I would never tell her this, but my mother had some bad kids. This is just one of the many mischievous things my sister and I got up to. Bless my mother’s heart!
The first exchanged occurred on our school bus. Assigned seating was a policy on Bus #10, but somehow my sister had managed to barter her way onto another seat. I thought it odd but stuck to our sisterly code of silence, for this instance. She was up to something, and I was safer in my ignorance, so I made no fuss when an unknown girl plopped down next to me.
I held my breath as I waited for the bus driver to do her row call roster. The girl next to me, blond like my sister, had bowed her head as if she were reading, so only her golden locks showed above the back of the seat. I looked behind me to see my sister sat by the window in a middle row. She was similarly bowed. When the driver called out my sister's name the girl raised her hand. I sucked in air without breathing its oxygen as the woman squinted in our corner. The raised hand got its pass and she checked off my sister's presence and likewise checked off the other girl's when my sister raised her hand.
I let out a sigh of relief as the bus pulled out, but curiosity had me wondering what my sister was up to. I looked at the girl next to me and hoped my sister was not trying to switch places with the girl. She might have blond hair, but she definitely would not pass for my sister. My mom was sure to figure that out fast.
I was surprised when we reached our bus stop and my sister got up from her position behind me and the other girl scurried back to her assigned seat. My sister walked boldly right past the bus driver who looked at her dumbfounded. The driver looked up into the big mirror bar above her, but the other girl had already moved back to her seat. The woman narrowed her eyes in speculation but said nothing. A creeping feeling of dread clenched at my gut. What was my sister up to?
Most days when we got home, we were alone for a few hours before our parents got off work, so it was odd when my sister screamed, "Honey, I am home!" when we came through the garage door. It could have been just to be funny, but I watched as she craned her neck and tilted her head as if she were listening. She walked around the house checking all the rooms and peeking into the back yard. When all was clear, she looked at me seriously and said, "Take the dogs for a walk."
At this point I was terrified. My sister was a good, kindhearted soul, always wanting to help a person or creature in need, but she was also bold and wild. She had many friend groups and was constantly up to something. It was mostly petty things like sneaking to Mcdonalds or stealing the car for a joy ride. Normal kid stuff that did not warrant tattling. However, the way she was acting then was bizarre.
I was thinking "Oh Jeez! She has gotten into drugs or criminal things!" I tried to be cool about it, though, "I am tired, I am just going to put them in the backyard for a bit." Our dogs were crate trained and danced in their cages begging to be unleashed.
She shook her head, "Just keep them out of the way for a little bit."
She was being so weird. I couldn't take it anymore. I was dying of curiosity and worry. "What's going on!?"
She clutched tighter at her bookbag. It meowed in response. My eyebrows hit my hairline as I gasped in shock. "Um Abby, what's in your backpack?"
She held it more protectively, not ready to divulge her secret for fear I would rat her out or take the paraphernalia away. She shook her head to let me know she wasn't giving it up anytime soon.
"Fine," I said, "Just don't get caught. Whatever it is."
The wheels in her head turned, and she looked uncomfortable. She needed an ally, but our code of trust was tentative and broken often to meet our own individual gains. "You have to swear you won't tell anyone!" She pleaded.
"Ok I won't, what is it?" I asked starting to piece things together. My sister had a toy or an animal she wasn't supposed to. Knowing this, I figured I could get the full story without damning my soul with potentially broken oaths.
My word was not enough. I could already tell she wanted collateral, something damning to hold over me so that I would not divulge her secrets. She was shaking her head, "I mean you really can't tell anyone about this!"
"I get it. I swear I won't say anything about the cat in your bag." I was taking a guess while using a double entendre, so that she could let her imagination think I already knew everything. The bag was wriggling and making a lot of noises now, so I figuring I was right.
My clever sister stared me down, "I will tell mommy it was your idea, if you say anything." She opened a slit at the top of the bag and a black head with green eyes popped out of the opening. It was a disgruntled kitten that worked to claw its way out of the opening. The dogs saw the shadow's wriggling form and went nuts barking. Abby quickly stopped the kitten's escape and ordered me, her older sister, "Take them outside and I will hide her in my room."
It was a perfect idea. My sister's room was a network of piles connected by complicated pathways that only she understood. Even cleaning her room was a death sentence that no one in the household could endure, which is why if we needed something we asked her to bring it out for us. Only Abby knew what was in each pile and why it was constructed just so. A cat would easily be hidden there and so it was.
We stole a disposable casserole pan from the kitchen and filled it with sand from the back yard. We lived in South Carolina at the time and figured the sand was similar enough to kitty litter that it would do till we could get the real stuff. As far as food went, we gave it saucers of milk and bits of dog kibble.
Those details were the least of our issues. We knew from experience with our dogs that the cat would need vaccines and to be checked for pest. Our biggest fear, though, was our mother. She is deathly allergic to cats!
I don't know how we managed to keep this cat a secret for two whole months. We named the creature midnight, and midnight was a needy soul. She meowed loudly when she was forced to stay in my sister’s room, because she was very social and hated being left alone. She was also a crafty escape artist. She knew when she was being put away and would do everything in her power to hide. There were many times that my sister and I stared with bated breath at a shadow that moved right under our mother. Thankfully, the dogs had grown used to midnight, so they did not sound the alarm bells to our mother, and she never noticed—or, more likely, never figured out what our odd behaviors were about. We were always up to something, and our mother had long since given up figuring out what all those somethings were.
Our poor mother, as each day went on, became more and more stuffed up. Her face was swollen each morning she woke up. Her eyes were perpetually watery, sunken in masses peeping through puffed up cheeks. She was forced many times to go to the doctor, who ran allergen tests and gave her more allergy medications, which made her groggy and irritable under her excessive workload. She had us clean every nook and cranny of the house, thinking that mold was the culprit and even paid to have the ducts in the house cleaned. We felt bad for her, but we had fallen in love with the cat.
It wasn’t our poor mother’s suffering that had us surrendering Midnight to her new home. It was Midnight herself who prompted us to give her up. She had become ill and was not eating. We deliberated telling our mother to get her the care she needed; but after seeing our mother suffer so much, we knew we would be in trouble, so my sister started the search for a new home.
The final exchange and the start of Midnight’s perfect life happened in a movie theater. My sister found a girl whose family loved cats. The girl's parents didn’t know they were getting a new cat, but we figured they would be the best to handle Midnight since they had experience with 3 other cats.
We snuck the cat in using a deep grey cloth purse. The thing was hideous and made my mom raise an eyebrow. “Why are you bringing that?” she asked embarrassed by its look.
My sister didn’t miss a beat. She looked my mother dead in the eye and said flatly, “It holds more candy.” My mother looked like she wanted to burn the thing, but my family's favorite crime has always been sneaking candy into a movie theater, so she let it pass.
I will never forget that movie. It was Disney's “Up” and my mother balled through the whole thing, which made the exchange easier. She never noticed and we never told her.
Midnight was accepted into her new home and made a quick recovery. As far as I know, she is still happily roaming a neighborhood somewhere in Columbia, South Carolina, bringing back kills to her doting family.
My Mother's allergies subsided and she went back to feeling normal. Bless her heart, though, her children really were almost the death of her.
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