Do you know what to do if you can't see your enemy? Maybe a cat can help.
| Alone with the Enemy
Alone, she thought. I’m all alone. All alone, left to rot in this rotten world, all alone. She wondered at the thought as she kicked off a pair of faded and scratched, black oxford shoes that felt like they were two sizes to small for her feet. Old woman shoes, she thought. Was she an old woman? She looked at her feet. Feet that were short, and wide, and would never fit into a pair of slim, narrow highheels again. Yes, she was an old woman. And all alone. Of course that was only the beginning or the ending depending on if you were to start looking at the top of her head or at her feet. At fifty years of age, she thought, there wasn’t much about this old broad that didn’t feel to short, to wide, and differently tired, and wore out. Just plain rotten, and falling apart.
Her head came up at a slight sound. She couldn’t identify the noise, or tell for sure where it had come from. Was someone at the door? She turned back and opened it a crack so she could peek out. No one there. She shut the door slowly, then made sure it was locked tight. Maybe it had been her imagination again. Seemed like she was always hearing strange noises. Maybe it was just one of her dogs or cats.
She started to take off her worn denim jacket but had second thoughts as she felt the chill air in the old ramshackle house. She limped on her sore, swollen feet into the little livingroom, opened the door of the small pot-bellied stove, tossed in a few sticks of a bad grade of firewood, that the kid down the lane had chopped and stacked in a cardboard box last weekend. “I know I should rake out the ashes, but I don’t have what it take,” she told the stove. She waded up a couple of pieces of newspaper to get the fire going and tossed them in on top of the sticks of wood, then hunted through the clutter on a nearby coffee table until she found a box of matches. She struck one, and lit the paper, leaving the door to the stove open a crack. As she stood she felt a soft, furry body rub against her leg. She reached down and ran a hand over the calico cat. “Hi, Mazie.”
She had a pang of sympathy for the small creature as she felt how cold her ears were. Quickly she added another ball of paper to the stove. In seconds the paper caught, then the pithy wood. The rotten pine would burn fast but would help heat up the old drafty house and maybe help keep the utility bill down. She picked up the cat, which purred, and meowed softly as she cuddled her against her chest, trying to warm the animal and herself. She felt eyes staring at her. She searched the room with her own faded blue ones until she located the scathing yellow ones. At first she saw only the cat’s eyes, then slowly was able to make out the shape of the black creature where she was nestled into a brown-stripped blanket. She didn’t have much sympathy for this one. She hadn’t wanted another cat, couldn’t afford to feed another one, but it had come and stayed anyway, even though she had tried to get it to go away. Standoffish, it was. Didn’t want to be petted. But wouldn’t leave. Now the yellow eyes seemed to be trying to look into her very soul. She turned away from them.
A scratching at the back door reminded her she should let in the dogs. Most likely they were cold, too. Toby, a tall, skinny, yellow thing that she figured was part greyhound, part lab and who knew what else., and the other one she called Sonya, was probably a dachshund cross of some short. She petted them giving them a smattering of baby talk, asking how their day was, and if they had chased off any robbers or other unwanted people that day, or maybe even some gremlins. She scooped up a bowl of dog chow for each one. The dogs whined and whimpered as if trying to tell her something. Had someone been prowling around the house while she was gone? Maybe some pesky kids looking for meanness to get into. She wondered who would want to break in and rob an old place like this. There certainly wasn’t anything of value in this old rotten house. For a moment she thought she heard boards creaking in the ceiling. A gust of wind rattled the windows.
Yeah, this old house was a whole lot older than she was. She and Charlie had managed to buy it right after they got married. Married right out of high school. She thought of all the plans they had made for remodeling and fixing it up. Plans they had made while lying in bed and making love together. Plans that had gone by the wayside when she found out she was pregnant. Oh, there had been occasional coats of new paint and once they put up wallpaper in the bedrooms. Once long ago. Now that wallpaper with the pick roses was faded and pealing. Rotting off the walls. Now the paint was dark and dingy with dirt, grime, and smoke from the woodstove. Now the bit of carpet that was left was shredded along the edges. Smashed into the shape of the warped, and rotting wood floor under it, and impregnated with a vast collection of cat and dog hairs that would never come out. Now the roof leaked regardless of the neighbor kid and his efforts with the little bit of tar she could afford to buy to try and patch it. At least there was one decent kid in the neighborhood. The roof, like the rest of the house was just rotting away. Just as she was.
Depressed and disgusted at her thoughts, she went to the tiny bathroom with the facet that never stopped dripping, causing rust stains that no amount of scrubbing would remove from the porcelain. She stripped off her polyester shirt with the name and logo of the grocery store she worked for. She handled all that money for that big name company that didn’t pay her enough to move into a decent apartment. She knew she was destined to live in this rundown old house the rest of her life. She could feel it in her bones. All alone now. She unzipped her jeans and let them slide to the faded tile floor. Then added her bra and panties and socks to the pile. The water was rusty orange at first then came almost clear, first cold then timid warm. She hurried to wash her aged body and shampoo her stringy hair, hoping the sting of water would drive away the ache in her bones and the dismal thoughts from her brain. She was all alone; or she hoped she was. Sometimes it felt as if someone or something was watching her. Had to be her imagination didn’t it. Wasn’t no one or nothing around except the cats and dogs? Was there?
Seated on the old couch, wrapped in a ragged, blue chenille robe that drug the floor when she walked she picked at the TV dinner she had heated in the microwave. Here she was eating a tasteless, cardboard meal all alone again. But not really alone. Four sets of eyes starred at her, hoping she would drop just one little crumb in their direction. “Go away. You all done been fed. This here’s mine.” She scrapped out the last tasteless bite, then followed it with a half cup of this mornings left over coffee, reheated; it was as black as the cat, and just as bitter.
The four pairs of eyes continued to watch her. Two pair belonged to the Mutt-and Jeff-like dogs. Warm, friendly, deep brown eyes begging for a crumb, a kind word or a brief pat on the head. They didn’t really care which. The green eyes of Mazie, the calico cat, old and wore out as she felt herself to be. Mazie sat at the end of the threadbare, cat-clawed couch. Waiting, her white feet tucked under, green eyes gazing at her owner, not really expecting anything, just waiting. Waiting for what, neither of them knew. Old cat had to be what – ten – twelve – maybe thirteen, if she was a day. Hadn’t Tina drug her home as a tiny kitten back when the girl was in high school.
Curled at her hip was a ball of black fur with the forth pair of eyes gleaming at her. The black cat with the yellow eyes. First time it had come to sit with her. It was young, playful, daring to be bold, full of life, daring anyone to get in her way, to tell her she couldn’t have the warmest spot in the room, curled up next to the old woman, on the couch, in front of the fire. That was why she was there, for the warmth, not the companionship. The woman reached to pet her, but pulled her hand back as the creature hissed in warning. “All right, all right, have it your own way, Black Cat. I’ll leave you alone. Don’t want a pet no fussy little cat, no way.” She wondered why she had even tried. Maybe because the half-grown kitten, unnamed except to be called Black Cat, was the only thing in the woman’s life that didn’t seem lost, rotten, and decayed, as she, herself felt. But still it seemed all alone. Unwanted. So she had let it stay. It could be all alone here as well as somewhere else, although she didn’t understand why it had chose to stay here, except she gave it some food, a warm place to sleep, and a soft, friendly word or two. She tried again, reaching a hand slowly to the animal. This time it excepted the brief flutter of the old woman’s hand on it’s head and back. The woman knew enough not to expect more. She knew, or hoped, that in time, the cat would come to except her offer of companionship more and more. Or so she hoped until she heard it growl softly. But it wasn’t looking at her; it was staring at something in that far dark corner of the room. Maybe a mouse she thought. She didn’t like mice or rats. Another reason to keep the cat. Mazie was too old for catching mice. But not Black Cat. “You can stay, Cat, as long as you keep the rats and mice out a this here old house.” The old woman giggled at her dark thoughts. “And any other a them gremlins and ghosts that try to come in.”
Ghosts she thought again. The decaying, the rotting had begun so long ago. She couldn’t really say for sure when it had first happened. Maybe it had been when Charlie lost that good paying job at the factory. When had that been? She couldn’t remember now or maybe it had been when their oldest Debra had been killed in that car accident. Debra had been a senior in high school, full of life and joy. So pretty, when she had left with her boyfriend to go to the prom. But they had never come home. That had been the beginning, the beginning of the rot in her life. What had happened next she wondered? Oh, yes; how could she forget? Charlie, Jr. had gone off to fight in that war. What war was it? Didn’t matter. Charlie, Jr. didn’t come home, either. And her Charlie, he had just whithered away after that. He couldn’t seem to handle loosing two children. First the whiskey, and then the cancer, just ate him up.
And their youngest, Tina; cute little Tina grew up blaming her for all those deaths. She tried to make it up to her. Worked her fingers to the bone. Worked two, sometimes three, jobs to put that girl through college. Now she was a big, fancy lawyer in the big city. What city was it? She always had trouble remembering the little things like that. Tina made sure to call her old mama once a month. On the first of each and every month. Tina never forgot to make her duty call to mama on the first day of each month.
Her old, faded blue eyes filled with tears that threatened to spill over but never did, as she sat in front of the fire, soaking up the warmth, sipping at a bottle of wine, not even bothering with a glass. She heard the noise again. Was it the creaking of the ceiling, or the floor, or maybe the door? Didn’t matter. Nor did she notice the eyes. Big yellow eyes, encased in a dark, furry body staring at her, a thick liquid matter slowly dripping out of its’ gaping mouth.
The dogs whimpered in fear of the strange creature that had invaded their home, and crept closer to the old women hoping she would drive it away. But she didn’t. She couldn’t since she didn’t know it was there. Mazie edged over by Black Cat, and for a moment it seemed as if the two cats were communing with each other.
Later, much later, the women stumbled into her bedroom, fell onto the bed and pulled the ragged quilt her own mama had made around her tired body. She never realized when short-legged Sonya managed to get up on the bed and lay down next to her. Then came old Toby to keep her feet warm. Mazie curled at her shoulder, and Black Cat kept watch, ready to warn her new family if an intruder should threaten them. Black Cat was always sure that there was a threat, a danger, lurking about, ready to pounce on the unaware.
But then who or what would want to bother with a wore out old women and her friends in this decaying house, living out their time in this rotten world.
Later much later when all seemed to be sound asleep the invader crept into the room. Black Cat opened her eyes just a slit. Slowly, ever so slowly she uncurled her body and prepared herself for the attack. It was her job, her duty to protect the house and its occupants. She slithered off the bed so as not to let the enemy become aware that she knew of its presence. Just as the intruder was about to pounce onto the bed Black Cat attacked. The fight was wickedly silent, efficient, and fatal. It was over in a few brief, seconds
The next morning the old women crawled from her bed, wishing she hadn’t drank so much wine the evening before. She stepped in something gooey on the floor. “What the hell,” she muttered as she sank back onto the edge of the bed and examined the bottom of her wrinkled foot. Whatever it was, it stank like nothing she had ever smelled before and was a strange shade of yellow and blue. “One of you critters barf on the floor?” she asked of the two cats and two dogs that still lay on the bed. She noticed Black Cat had a rip in one ear. It dripped a drop of red blood onto the sheet. “What happened, Cat? You tangle with somethin’, almost get the better of you?”
Black Cat turned a defiant stare on the old women, and tried to ignore the pain in her ear, as she
thought about the dead creature that was now just a furry mess under the bed.