Dapper in a topcoat and tails, feet moving fast and graceful as birds skimming still waters, he whirled and swooped, catching my mother, still young and slim, by the waist, bending her backward. She ... [+]
I never thought I would end up like this – like a tabloid horror story. Someday I bet I’ll be discovered dead, here in my tiny, piss-scented apartment, being devoured by my seventy cats.
Thing is, I never even liked cats. They’re too sleek and indifferent, too snotty and superior. I started out just like you. I had a job, an apartment in the city, and a goldfish. It wasn't a bad life, not exciting or anything, but still. It was all I expected. All I needed.
I’m a plain woman and I know it. I was suited to being what I was, an insignificant secretary for County Animal Control. I wore tweed skirts, wool stockings, sensible shoes and thick, thick glasses. I had long ago given up trying to be pretty. I had given up longing for romance or spice. Every day I walked to work, answered phone calls, scheduled appointments and fielded complaints from the crazies who seem to think that cats and dogs are just the same, or even better, than people.
And then along came Max, handsome as a movie star. His hair was black and sleek as dreams. His eyes were the vivid green of new peas. He was more charming and unexpected than roses in winter.
I was walking home when he stopped me – right in the street – and asked if I had the time. I was wearing a watch, so he knew I did. So few people do these days, relying on phones for just about everything. Well, I told him what time it was – 6:00 PM – without stuttering, or even flushing. I’d no expectations. He was too handsome, graceful, and suave for the likes of me. But instead of thanking me and hurrying away he began walking beside me, talking to me as naturally as breathing, just as if he’d nothing better to do.
By the time we reached my door he knew my name, where I worked, what I liked and had asked me out to dinner. I accepted.
He showed up at seven thirty, right on time. He brought me red roses, opened doors for me, and held my hand. He told me I was special, even beautiful, though I'm not and I know it. He courted me for three weeks. It was just like a romance novel without any of the nasty sexual stuff. Max was a gentleman through and through.
On the twenty-fifth day that we had known each other – not that I was keeping count – he showed up at my door with chocolates, and a large box.
He told me he was going away on a business trip for two months. He hated to leave me, but there it was, he had no choice. He said he would get a big raise and when he came back he had something very important to ask me. He hoped I would say yes.
Well you didn’t need to be Einstein to figure out what he had planned. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I started to dream of white gowns and diamonds.
He said he had a favor to ask me. He’d been caring for his aunt’s cat, Sofia, he said. He didn't like cats either, it was something we had in common. But he was so kind he could never say no to anyone. So he asked me please, please could I look after it, just while he was away. Then he would return, give Sofia back to his aunt, and we would be together forever.
Of course I said yes. I was going to be his bride!
While I was away at work, Sofia had ten kittens in my closet, right on top of my best shoes. It was disgusting.
I took them to the County Animal Shelter. I’d never actually been inside the shelter before. I worked in the office.
The head of the shelter begged me to keep the kittens till they were old enough to adopt out. Wait eight weeks, she said, otherwise they’ll be put down. I never would have agreed, but Max would be back by then, and maybe his aunt would want them. Maybe he’d be upset if they’d been killed. So I took them home.
Max didn’t come back. He didn’t call. He didn’t write. I thought about taking the cats to the shelter, but by then I had come to know them. They ran to meet me when I opened the door. They purred and rubbed up against me when I stroked their soft, soft fur. They slept next to me, soothing me with the steady sound of their breathing.
Then my neighbor moved out, abandoning three cats. I took them in and shortly after discovered that the county killed animals left there over five days. Five days. And it wasn’t a pretty death. I saw the ovens.
So I began taking home the lost and the doomed. Suddenly they were everywhere, cats; left at my doorstep, dumped on my desk, abandoned in my hallway.
I thought I was unique, exceptional in the way I had become a cat lady, if in no other. Then, I met Rochelle. We bumped into each other in a back alley, stuffing plastic bags of cat turds into any available garbage cans. We had too much for our own bins. It happens when you have more than twenty cats.
We became friends, or I should say friends in the way that cat ladies are. We never went to lunch, on walks, to movies, or did any of the things that normal people do. But we met occasionally in back alleys disposing of used litter. We exchanged eye drops when the cats got conjunctivitis, and we loaned each other amoxicillin.
I don't even know how we started talking about men. Rochelle was like me, dowdy and plain. Born to be an old maid. No man had paid her attention, even when she was young. Then, long after hope had died, the most handsome and charming man she’d ever seen had asked her out. He was amusing, respectful and oddest of all, fell totally in love with her. But then his mother died. She lived in England and he was her only son and heir. He had to go back for the funeral.
Before he left, vowing eternal love and hinting he might return with a diamond ring, he asked Rochelle for a favor. He begged her to look after his aunt’s cat. He didn't like cats himself, but had promised his aunt, and it was only for three weeks. Well, he never came back, and you know the rest.
The other night, when I was in the back alley disposing of used litter, I felt someone staring at me. Looking up, I saw a large, black cat with fur as sleek as dreams. Its eyes were horribly familiar, the green of new peas. It scrutinized me with those bright, bright eyes, watching me furtively stuffing sacks of feces into stranger’s trash cans. Its whiskers twitched upward as if grinning. Then, blinking slowly, it disappeared into the darkness, tail waving in farewell.