Prose Header

The Cat Who Came in From the Rain

by Charles C. Cole

A few years back, when my mother was only recently widowed, my wife Rebecca and I were her nearest family, about a half-mile away, and prepared to come when called. Until my father died, Mom had never balanced the checkbook or pumped her own gasoline. She was interested in living independently, but she needed practice.

Alone in the middle of 90 acres of woods, nearly 80 years old, Mom had her work cut out for her. I felled the trees and split the firewood, but she managed the lawn and the woodstove and kept track of her various medications while bravely fighting large-cell lymphoma.

Sometimes she’d call if there was a crisis and sometimes when she got lonely. The trick was bifurcating the two. One day she called my work because a partridge had flown into the window of her spare bedroom, scattering glass on the carpet and dying on impact.

Our best guess for this action was: this was mating season and the bird was attacking its own reflection, thinking it was defending its territory; or a bird of prey had attacked it mid-air, impacted the window, then retreated at the unexpected din from the broken glass.

Since I was busy, I suggested Mom call her homeowner’s insurance company for guidance, then call a glazier. Her agent was on vacation, and Mom didn’t want to inconvenience anyone else. There was an emergency number, which she insisted was for “when your house burns down; that sort of thing.”

I stopped by on my way home. Mom had done a great job of vacuuming up the glass without cutting herself and had masking-taped a white kitchen trash bag over the hole, not perfectly, but enough to keep the rain out.

“What should I do now?” she asked.

“You’ve got an emergency number,” I replied. “Use it.”

“Hazen Libby’s recording says he’s away until next week,” she added.

“I’ll bet someone else is checking his calls,” I said. “Did you leave a message?”

“I don’t feel comfortable talking to a machine,” she said. “Never have. What if I leave a message, but it doesn’t record it or someone records over it? Then I’m wondering why they never called me back, but they never even heard the message.”

“I think you should call again in the morning.”

“But tomorrow’s Saturday,” she said, “so I’d have to call their emergency number.”

“Isn’t it supposed to rain?” I asked, absently tapping the trash bag.

“Yes,” she said.

Though Mom never went anywhere other than the doctor’s office, she still watched the weather religiously, like someone who planned outdoor family reunions for a living.

“Then I’d say it’s an emergency.”

“But what if they don’t think so?” she asked.

“Mom, you need to stick up for yourself,” I said, a little gruffly. “I’m not always available. Just tell them what happened and hear what they say.”

“Do you want to see the partridge?” she asked.

“God, no!”

“Are you mad at me?” she asked suddenly.

“Just a crazy day at the office, and I’m starved,” I said.

“I’ve got eggplant in the oven. I’m just keeping it warm.”

“Rebecca and I have company coming, so I’ll have to pass. I’ll call you at bedtime and see you for breakfast. Okay?” I kissed her goodnight.

Then I forgot. We rarely had company, and I was committed to being the best host, and then I forgot to call Mom. The phone rang around 1:00 a.m.

“Mom? Sorry, I forgot to call.”

“Is that you, dear?” she asked.

“What’s wrong?”

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” she said.

“What’s going on?”

“I can’t move,” she said.

“Did you fall? Are you okay?” She wore one of those emergency call pendants, at my insistence, but still would have called me first.

“I’m fine, dear.”

“Great,” I said.

“But I can’t move. The cat won’t let me move.” Mom didn’t have a cat any longer. For years, she’d taken care of a “pound kitty” she’d rescued: Annie, a small long-haired isolationist, who ate her food then hid in the basement until the next feeding. The cat had recently given up eating. The vet insisted there was nothing wrong, but not eating is completely wrong and, after we took her home, she didn’t make it.

“You don’t have a cat, Mom,” I said.

“That’s what I thought,” she said, “but the cat has other ideas.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“Best as I can figure it, you were right about getting the window repaired,” she said, “because the cat must have climbed in under the taped trash bag to escape the rain. And now it’s curled up at my feet. And when I try to move — because I have to void, dear — it digs its claws into my legs.”

“Are you saying a stray cat is in your house, on your bed?”

“Yes, dear. And I know I’m supposed to handle these things by myself, but I really need to go to the bathroom, and I wonder if you can come down and chase the cat back outside where it belongs.”

“I’ll be right there.” I grabbed our broom and work gloves, anticipating a major struggle.

I let myself in with a spare key. Both her kitchen light and hall lights were on so she wouldn’t trip if she awoke in the middle of the night. “Mom?”

“Everything’s alright, dear,” she said, sitting at the dining table.

“How did you get out of bed?” I asked.

“I just said to myself, ‘What would Charlie do?’ and I did it.”

“Which was?”

“I made the alarm clock ring, and that startled the cat off the bed. Then I put some food in Annie’s bowl, and the cat calmed right down. Is it okay to take in a stray?”

“I’ll call the vet on Monday,” I said. “We can have it checked out, if you’re serious.”

“I can do it dear, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” I said.

Copyright © 2012 by Charles C. Cole

Proceed to Challenge 493...

Home Page