the swindler cat and the violent femme that took my heart
“You have to take in that cat, it’s homeless,” John says, propped like usual on my cement steps, one hand curled around a cigarette, the other pointing to a gray puff of fat smoke that darts around my housemate’s parked car.
“Yeah?” I say, inhaling my own cigarette and narrowing my eyes at the possibility.
“It’s been around, we’d take it but sober house rules say no pets.”
“Ah,” I exhale.
John lives next door to me, in a large brick building that churns out fresh rehab graduates and tried to integrate them into recovery life. I call them “the boys” and they often trot over to the safety of my porch where they could smoke away from the group and vent about their slum lord turned recovery coach. I was new to the city and, being freshly sober myself, appreciated the company.
The grey cat seems to sense we’re talking about him and meanders closer, giving me a keen eye full of want. It’s light muzzle appears dirty in the glow of the street lamp. I can’t tell if his large size is due to a thick coat or him being adept at feeding himself off the streets.
“I’ve always wanted a cat,” I comment as I stub my cigarette out and toss it in the rusting coffee container.
“Save it,” John stands up and his cigarette butt joins mine, “I gotta run to a meeting.”
“Ciao,” I wave him goodbye, eye the creature that's now flitting underneath the cars like it’s on the hunt for something.
“I think I’m going to name you Soup,” I saw and it darts off into the night.
The Hannaford is too bright for how dark the evening is. I squint as I beeline to the pet aisle, running through my options. My minimum wage job barely covers enough for me to eat but I figure this homeless cat won’t care if it’s getting the cheap stuff. I grab a small bag of food and splurge on light weight litter since I’m walking home. I decide to get a small toy as well, to welcome him.
Soup is waiting for me when I arrive home, like he senses I am about to give him the gift of housing. He runs into my apartment like he already belongs there, singing a joyous rhapsody as I pour him a bowl of chow. His attention turns to the rest of my small apartment and he spends the next hour exploring.
Then he’s done. A single meow while sitting at the window. Another, louder, more insistent one . Not sure what he wants, I open the glass and he pushes his way through the screen. Disappears once again, doesn’t return no matter how much I call him.
I see him the next day. Through the window of an apartment complex beside mine. He’s sitting so he can purview the entire neighborhood. I swear our eyes meet and he gives me a smug smile.
“I was swindled by a freakin cat,” I complain during my next smoke break with John, “he convinced both of us he was homeless and look at him! He’s all fat and sassy in his actual home.”
“Sorry,” John looks sheepish behind his smoke, “I really thought he needed rescuing.”
With Soup gone, and with him the brief dream of cat companionship, there was the issue of the stuff I’d bought him. A practically full bag of food and untouched litter. In retrospect I could have just gifted the items somewhere but by that point I was fixated on the now-pronounced cat absence in my life. I called a few rescues to inquire about fostering. One responded. A few days later Colette showed up. She was a weird looking cat, all black except a faint star on her chest that looked more like a smoke puff, with a chunk of her tail missing that gave her a distinct sausage look. We both looked at one another, mutually unimpressed, when she first emerged from her box.
Colette wasn’t like Soup. She didn’t have the charlatan act down, in fact, she didn’t really seem to like anyone. The rescue told me she’d lived on the streets for awhile before being plopped in a kill shelter but I couldn't imagine her begging for food or being pleasant enough to anyone to get it. She probably hunted through dumpsters. Or maybe killed creatures herself, her violent maw reigning destruction on the local bird population.
The first time I met Colette she did a cursory trot around my apartment, hopped onto the window sill and watched the cars and people walk by. When she was done with that she pranced her way into my lap. And bit me. Hard.
Colette liked biting. She loved to bite my face while clawing at my neck in her best attempt at homicide. I began to wonder if it was just birds she ate during her time being feral. During the day she wreaked havoc on my arms and legs, attacking from the shadows at a moment’s notice. At night she’d run into my room and sleep on my hips, her content purring convincing me to give her one more day, one more chance to prove herself something more than rage and claws.
Adoption events went as well as her introduction to my home. She bit people, hissed, and began to get a reputation for being unadoptable. I would give her to the volunteers in the morning and in the evening they would return her sheepishly, her beady goblin eyes glaring at me from inside the carrier. Looking at me like she was incredibly offended I would ship her off anywhere, much less a place full of people wanting to pet her.
Our first truce came when I was stringing cranberries to make a holiday garland. Colette seemed intrigued, sitting a pace or so away from me. I eyed her warily, trying to gauge if she was prepping an assault or just curious. An impulse overtook me and I tossed a cranberry towards her as an offering. Gingerly, she took it into her mouth and trotted back to me, depositing it by my feet. I tossed it again, and again she grabbed it and came back.
We played fetch for a few minutes until she lost interest and went back to watching me. I finished stringing the berries and felt we had signed some sort of contract.
She didn’t lose her violent streak overnight, but our truce grew. I started training her by rewarding her when she sat near me without biting and locking her out of my room when she did. She’s a smart cat, figured out quickly what she needed to do to gain access to my bed and my scritches that she’d come to enjoy. One time she ran up to me, bit me on the leg, then promptly exited the room as though she knew her punishment and had accepted it. At night she’d still come to me, curling up on my hip bone and purring contentedly as we fell asleep, the only time she allowed herself any vulnerability.
I’d joke with John that it was his fault I was living with a tiny sociopath, since he started this whole cat-owning fiasco. But the truth was she was growing on me. And I was pretty certain I had grown on her too. In fact, I think she’d decided we were going to stick together the first night when she snuck into my room and slept on me, her purrs reverberating through my torso and showing me she was more than her bloodshed.
The week of Christmas the rescue called me and offered me a deal: I would take the unadoptable cat since I seemed to ‘have a connection to her’, and they would waive the adoption fee as a Christmas gift. I accepted. My little violent goblin bean was staying.
Colette curls between my arms while I type the next scene of the book I’m working on. I know if I move too quickly she’ll bite me so I methodically and methodically punch the keys. Her head rests against my forearm and occasionally she’ll give me a grumpy look if I go too fast and move her. This is her favorite spot, my little storm cloud of a muse. She's been my companion for nearly a decade, moving through numerous houses and many towns. My second cat Wesley, a large orange Maine Coon mix I got from the same rescue after her, sits a few feet away expectantly. I carefully reach out with my free hand and pet him.
Colette encourages me to write, mostly because she loves being with me when I do. She’s the perfect cheerleader, a well placed meow and insistent cuddling to get me started. I’ve probably finished countless projects because of her.
A photo hangs near my workspace of John and Colette the first week she came to me. He looks pleased by the new feline companion, arms wrapped around her, a joyous smile on his face. She looks like she’d decided to let this one slide, one of the few times she didn’t lash out at people trying to get to know her. John died unexpectedly a few years after I adopted Colette, a brutal loss at the end of my twenties. I am immeasurably grateful to him for leading me to Colette and always felt I owed him a debt for that. He had a compassionate heart and it’s incredibly in character that he would try to rescue a cat that didn’t need to be saved.
I don’t smoke anymore and am still sober, both Colette and my edges softening over the years. Our sharp violence fading with time until we’re two aging creatures that just want kindness and the enjoy the simple pleasures in life ---a good spot in the sun, or passage well written. She reminds me to be present, create for the sake of creating. Find the good food while you can and demand what you want out of life.
Colette swirls in my lap, the fading hair around her mouth making her look like she’s smiling. The sun is shining on both of us. I continue to write.
The rescue I got Colette from is called The Pixel Fund. They are great and if you want to know more about them their website is https://www.thepixelfund.org