn’t seen her open mouth, I wouldn’t have believed that she had made it. I held the door for her again, shutting it immediately when she popped inside – only to be chastised with the same plaintive eek.
            A more patient man might have played doorsy with her for the rest of the evening, but there was a ceiling in our bedroom that needed staring at. I grabbed a gallon jug of alleged spring water, propped open the door with it, and retreated into the house. The cat hopped out into the downpour but darted in again by the time that I had returned to the porch with a dollop of budget-price canned cat food. I touched her as she gobbled up the fish byproduct and filler. As she raised her back to meet my hand, her whole body trembled. This wasn’t the take-charge cat that I met in the yard a couple of hours earlier. This was a nervous kitty that felt confined by our porch even though she had a ready exit.
            I wasn’t surprised when she slipped back out into the rain after she finished eating. But I was floored by what happened next. She popped in again when I presented her with another helping of food. And instead of wolfing it down at once, she raised her head and fixed me with a look whose meaning I somehow understood. Despite her deep uneasiness, she wanted me to pet her while she ate.
            It was almost more than I could stand. Her intensity. Her conflict. Her fear. Her hope. Our cat food bills. Tears came to my eyes.

            I was nearly as conflicted as she was about her presence on the porch. It wasn’t just a matter of adding another cat to our house. It was my concern about the kind of cat she was. Over the years most of our cats, birds, and bunnies had been sweet. Others definitely occupied the bitey, noisy, cantankerous, or just plain irritating side of the teeter-totter. But we had never knowingly taken in a difficult animal. We may have been softhearted, but we weren’t full-blown crazy. And while it may have been written in the stars that some pets would bring us trouble, it hadn’t been written in their faces when we first met them, or we never would have brought them home.
            The white-and-black cat was different. She was already in our home, and she had already proven that she was difficult by being demonstrably more intelligent than I was. Had I been faced with the magnitude of problems that confronted her – homelessness, hunger, a possible infection or injury, and the imminence of freezing rain – I wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to seek out the most logical people who might help. I would have fallen to the ground, tucked my head between my knees, and given up. That’s just the kind of man I was. Without the talking moose weather radio or the people on television, I never knew when rain was coming. I barely knew day from night. The prospect of having a cat around who would beat me in every battle of wits, including weather prediction, was daunting. But there she was on our porch.
            Then there was her emotional intensity. Compared to my single kazoo note of anxiety, she was an entire orchestra of skittishness, suspicion, wariness, and premonition zipped inside a cat suit. It wouldn’t be easy to deal with such a temperamental being. And speaking of temperamental, our sweet white cat Moobie had recently undergone surgery to remove a tumor from her shoulder. Fearing that we might lose her was bad enough. But during her recovery she had become even more of a demanding diva than usual, bringing persnicketiness to new extremes – even for a cat. I still hadn’t recovered from the psychologically draining experience of catering to her whims, and by every indication the ‘little kitty’ would be even higher maintenance. But there she was on our porch. And off our porch. And on our porch again.
            Although these factors argued against keeping her – assuming that she was capable of being kept – there was another big fat reason for being hesitant about taking in another cat. That was big fat Lucy, our third, most recent, and most vexing feline addition to the house. But I didn’t even want to think about Lucy and spoil the moment as I peeked out onto the porch and saw the little kitty peering back at me. I melted. I wanted what was best for her as long as this meant staying with us and using the porch as her headquarters for chipmunk search-and-destroy missions. I didn’t want her to vanish into the trees.
Buy This Book            She tilted her head, and her face fleetingly resembled a dozen different animals: a flying fox bat, weasel, bush baby, panther, lemur, spotted gecko, Our Gang star Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, and obscure creatures I didn’t recognize. Way in the back of mind I saw myself easily transforming her into a fat and lazy pet who would snooze away the afternoon with me. I didn’t know, of course, what a wild ride that the wisp of the woods ßwould take us on. By opening the door to her I had opened our lives to a whole new level of catdom.

Reprinted by permission / © Copyright 2012 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill / Bob Tarte

Kitty Cornered

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