A while back, we had an interloper here at Marklewood. The outdoor pusses were the first to encounter her. A day later, the two of us had a determined stare-off when I first stepped onto the front stoop that dawn. As I slowly inhaled the moment’s nicotine, she guardedly peered at me from behind the giant cast iron plants that define the driveway’s foot. I stood up to fetch my coffee. She jerked, twitched, and scurried from my sight. That was when I first heard that damned bell!
Yes indeed, she is a “lost, but not yet found” cat: a diminutive marmalade with white boots, an unassuming face, and a bell secured to her neck with a pale pink ribbon. “How embarrassing!”, I thought, “to be thus branded in a juvenile and fey (if not “girlie”) manner.” As I approached her, she darted under the house, to the crawl space where those very same outdoor pusses often seek refuge, warmth, and safety.
Hmmmm. She must’ve spent the night since she knew exactly where the primary access points were! I imagined that she, Eve, and Lunesta braided each other’s fur and gossiped about the misfortune that prompted Precious to change her name and head downtown. At some point, they certainly giggled and mused of the neighborhood toms. Moreover, I assume they tried in vain to loosen the ribbon and remove the jingle.
When the air finally warmed and the sun was dancing atop the pine trees, I returned to the front stoop, this time with the cats’ breakfast. The seven regulars dashed toward and circled the food bowl, tails swaying in June Taylor synchronicity. As I again sat on the stoop (contemplating life, liberty, and the pursuit of a better credit rating), that bell stirred my concentration. She instinctively ran to the bowl, as if she had been a long-term guest, but I had to leave any detective work until that evening.
It was almost time to head across the wide span of Raleighwood to my new job. I warned Jon about this mystery puss, jokingly referring to her as”Twinkle” or “Muffin”. She was an innocent “valley puss”, unfairly tagged by those who rescued her from a shelter. And there I was making light of her situation!
That night, long after I had returned, I took an extra large scoop of kibble outside, hoping the cats would forgive my tardiness. As always is the case at sunset, two came from chairs in the garden. Three, from the nearby woods. One jumped down from atop the storage shed. The last one raced from the jasmine-covered swings, her abandoned seat still rocking “fro and to”. As the seven were soon scarfing and gobbling with barely a chew, I again heard that bell!
Had she been at Marklewood all day? Was she ever going to return to”Muffinwood” or wherever her home is? Nonetheless, I made certain she ate, quite confident that if she needed shelter that her four-legged hosts would be hospitable and offer her shelter in the inn. But wait! She was too, too small to be “with child” although I was having irreverent musings. To the contrary, she appeared prematurely spayed.
She was clean and obviously well-cared for. My cats were neither scared nor intimidated by her so she seemingly possessed decent social skills. And of course, the ribbon indicated that she was loved and likely missed. I immediately visualized a weepy and sullen young girl with pigtails, or a lonely housecat who was missing his playmate, if not little sister. Oy ve!
Essentially for the next few mornings and evenings, the routine was the same. At mealtime, the pusses came from every direction with “Pinkie”pulling up the rear. Maybe her name was “Tinker”, “Belle”, or some combination therein. Or even “Rosey”. All I knew was that she was entirely too comfortable here.
I chuckled as I imagined her warbling “Take the Ribbon from My Fur!”
A few days later, she stopped coming when I fed the others. I no longer heard that bell announcing her proximity. I assumed she finally went home. That night as I sat on the stoop extinguishing my last cigarette of the day, I wondered if Eve and Lunesta would ever again have such a slumber party.
The next morning, I was checking email when I heard a loud knock on the front door. Jon was still asleep so I literally ran downstairs, at least as quickly as I could without tripping or accidentally stepping onto the creaky steps. Through the window I could see a big burly guy with a shaved head and tattoos. (Let’s just call him “Bubba”!) I opened the door and, with certain expectations, offered a reluctant “Yes?”
“Have you seen a small orange and white cat around here? She has a pink ribbon collar and a little silver bell.”
Oh my. I never saw that one coming. I recounted her plight but assured him that she had been gone for over twenty-four hours. I could see that he was worried, tearful, and “beside his big, beefy self”. I was surprised by the irony of the situation but knew what he was feeling … all too well.
I assured him that if she ever returned, she’d at least be well fed and safe from the roving raccoons and conniving coyotes. I told him that, if she ever got lost again he was welcome to survey our yard for a glimpse of ribbon. Or walk up our driveway and listen for the jingle.
That night, as I struggled to fall asleep, I wondered if she indeed ever did make it home and hoped that the Universe would care for her.
The next morning, since I was going to enjoy a day off, I slept a little later than usual and headed outside with my coffee, cigarettes, and a big scoop of cat food. Eve, Thom, Leopold, Yorick, DeWilde, Precious, and Sylvester Sue all came running. I count them at every meal, as if “taking attendance”, since we live in the hinterlands and are surrounded by woods. That evening, all seven were accounted for and present for chow time. Then I heard a faint jingle, listening as it grew louder and closer. She confidently rounded the corner and headed for the food dish.
She looked at me with a sweetness and a gratitude as if to say: “Call me Madam. Call me Miss Tibbs. Even call me Miss Ross. Just don’t call me Muffin!” She then squeezed in between Eve and Yorick, taking her place in the ritual.
I quickly ran inside, forgetting to avoid the creaky steps. When I entered the bedroom, Jon was stirring and squinting his eyes.
“Honey, I think ‘Dr. Markle’s Finishing School for Wayward and Erstwhile Pusses’ has a new boarding student.” Perhaps, I was daydreaming again but I could’ve sworn she registered as Pinkie.
And then there were eight!
(Image: “Monkey Dog and His Mistress” by Lucy Gaylord-Lindholm, 2000.)