Monday, February 14, 2011

Unexpected Treasure

"Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before. Say "please" before you open the latch, go through, walk down the path. A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door, as a knocker, do not touch it; it will bite your fingers. Walk through the house.  Take nothing. Eat nothing. However, if any creature tells you that it hungers, feed it. If it tells you that it is dirty, clean it. If it cries to you that it hurts, if you can, ease its pain."   ~~~From "Instructions" by Neil Gaiman in his book Fragile Things

I was sleeping; the sun was not even thinking about being up. It was one of those rare days when I didn't have to be anywhere before ten, and I was deep in dreamland, warm and comfortable when the spousal unit shook me awake.

"There's a cat outside," he said.

With reluctance, I cracked one eye part way open. "What?"

He repeated himself patiently. "There's a cat outside."

"A cat?" I rolled over, opened the eye a bit further, not relinquishing the blankets. He stood over me, and nodded.

"A kitten."

"Ok." This was in the days before the feral colony had all been through the Trap-Neuter-Return program. It was August. Of course there were kittens.

"I thought you might check on it when you get up." I hadn't put on my glasses yet. His form was a shadowy hulk in the pre-dawn darkness.

"Ok," I agreed. I rolled back over, back into the arms of my dreams, and he was gone. The spousal unit has about a two hour morning commute via public transit, so he leaves early.

I was warm and happy and dreaming under the covers, not having to be anywhere, as I said, until ten am. Five hours from now. The spousal unit shook me gently but insistently awake again. I pulled the covers off of my head and opened one eye all the way. I looked at him.

"There's a kitten downstairs," he said.

I opened the other eye. "Downstairs?"

"I got out the big cat carrier." I couldn't see him in the dark, but I could tell he was frowning.

He went on, "I put the kitten in the cat carrier. In the kitchen."

I pulled the covers all the way down. "In our kitchen?" He nodded. "You brought it inside?" He nodded. Now, at this time we had only two house cats: Simba, a long, lean smoke coloured beauty, and her littermate, Rikki, a curious and intelligent grey tabby. They were three years old. I wasn't opposed to taking in another kitten.

"Ok," I said, "That's fine."  I closed my eyes and pulled the covers back up over my head. Hours to go before I had to get up.

"Ok," he said. "I'm going to work." I mumbled agreement from under the covers, and drifted back to dreamland.

The dream ended abruptly. I was being shaken awake. I pulled the covers off my head, squinted at the glowing numbers of the alarm clock. A quarter of an hour had passed. The spousal unit stood over me, troubled.

This time I sat up in bed, fumbled for my glasses.

"There's a kitten downstairs, in the kitchen," he began.

"In the big carrier," I nodded, putting on my glasses. Pre-dawn light had begun to lighten the eastern bedroom windows. I peered at him. "I remember."

"It's crying."

"Is it hurt?" I asked. He didn't think so. The time said it was long past when he should be on the way to work, so this was serious. He would have to catch a later bus.

"Do you want me to get up and see about it?" I was already swinging my legs out of bed.

"I think so," he said, nodding solemnly.

So I got out of bed, found some house shoes, and bobbled groggily down the stairs to the kitchen, the spousal unit behind me. I sat down on the linoleum beside the big, hard plastic animal crate, and looked in through the door. Inside sat a bleary eyed calico kitten about the size of my hand. She was indeed crying, in such a tiny voice you could barely hear. The spousal unit had made her a cozy nest of tea towels and old sweaters, and put a bowl of water and one of food inside with her. The food she had immediately devoured.

I unhooked the door, took her gently out. She looked into my eyes with what I can only describe as affection and grattitude, then threw up all over me. I waved the spousal unit off, laughing a little.

"It's ok," I told him. "Don't miss your next bus. I'll see what we can do for her." Off he went, looking back with conern at the little calico thing, who looked after him, calling to him in a mighty little "mew!" After he was gone, she settled down to make do with me.

She was clearly not weaned yet, so I made up some kitten formula and offered it to her in a bowl. That went down and stayed down. I showed her the litter box, which she knew how to use. She was dehydrated, and had diarrhea. I checked my bank account. Calling from my office later in the day, I made an appointment with the veterinarian for later in the week.

When the spousal unit and I got in from work that evening, I heard from him how he had met this tiny, tiny kitten-being. As he told the tale, she curled up in the crook of his arm, purring loudly.

He had been waiting at his usual bus stop, reading, as is usual for him. Another of the regular morning commuters joined him, but was being followed by this bouncing ball of calico fur. The spousal unit was outraged as his fellow commuter kicked at the kitten, telling her to go away. He picked her up and played with her, glaring at the other man.

Just then the bus pulled up, with the usual driver. There's something to be said for the daily structures of our lives, these routines which allow us to get to know one another, if only through constant, common contact. I know my mail carrier, my barrista, the teller at my bank, even if I don't know their names or their families. It's this recognition, this getting used to each other's faces, that is one of the components in the beginning of community, I think.

The regular driver waited while the spousal unit gently put the little calico on the grass of the front yard by the bus stop; he got on his bus, ready to go on to work, to go on with his normal routine. As the driver pressed the controls to close the bus doors, the kitten dashed beneath the bus, disappearing behind one of the massive, crushing tires.

What is it that triggers kindness?

"Oh, darn!" The bus driver frowned, stretching and straining to try and see where the kitten had gone. "Be a shame to run over it." Someone in the back of the bus shouted to "Get going!" Busses do run on a time table after all.

The spousal unit got off the bus, set down his satchel, and clambered under the bus to gather up the wayward kitten. Ignoring the cranky passengers, the bus driver let him, didn't complain about him not being allowed to crawl under the bus, didn't complain about the time table. Calico baby in hand, the spousal unit emerged from under the machine and retrieved his satchel.

"Put it up there on the lawn," the bus driver suggested. "We'll be on our way."

What is it that triggers kindness?

There in the darkness of  a pre-dawn August morning, the spousal unit made a decision.

"No," he told the driver. "You go on. I'm going to take it home to my wife."

"You'll be late for work!" the driver warned.

The spousal unit nodded. "I'll catch the next bus."

And so he brought her home, intending first to just put her in our yard, where she would be safe. But when he tried to leave, she followed him, and so he was afraid she would be lost, hurt, run over. She was so very friendly, obviously no alley cat; a stray, as opposed to a feral. She had no skills to make it on her own in the alley. Thus he brought her inside, as you have heard.

He was indeed late to work, by a half hour or so. I am grateful for a manager who, for whatever reason, accepted without displeasure the reason for that lateness, the compassion for a small helpless thing that caused it.

We named her Treasure, because it seemed to suit her. With some gentle care and the attention of a competent vet, the parasites causing the diarrhea were cleared up in short order. Treasure is now seven years old. She's grown much larger than the tiny baby who fit in my hand the day she came to us. She's never lost the affectionate and gentle nature she had on that first day, and is indeed the friendliest and most outgoing of our four housecats. And she's very smart.

She still loves the spousal unit best of all the humans in the whole world; he is, after all, the one who saved her. He is  her hero. Truthfully I think, Gentle Reader, he loves her as well. She gets up with him every morning, following him downstairs while the other cats and I lie abed, not having to get up nearly so early as he does. As he sits at the kitchen bar, drinking his coffee and having his breakfast, she sits with him, on the bar, having her kibbles and drinking her morning water out of the coffee mug she insists on. A bowl won't do. She drinks out of a mug like her Dad.

I do not know what triggers kindness, but I am grateful for its presence in this shaggy old world.

A Note: One of our readers in the San Antonio, Texas area is losing their home; their emergency living arrangements do not allow them to take their cat, Siofra, with them. They are understandably distraught. If you have any contacts in the San Antonio area who might be able and willing to help, or if you can help spread the word, I'm sure Siofra's family  will be terribly grateful.

Siofra's family can be contacted through Facebook or through Twitter. If you have info for Siofra and don't have access to either of those platforms, you are most welcome to leave a comment here, or to send email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. The ThirteenCats will be more than happy to forward any information to Siofra's family.

UPDATE:  Siofra has found a home. You can read about it at Mario's Meowsings. So happy to hear about happy endiings!

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.


  1. Thank you for visiting my blog. Your Treasure reminds Mom of a kitty my human sister had. What a heart-warming story about how she came to you.
    Happy Valentine's Day, and hi to my namesake, Simba.

  2. FYI: I've been in contact with Siofra's human. I think it might be possible for me to take Siofra if the timing is right. =)

  3. What a beautiful Vanentines Day love story, and a true one at that. How could you not keep dat sweet little kitten.

    Thank you so much for posting Siofra's plight in your blog too. It looks like someone might even be able to help - what great news that would be.

  4. You story about finding Treasure brought tears to our mom's eyes. She said it was one of the sweetest things she has read. I'm Clarissa, mom's first cat, who is a calico. I was a bit older than Treasure and already weaned when I was adopted. But I know that look that Treasure has is pure love. I show it to my mom everyday.

    Clarissa & Co.