by Alice Woodrome
The Cat Lady? Yeah, I've heard them call me that. It's not the way most people think, though. It's not that I like having all these cats around smelling up my house. I can barely afford to feed them all. A man down the road told me it’s illegal to have so many cats in the city limits. They’re not really mine, I told him. I just give them a safe place to sleep and feed them cause somebody has to. It’s the Christian thing to do—don’t you think?
Lisa says I should take them all to the animal shelter—that I can’t afford to feed them. She’s my niece, and a sweet girl, but she’s bossy. Lisa checks in with me every few days even though I do okay on my own. I can still think straight, and I got my own car. I don’t have to depend on anybody. She doesn’t try to understand about the cats and fusses at me for spending money on cat food when I could be buying vegetables and fruit. So maybe I eat a lot of Ramen noodles and tuna fish at the end of the month. I always make ends meet somehow until my social security check hits the bank on the third.
It’s like I told my niece: things just happen to me. I never planned to take care of eleven cats—thirteen if you count Tabs and Midnight. They’re wild ones and just come by for a meal now and then. I really only wanted one or two cats, but it's out of my control.
Some folks can just walk away, I guess, but I'm too tenderhearted. Like the day I rescued that little white one over there, Snowball, along with her brothers and sisters. I was on my way to the post office to mail my light bill—just got two houses up the way, and there was my neighbor. Nancy was sitting on the ground out by the road. She was wearing her husband’s big T-shirt over shorts. Must have been real uncomfortable on that blistering gravel. You can’t just drive by when someone is sitting by the road on a hot humid day, so I stopped and ask her if she was okay. Course, she wasn’t.
“I twisted my ankle and I can’t walk.” She looked all flushed and I think maybe she was crying. Or maybe it was sweat burning her eyes. “It hurts like crazy and I’m afraid it might be broken.”
Good thing I happened along. We live on a dead-end road, and most folks don’t drive down this far. Her ankle was already starting to swell. Nancy was eight months pregnant, poor dear, and not in the best of health anyway, but I managed to help her up and we hobbled to my car. I bet we were a sight: her so big she’d make two of me.
“Sure glad you came by, Miss Mimi,” she said. “Brent’s on the road and won’t get home until tomorrow.”
I gave up any thought right then and there of making it to the post office before they closed. I drove Nancy to the emergency room and a nice young man in green scrubs helped me get her inside. He settled her in a wheel chair while I told the nurse what we were there for. It looked like we had a long wait ahead of us because almost all the seats were taken, but I couldn't leave her. Her husband was a nice sort—but Nancy was on her own most of the time. Brent was a trucker for UPS and wasn’t around much.
The emergency room was small and stuffy. I got us both Cokes from the vending machine and sat beside her. We hadn't been there long when a guy in a white tennis outfit stalked in. He had barely checked in with the nurse when a man in a suit entered, supporting an old guy dressed in a gray jumpsuit with his name stitched on the pocket. The old man in gray was grasping his chest, sweating profusely and panting like a dog. They took him back to see a doctor immediately while his companion gave some information to the nurse, then took a seat across from me.
The man in the tennis outfit stood there and glared at the nurse behind the desk. “I was here first, they should see me before him.”
Can you imagine anyone thinking they were that important? If you’d been there you would have taken an instant dislike to him, too.
Anyway, the nurse said, “Sir, we have to take emergencies first.” She was nicer than I thought she should be. “I’m sorry you have to wait, but we’ll call your name when it’s your turn.”
“My turn? Means nothing in this hole.” He peered around at the rest of those waiting, and appeared to be assessing which of us he might be forced to sit next to. I looked down at the rip in the hem of my blue-flowered dress. It had torn on a nail when I was trying to straighten a shutter the other day. My housedress would have been perfectly fine to go through the post office drive-thru, but we weren’t expecting to end up at the ER. It made me mad that I was letting his haughty air make me feel inferior.
Tennis guy pressed his lips together and shook his head, muttering under his breath as he found an empty seat. He sat on the other side of Nancy from me, so of course I heard his conversation when he took out his phone and made a call. Seems he had been in a slight accident and was calling his wife to explain why he was delayed.
"Believe me, this dump is the last place I want to be stuck, but you never know. We might want to sue and it won't hurt to have an immediate visit to the emergency room on record."
Then he mentioned something that got me worrying. Anyone would.
"I may not get the cats dropped off before they close for the day." From his end of the exchange, I figured out he had been taking a litter of kittens to the city pound and his wife wasn't happy that he might be bringing them home again.
I sat there for a minute or two and wondered where the kittens were until I couldn't stand it any longer. We were all sweating in the ER, but it was a lot hotter outside in the sun—in the nineties I guessed—and I imagined those kittens in his car getting overheated. That’s what you’d be thinking too, I bet. You got a kind heart.
So I spoke up. “I couldn't help overhearing you talking abut some kittens," I said as nicely as I could. "Do you mind if I ask where they are now?" I folded the skirt of my blue housedress over the tear and smoothed it down.
"Why?” he asked, wincing with his hand on the back of his neck.
"I was just hoping they are not in your car in this heat," I answered, unable to think of a more diplomatic way to say it. A rush of warmth rose to my cheeks and I wished I didn’t blush so easily.
The man in a suit looked at me, then quickly toward the guy in tennis gear. I supposed I was making a spectacle of myself.
Tennis guy sneered at me and snapped, “And just why is that any of your business?”
I began to panic. "They could die in a hot car.”
"Don't get your panties all in a wad, lady. I can't bring them in here." Then he said something that made my blood boil. "I'll just be a few minutes. Besides, they’re just throw-away kittens. There's too many cats in the world, anyway."
"Please bring them in," I pleaded. "I will watch them while you’re here."
"They’ll be fine in the car," he insisted.
“No they won’t. It’s way too hot to leave them in a car.”
"Lady, let it rest.”
I turned to my friend, who seemed preoccupied with her ankle, then at the man in the suit, but I couldn’t read his face. Surely I wasn't the only one who cared.
The man in the suit took out a cell phone from his pocket and entered a number. "Hello, Officer," he said into the receiver—loudly and clearly. "With whom do I need to speak about a case of animal cruelty?"
"Wait a minute, mister.” The guy in the tennis shorts rose to his feet. "I'm going to get them now. No reason to bother the police with this little thing."
When Tennis guy went out to the parking lot, I thanked the man about three times. I wasn’t the only one who thought he did a good thing. There were smiles on the faces of the folks sitting near us.
I suppose it was against the rules to have animals in the emergency room, but the nurses were busy and I sure wasn’t going to ask. I pushed Nancy’s wheelchair over close to the door and we waited there. Before I knew it, I was baby-sitting a box full of kittens and trying to be inconspicuous. A youngster who was with his family helped me give the babies something to drink and they were fine, just hot. Another few minutes and it would have been too late, though. They were so precious, so fragile. I couldn't bear to think of what their fate had almost been.
From the looks of them, I figured they were six or seven weeks old, so young to be taken from their mother, but old enough to make it if someone cared. There were five of them, and each one had its own special coloring. That little white one—she was my favorite right off the bat. She was just so sweet and was either playing or sound asleep. I call her Snowball cause when she was curled up in that box, that’s what she looked like.
I played with each kitten in turn while we waited. The other kittens played in the box, rolling around, chasing tails, and even grooming one another. I looked over at that tennis guy a few times. He rolled his eyes like he was too good to be playing with kittens. I just glared back at him, and made up my mind I wasn’t going to give them back to him—no matter what.
But it was going to be hard to find homes for them. I already had too many cats myself, so I thought about what I could do. I been down that road before, and never found a home for any of the cats I take care of. I would try extra hard this time ‘cause I promised Lisa I wouldn’t take in any more cats. Some promises are hard to keep, though.
My friend was ready to leave by the time the jerk was in seeing the doctors. Nancy just had a bad sprain. Her ankle was wrapped with an elastic bandage and she would be walking with crutches for a few days. The nurse had just informed the man in the suit that they were keeping his friend overnight, so he was ready to leave, as well.
"What are you going to do with the kittens?” he asked me when he was about ready to go.
”I don't know," I said. "I can’t leave them for that jerk to take to the pound." I shook my head slowly. "I could take them temporarily, I guess, but—that guy—will he?"
The man gave me his card. "I don't think he’ll do a thing. And if he does, call me. I'm a lawyer and it will be a pleasure to handle the matter for you without charge. I don't think you have anything to fear, though, from a guy who called them throwaway kittens.
See what I mean? Out of my control. Things just happen to me.