For, I think, the first time in my life I was invited to a Halloween party. My favorite holiday, and now a chance to flail at being a social creature again. A rather informal affair held in bar/strip joint across the river. The Starbucks girls invited me. Sorry, but it's the only coffee place even close to my job.
They see me all the time. One of my coworkers is marrying one of them.
Back at work, I opened a browser window and went to google maps, plotted my route, chose which bridge I would use to cross.
You should know now, that for over a year we have been feeding a stray feral cat. And I mean feral.
Stray populations exploded in our city last year. I don't remember a previous time when this was the case, but it happened in 2010, ready or not. The first ones under our care, a kitten and a almost fully grown kitten, took to us fast. We had them eating from our hands. We wanted to take them in, but then they vanished one summer night. Perhaps they'd become too trusting. That was me and my family's fault.
My mom took it the hardest. She's wanted another cat for a while, ever since our cat of many years passed away two Christmases ago. But my dad says no. He hates the furballs. He suffered ours for well over a decade. My mom goes along with it, but I know she can't help but get attached. How can she not want to take them in. She can't help but hurt when they're taken away. Left alone again.
But her grief didn't last long. Another cat wandered along soon after. This cat was fully grown and had no love for man. This cat was wise.
Bronze backing dark brown tiger tabby stripes all down its back and tail. White belly and paws. An adorable face, but one that always looked at you with the widest possible eyes.
Silent it was. Never meowed or hissed. It began showing up in the fall for the food mom leaves for the crows. It came back night after night, but would run from food if it even looked like we were considering a move in its general direction. It took half a year before the cat felt safe enough to only retreat halfway across the yard where it watched from behind the tree.
I thought the mid-western winter would be the end of it. The coat was short-hair, though it might have had an undercoat, it was hard to tell. There was plenty of snow and ice. Many bitter days and arctic nights, for two weeks at a time or longer. The wind blew hard if it blew at all. Some days the cat never showed, the food remained on the back stoop, uneaten in the crusted snow. It never used the shelter we'd made for the previous cats out of an old tupperware storage bin. No tracks, no spoor.
But the cat always came back. It stuck around when the pair of raccoons moved in on the food supply. Sometimes, late at night, I'd hear the screech and chitter of feline warring against scavenger. Hard to mistake those noises. The raccoons went away or were killed by the spring time.
The cat's visits became like clockwork. Seven or eight every evening, as the night's fist began to tighten down. Still it waited for us to retreat into the house before it deigned to stalk forth and eat, and it never stopped watching in all directions. But it began to snub the stale food she left for it. The cat would lie down on the stoop, retreat the door slid open, and then wolf down the good stuff when it thought its privacy resumed. Only fresh food would do. I was proud of the stray for that. It hated and feared human smell and proximity as its ancestors must have, but a cat has standards, always.
Last week, mom told me it had begun to squall at her. To vocalize. Cat experts will tell you that full-on wild felines rarely have use for their vocal cords unless they're fighting or fucking. Cats imitate our speech--I mean, we only gibber at or around them constantly--to modify our behavior, influence us, master us even. Any cat owner worth a damn can tell you about the "kitten voice," or the purr of displeasure. Their guttural grunts and yelps are communication just like our throat noises, if somewhat less articulate.
Our ruthless feral had begun to talk.
After my shift ended, I went to eat at a pancake house that stays open late enough for the drunks and loaner freaks like me to catch a last chance omelet. I decided I would head home before departing for the party, clean up first, even if it meant a longer drive.
I drove back towards my parent's house along Asshole Ave. as I call it. It runs past the block our house is on. It earned this nickname because the stupid and the butthurt assholes who plague our streets seem to become twice as dense, twice as dangerous while driving on it. I've at times wondered if it serves as a practice ground for car collision insurance scam artists. Can't count the number of times I've been cut off, or have someone drive at insanely slow speeds, sometimes after speeding up and pulling ahead of me. They boldly turn out from the strip mall parking lots into oncoming traffic. They sit and stare at green lights, wondering what the purdy colors might signify. Twice I've narrowly escaped having someone switch lanes into me while I'm driving right besides them. Had someone driving towards me, in my lane, in the wrong direction. Nothing gets your blood pumping like a game of chicken after lunch.
I hate the fucking place. But this nexus of assclownage isn't so bad in the middle of the night.
I'm wondering if I'll take a lot of shit for showing up wearing no costume. This whole thing's rather last minute, and what if they're not just buzzed, but blasted? Will we have much to talk about then?
I'm driving past the mexican restaurant and ice cream place when I see a road-killed animal about a foot away from the curb. Just to the right of the checkered lane divider line there's a big splotch of blood.
I see dead raccoons and squashed groundhogs all the time. The occasional possum. But this body caught my eye. It's belly glowed bright white in my head lights. As I speed past, I see a hint of tabby stripes in the shadows.
I drive on for about another block. "No."
I turn around. "C'mon. That's not supposed. No."
I stop this time. I have to be sure. I there's a large spot of red on the white belly. The size is right, the tail is the same. I know I should look at the face but I can't force myself to leave the car.
I can't decided if I should tell Mom or not. If she and dad drive down that road tomorrow, she's bound to see it.
Sorry, ladies. I'm no longer in the mood for a party.