Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Walking the Cat (Short Story)

Walking the Cat
A Short Story

     Mraow!  Mraow!  Meeeeoooowww!  The sound reverberated through the house and the small cat bounced off chairs and over the couch and landed squarely on the rug in front of the door.  Out!  Out!  It seemed to say, no, she did say, as she bounced back the way it came as I walked toward the back door where her leash was.  I'd had the windows and back screen door open all day and after just a few attempts to scale the screen mesh, the little bouncy creature had mostly left the door alone.
     But now, now that I had my shoes on, she wanted out.  I reached for the leash and then went through the motions for the next few minutes of chasing the little cat around the kitchen until I could finally grab the thing, little gray hairs flying all around us as I scooped her up and wrestled the harness over her head.  "Gotta put it on if you want to go outside."
     The rules were the rules.  Too many idiot drivers out there to let the cat go out on her own.  First moment she'd step into the street and she'd probably become a cat pancake.  Just thinking that thought, and it was punctuated by one of the insane drivers out front barreling down the street with an engine that sounded like it came from an old Army Jeep that had too many miles on it and not enough oil changes.  It passed around the corner of the house and I could see the Jeep in question, covered in mud, revving around the neighborhood just to make noise.  He came to a sudden stop, turned around, and sped off down the road again.
     "See?  You could have been a pancake just now."  I plopped the cat, newly harnessed, onto the floor and opened the screen door to the back porch.  MRAOW!  Freedom!  She took two steps, plopped down onto the paver stones and rolled around.  Got up, moved another few steps, plopped over, licked the harness, stared up at me as I closed the back door and meeeeeoow!  I'm outside!  Yay!
     And I followed the little shedding beast through a similar routine for the next five minutes or so around the back patio.  Plop, lick, meow, roll, walk, plop, lick, meow... over and over until she finally decided to venture into the dead winter grass.
     Only on days such as these where it reached over sixty degrees, and today it had gotten to at least seventy, only a week into March... no, global warming...never.  El Nino, maybe.  My mother kept quoting the one newscast she heard sometime early during winter, "It's a strong El Nino this year," she mused, "Didn't even get much snow up here in Michigan until January, 'cause of El Nino."
     Didn't matter much to the cat though, she just wanted to be OUT.  Didn't matter what the temperature was, but I didn't like to stroll along behind her when I could lose the feeling in my nose after a minute or two.  We didn't exactly cruise around the yard at top speed or anything.  A leisurely -5mph maybe, if she didn't decide to backtrack.
     Already she was headed around to the gate, so I headed her off, opening it before she'd slip through the slats and we went up to the front yard.  Quiet night thankfully.  Trains and loud cars tended to cut our walks short.  Didn't the first year, she didn't seem to mind the train at all, but something spooked her on year two and since then she'd stare out the windows of the house at the first sound of the train horn and just stare and stare... like at any moment that loud beastie would come right off the tracks for her and get her.  Nope, on days when we walked and that train would blow its horn, I'd have to dash after her as she high-tailed it to the nearest door to the house.
     Quiet today.  She only stopped about five or six times to roll around on the driveway before making it to the sidewalk, then only another ten or so times down the sidewalk until we made it to the long stretch around the house.  Eventually cutting over and walking back down the fence line to the back of the house.  Made it, only had one or two people notice that I was walking my cat on a leash.
     Kid on a bike said something like, "Nice," and another car passed by, but I don't think he even noticed the cat.  I would have thought after two summers of regularly walking my cat around my yard that someone would have said something about me, that maybe I'd be mentioned in the neighborhood social group that there was some crazy lady who walked her cat.  But, nope.  Not a word.  A few kids noticed from time to time, either welcomed by my cat for pettings, or shunned as she would poof tail and head toward the nearest exit, aka. the back yard.  No one walks cats, right?  Dogs, sure, tons of them, every breed in this neighborhood, but not one cat, except mine, of course.
     Safety of the backyard again and we cruised the patio, watched the birds at the feeders, trailed off to sniff at the cat poop in the backyard - from one of those neighbors who didn't care if their cats became pancakes - and then down the other fence line.
     At first I didn't even realize what I was hearing.  A few neighbors screamed at each other regularly, so I was rather used to that sort of thing, I suppose.  Screaming.  Maybe a loud TV.  Maybe something... my cat stopped dead in her tracks and so did I.  I came out of my thoughts; which weren't a whole lot seeing as though you can't really think about much while walking a cat.  Screaming.  A woman's voice.  Then dogs barking.  Babies crying.  My eyes lifted from the fence line and my cat, the foot I'd just stepped down onto the pricker plant that I'd have to weed from the lawn, I stepped on it with my foot and was thinking about when I came back out again, and oh I needed to scrape the bird poop off the fence too, it was piling up in little hard mountains where they'd sit between raiding the bird feeders.
     "OH MY GOD!!!"  And then it came again, "OH MY GOD!"  And again...again...over and over.  Screaming.  Blood curdling baby cries.  Dogs barking.  Some out of fear of the screaming, some from something else...were there two dogs?  My attention snapped up to the house next door to ours.  They were always quiet, always calm, barely making any noise or even talking to us much at all.  We'd seen the husband, and seen him with his wife.  He used to have a dog, a pretty spotted thing, white and black.  But then they'd had a baby boy, and the dog disappeared.  And then they had another boy.  And then someone, not sure who, moved in.  And then a regular visitor who had scrubs.  And a black dog that she'd throw his poop away in the trash container that now permanently resided between our houses.
     More screaming and I picked up my cat and thought to walk back into the house.  Didn't need to hear this...did I?  Yes, sort of, I did.  I hear more screams, baby crying, and suddenly the voice turned into, "I need help!  My dog bit my baby!"  An address, oh, called the squad or 9-1-1.  The dog's barks had calmed down but the baby still was crying.  I knew now why, but how?  I wasn't sure.
     It was an odd situation, these neighbors.  They seemed to be our age, but not very friendly.  The first 'wife' we'd seen with our neighbor was definitely different than the one with the babies, and this one just looked different.  But who owned the dog?  Couldn't have been the one with the baby...or were their two babies?  A second one from the woman with the dog?  I wasn't sure, I'd never be sure.  I went inside and told my husband about what I heard.
     We waited to hear sirens.  A paramedic showed up and two men went in to attend to the baby.  I thought about what I would have done with a baby bit by a dog.  I unharnessed my cat who MRAOWWWW'd her dissatisfaction with our short walk.  She followed me around the house as I watched to see if they'd send out animal control or something to take the dog away.  I realized that if my dog bit my kid, if I'd had a kid, I probably would have just taken him to the ER rather than calling for a paramedic.  Just imagine the bills...  No one came, no dogs were taken away, but no one else showed up either.
     I sat down at the window, wondering if the guy who was watching someone down our street would show up again.  He was there yesterday as I sat at my computer with my cat in my lap, then off my lap, then on my desk, then plop, lick, mraow, back down on my lap again, fur everywhere, and I wondered about this man out in the car in front of our house.  I could only see his hands and occasionally a phone and then a notebook.  That was yesterday, and today there was a different truck out front, that one had tinted windows and I couldn't see anyone in that one, but when I opened the windows I could hear the engine running.  It drove away and was replaced within a minute by the original guy.
     The first guy had shaggy blondish hair to his shoulders.  Did he have facial hair?  Maybe.  I wasn't sure, the glimpse I got of him was brief.  He did the thing with his phone again, grabbed his notebook out, and then sat with his hands on his legs as he watched someone down the street.  I hoped it wasn't my house.  I wouldn't know what it would be about, but ever since my own brother had been the object of surveillance outside my mom's house when we were still living there, I was paranoid about stuff like that.  The government wants you to think that they can't watch you and dig into every aspect of your life, but they can.  I remember seeing that dark car parked across the street with that little red light and ever so often someone would light up a cigarette and flick it out the window.  And I wondered why the heck someone would be watching our house because we were the whitest straight family...
     At least until I'd moved out and the year I got married the FBI busted down my mom's door and dragged my brother off to prison for 25 years over child pornography.
     I was still paranoid that something could be happening under my nose and I'd never know it.  So what was this going on now?  Drug ring?  Pedophilia?  Illegal immigrants?  Something else? They guy drove off long before I was willing to take the cat out for her walk.  If I were a different kind of person I probably would have gone out to ask him who he was watching.  Maybe he even would have driven away before I finished approaching the car.  But I didn't take the chance.  I wasn't that kind of person.
     I was the kind of person who would rather have cats than kids.  I was the kind of person who freaked out when my cat fell down off a shelf and limped for a week, and took her to the vet to have her checked over.  But I was also a person who probably would have blamed the kid for stirring up the dog to bite him.  I would have scolded him, wrapped up his wound, and taken him to the ER myself if, and only if, it was deep enough I would have thought it needed stitches.  But that crap is expensive, insurance or Obamacare or not.  Band-Aids and Neosporin, that was the way of it.  And if the kid would be afraid of dogs for the rest of his life, good!  At least then he wouldn't stir the stupid thing up into biting him.
     My cat looked up at me solemnly from the rug by the front door.  "Not going back out there again tonight, too dark," I told it.  She MRAOWed, not happy, made some kind of meow-grumble sound as she walked out of the room and I grabbed a cookie out of the container on the counter.
     I was the kind of person who took my cat for a walk outside on a leash.

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