Written as a prompt exercise during mom’s spring writing class.
“Mrs. Harris, have you seen my cat?”
Janet Harris looked up from weeding her front yard garden. No one had called her Missus anything in longer than she could remember. “Your cat?” she asked and squinted into the sun. “Obviously, other than a cat, what does it look like?”
She put her hand up to block the western light without much success. She wasn’t able to make out the face but if the deep voice and shaggy, brown-haired aura were any indication, it was her neighbor, the unstable one, the one she had maintained a cool and distant relationship with.
“It’s young, gray and white with stumpy legs. And blue eyes. And cross-eyed. That’s probably why it sauntered out the door when my wife had it open. Not too bright.”
Janet didn’t ask if he meant the cat or his wife; not point blank anyway.
“I thought Fiona hated cats?” she asked, picturing her neighbor’s anxious, high-strung wife holding open the door and scooting the cat out with a stick.
“She does.” He shrugged. “Can’t stand them. Some childhood thing.”
“But you had a cat that now just happens to be lost?”
“Yeah, I bought it to hunt coyotes.”
Janet blinked and took a step back. Huh, never heard that one before. Then again, she’d heard a number of odd things from her neighbor over the years. Heard and overheard. Like the time he stood in his driveway and called 9-1-1 because he couldn’t connect to the Internet. She laughed over that one, albeit a quiet laugh from inside, behind the blinds. The county sheriff who came out on the call most certainly did not.
Still, she couldn’t let this one slide. She had to know more.
“Since when do cats hunt coyotes? I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around.” She shifted so the sun was out of her eyes. Yep, this was that neighbor all right. Bill was his name. She made a mental note to add “Unhinged” to her list of Bill’s descriptions.
“Oh no,” Bill said shaking his head. “This is a special breed of housecat.” He folded his arms, tilted his chin forward, his nose in the air. “Paid good money. We had to have it de-clawed before we could begin training him just to give the coyotes a fair chance.”
She watched her neighbor carefully when he talked, to see if he was trying to pull her leg, to get her goat, to make her the butt of someone’s joke. Nope, Bill looked every bit as serious as a heart attack: same sweaty brow, same nervous tic, same shifty eyes. Either he was a real good liar or he truly believed housecats hunted coyotes. Her mental list added the word, “Deranged.”
She felt sorry; not because her neighbor had lost a cat, and possibly his mind, but with thinking of what kind of short, miserable life the animal probably would have had had it not run off. And now it was lost out there somewhere, probably the better for it.
Hunting coyotes, my ass, Janet thought. I ought to report him.
She looked around for an escape from the conversation and bent to pick up the pile of pulled weeds at her feet. When she stood, Bill had stepped closer. “Are you sure you haven’t seen him?” he asked again. He leaned in and peered into her face with a knowing look. “I figure cats and old women, you know, tend to find each other.”
She clenched her teeth and was more than a little aware of the gardening shears in her hand. She was far from being an old woman and she certainly wasn’t one of those crazy cat people. But, that said, if one was lost in the neighborhood, chances were good she’d seen it.
“Sorry. Can’t say I’ve seen your cat.” She stood her ground and smiled. “But I’ll keep my eyes open. I’m sure it’ll turn up somewhere. Nice talking to you, Bill. Gotta go.” Janet meandered from her garden, taking a moment to admire her daylilies and once through the tall, wooden gate, she quietly slipped the padlock through the latch. Only then did she feel safe.
Later, she stood over her kitchen sink, shaking with anger. Why did she always have to have weird neighbors? How dare he imply I’m old! Or was he simply stating the truth? She ran her fingers over her cheekbones, gently guiding loose skin over and behind her ears.
She composed herself. Taking a deep breath, she walked down the hall and entered the dark bedroom, intent on sharing the latest crazy thing their neighbor was yammering about.
“Bill’s at it again,” she announced to the empty room.
“Hush now.” Her mother’s long-silenced voice sounded every bit as soothing as when she was a child and they both were young and full of life. Her mother hushed her. Her! I’m a grown woman. No one hushes me, she thought.
She laughed at the thought and at herself for still hearing her mother’s voice after all these years. She moved to the window to watch the sunset, as beautiful as the one on her mother’s last, blessedly peaceful day and instinctively, bent to pet the imaginary cat brushing against her ankles. Her breath caught in her throat and she cried. “Oh mother, what’s going to become of me if I still hear your voice and feel Tiger rubbing at my feet?”
Through her tears, outside movement at the base of a lawn chair caught her attention. There stepped a tiny ball of gray and white; a young kitten with crossed blue eyes.
Six years later, her neighbor still talks about his dumb, coyote-hunting cat that ran away. Six years later, Janet calls her beautiful gray and white cat, Maxx.
Have you ever written a story about your cat(s)? We highly recommend it. It’s fun!