Monday, February 7, 2011

Carl the Cranky and Tabby Tom: Part Three

In which we receive a call for aid from one once thought an enemy, and read how the neighborhood rallies to help .

Part One and Part Two can be read first, if you like.

Life and the Universe are strange things. Sometimes they suprise you. I'm inclined to believe this is a good thing.

It was a summer weekend; Friday perhaps, or Saturday, about twilight. The spousal unit was out of town, so I was alone in the house with the cats. Although I do love the man and his company, I also look forward to these weekends when I have the house to myself. I look forward to pizza and old Dr. Who episodes, the small self indulgences from which I abstain most of the time. There would be one of those long, chocolate and wine baths at some point. Everyone needs a weekend away with themself now and again.

I was downstairs in the kitchen, happily chatting away via text with my oldest daughter, about this and that, when "BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!" came a demanding knock on the door, loud enough to make me jump out of my seat, knocking over my glass of iced tea in the process.

I typed in a quick "Someone at the door; be right back. Don't leave!" 

"BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!" came the insistent hammering again. I snatched the pepper spray from the bookshelf, and went to the front door. The peep hole is too high up in the door to be of any use to me; standing on tiptoe it's still a foot above my head. I keep thinking someday I'll put a webcam on the door, and maybe I will, but that hasn't made it to the top of the "to do" list yet. Alone in the house in my neighborhood, I'm not about to open the door if I don't get an identification.

"Hello?" I called through the door.

"I need to talk to you!" came the shouted response in an unrecognized male voice. Well, that's helpful, I thought.

"Who is this," I called back.

An exasperated male voice answered. "It's about the cats. This is your neighbor, Carl." That got me to open the door a crack. It was indeed Carl. I hadn't seen him in a year. I opened the door all the way.

"Carl!" I said. His eyes had immediately gone to the weaponized pepper in my hand; he stepped backwards off the porch steps, seemingly affronted. I opened the screen and stepped outside, explaining. "I don't normally open the door on a weekend night when I'm alone."

Like a skittish cat himself, he was already out the front gate and poised to flee. I stuffed the pepper spray in my pocket, displayed an open hand. "What's wrong with the cats?"

"I just thought you might help," he said, still moving away. "Just forget it."

I followed him to the gate. "I will try to help," I assured him, reaching out. "Tell me what's wrong?"

And so I heard for the first time about Tabby Tom, who lives at the other end of the alley from the ThirteenCats colony. The spousal unit and I had thought for some time there must indeed be a Tom in the neighborhood, having on occasion heard Skitter yowling in his best territorial voice at our front gate. The best glimpse we had been able to get was of a shadowy tail departing when we would fling open the front door to investigate. Skitter, giving us a very clear "I had everything under control" glare, stalking back to the colony under the back deck.

Tabby, said Carl, had been injured; his eye nearly scratched out. He had to have help. No cat could live in the alley without an eye. Did I have a trap? Could I help? Could I come now? The cat might have to be put down. Better to be put down, he said, than to die from infection. I explained how if we could trap him, we would get veterinary care, but I wouldn't trap Tabby only to execute him. By now Carl was at the edge of my yard, heading out of sight into the shadows of the evening alley.

"Well, come on down and see what you can do." Normally, I would have bristled at the tone of command. Like the cats, I don't take instruction particularly well. But somehow it didn't really matter. There was a wounded animal in need.

I explained that I had to end my chat conversation with my daughter; that I would be right there. "Well, then, I'll meet you in the alley," and he was gone.

I dashed inside, texted to Eldest Daughter that there was a cat emergency, I had been summoned, and had to go see what I could do. What on earth was I going to be able to do? It sounded like an MI6 operation.  "If I don't check in within two hours, call the police," I told her. She agreed. I don't think we said "Over and out," but our terse "See you later" carried the same connotations.

Off I went in the darkening alley, with Carl nowhere to be seen. This was the same alley where the spousal unit and I had once been robbed at gunpoint some years ago. I was distinctly uncomfortable.

Carl was indeed waiting at his end of the alley. Tabby, on the other hand, was nowhere to seen. I met Carl's beautiful wife. We introduced ourselves, discussed the cats, exchanged cell phone numbers. We vetted a plan. Carl thought it best that I come back in the morning, around feeding time, when Tabby was sure to be there.

"Feeding time?" I querried. "Do you feed the cats?" Apparently the universe was having some fun with me tonight.

"Well," Carl said, stuffing his hands into his pockets and looking anywhere but at me. "Sometimes. We feed Tabby." I did the absolute best I could to choke down the laughter that came bubbling up in a good natured spout. Aha, I thought. Not the big meanie you make yourself out to be after all.

I made it home, well after dark, without incident. I checked in with Eldest Daughter. I ate pizza and watched several hours of old Dr. Who episodes. At six o'clock the next morning, my cell phone started ringing. With the heart-in-your-throat feeling that comes when the phone rings when at a time it usually doesn't, I grabbed the cell, fearful of some family emergency. It was Carl.

"Come down now," he said. "Tabby's here having breakfast." I quickly adjusted my idea of what "breakfast time" actually meant, grabbed some clothes and the biggest kitty carrier I had, and set out on my mission. The thought was that, even though we didn't have a humane trap in our possession at the moment, perhaps Tabby could be enticed into a carrier with Tuna or something.

Tabby, eating peacefully in the alley when I approached, saw me coming and ran for it. Neighbors up and down the block joined in the hunt to get Tabby trapped and taken to the vet. People I had never met invited me to come through their houses, into their garages, around their side gardens,  in an effort to sneak up on Tabby from a different angle. We poor bumbling primates were no match at all for an alley bred Tom who didn't want to be caught. I did get several good glimpses of Tabby during the process, though. He is a truly magnificent grey, short haired tabby, definitely bigger than  any of the males in the ThirteenCats colony.

I began to fear, especially with his wound, our efforts were causing more harm than good. We humans gathered together in a clutch in the alley, putting our heads together. Tabby had retreated to under the porch of an empty house, and watched us warily, ears flat against his head.

They looked at me as if I should know what to do. I took a breath, sent up a prayer, and pronounced, "I don't think we're going to be able to catch him by hand." Duh! Everyone looked at the cat lady expectantly. "I think I can borrow a trap and maybe we can try again?"

This met with agreement; I explained how the trap worked, that it would need to be put somewhere Tabby felt safe, baited with tuna or something really tasty, and then checked. I reiterated that I would absolutely not assist in a trapping if the only purpose was to catch Tabby and kill him. Everyone was agreed. A tiny little elderly woman everyone referred to as "Granny" volunteered to have the trap placed in her yard. We had a plan. We dispersed. Tabby watched us and stayed well out of reach. Offerings of tuna and turkey were left for him. He was sick, after all.

That same afternoon, I managed to catch up with Tara as she came by to feed the cats. I shared my tale, asked about borrowing her humane trap. Recalling her previous experience with Cranky Carl, her momentary skepticism was understandable.

"That guy from down the block?" she querried. "The one who called the police on me?" I allowed as how, indeed, it was the same man, or an alien in his body, who had come to the door seeking aid and succor for a wounded cat.

About that time Jackie and Heidi drove up. We called to them, and they joined us in the alley. It was a cat lady convention in full swing. I was called upon to repeat my story.

"Are you serious?" Jackie asked me. "That same guy from down the street?" I assured her there was no mistake concerning his identity. Jackie and Tara gazed at me a few moments. I think they were gauging my sanity.

"Well," said Jackie at last. "That's certainly suprising."  Indeed it was. For all of us.

It turned out that Jackie was in possession of the humane trap. She brought it out and gave me a quick lesson in how to load it and set it, and also on how to open it back up after it had been sprung, if necessary. Later in the afternoon, Treasure, my fluffy calico housecat, helped me practice. There's a reason we laughingly call her The-Cat-Who-Has-No-Fear. She helpfully walked in and out of the trap, springing it and then having me open the door to let her out, at least five times. What a fun new game! I eventually had to put the trap away in the laundry room to keep her from springing it and then crying to have it opened and set again.

Now, Gentle Reader, Tabby Tom was never trapped, for he is far too clever and jaded a street cat to go for the old Tuna-in-the-Trap trick. However, I do not wish you to be alarmed. Tabby did indeed survive his terrible injury, and still reigns supreme at the north end of alley to this very day, continuing as Skitter's rival, for Skitter holds sway at the southern end.

Carl the Cranky is now known as just plain "Carl," and peace reigns for the most part up and down the alley. Tara goes about her errands of mercy unmolested. We feed the ThirteenCats colony, and watch their capers and write about them. Outside back gates, up and down the alley way, I often see small bowls of offerings left for the cats by neighbors whose names I don't even know.

Life and the Universe are, indeed, strange things. Sometimes they suprise you. I'm inclined to believe this is a good thing.

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of shortstories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjecs: cats , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com.


Post a Comment