Parts I&II of a short story about an alley cat endowed with special powers.
The Healing Cat
The season was summer-late June, to be exact. A warm, misty morning turned ugly by dark when a squall blew rain in, soaking several homeless people and cats who lived behind Restaurant Row. An old tabby cat, belly bulging with unborn kittens, made her way down an alley. She was soaked to her skin with chilly rain and gutter water from the busy street nearby. She drug herself to a hiding place behind soggy boxes stacked by a dumpster. During the cat's life, she had birthed 14 kittens. Knowing her time was very near, she had chosen a birthing bed there atop strips of smelly cloth and hunks of styrofoam packing.
This birth was different. And difficult. By midnight, she was exhausted as she licked her one living baby. He was tiny, red fox-colored with a white face and belly. He mewed with surprising gusto and nursed his mother with strength that made her gasp.
One August afternoon the mother cat went to sleep hungry, tired from fighting for her daily food scraps. She never woke up. Her six week old kitten was on his own.
He felt frightened and all alone in the unforgiving city. Filthy alleyways, gnawing hunger, and the razor sharp claws of many others like him, quickly toughened up the young tom. Six months later, the orange runt had become a fierce fighter and an expert thief.
He could tear into restaurant dumpsters and steal fish heads or soup bones in thirty seconds flat. The cooks and dishwashers never saw him. They shook their fists and cursed the rats.
Dirty cardboard boxes or doorways to nowhere were his only beds. But, they were his alone. The other alley cats had seen what his lightening fast paws could do to an ear or an eye.
Months passed. Friendless, the cat was never named, never adored by anyone. That suited him just fine.
"A true alley cat needs no name and needs no one," he snarled. Other alley animals were annoying, and people were only good for the morsels of food they wasted. The cat had but one desire-to find a way out of the alley, into the big world where he would never again have to depend upon leftovers.
"There must be a life easier than this," he thought, after walloping another cat for the fun of it. He spat out blood and fur. "A quality cat like me deserves to be have everything he desires."
Two terrible winters passed. At the tail end of the cat's third winter in the alley, freezing rain covered two feet of gray, grimy snow. Restaurant Row leftovers were frosted with icing too hard and thick for a cat or rat to bite through.
But the cat tried.
First he crept to the back kitchen door of the Pizza Parlor. Everything was quiet, so he tried to chew through a half-frozen garbage bag that had been tossed against the dumpster. He had made headway and could smell pepperoni, when suddenly the door was flung open! A hulking, human form totally filled the opening.
The hungry cat heard a gravelly voice yell, "There's a dang cat in the garbage again!" Light flashed! A sharp sound of danger cracked the frigid stillness. The cat ran for his life.
His next attempt to find dinner at The Paper Lantern was cut short by a flying wok. He ducked in the nick of time. The rusty pan flew over his head and nearly hit a skinny rat. Both cat and rat scurried on down the alley,which had become a whirling, slippery, snow tunnel.
His last hope for food was the platform behind Pete's Steak House. He crouched behind a snow drift. The kitchen door opened. A woman holding a tiny child wrapped in a blanket stooped and slid a big, delicious- smelling bowl of food out the door. "Here kitties!" She called out with a soft, caressing voice that made the cat prick up his broken ears. A deep, unfamiliar longing welled up within him.
When the door into the warm, fragrant kitchen closed against the freezing storm, cats of all shapes and colors sprang from hiding. Spitting and hissing, they attacked the food.
The hungry cat knew even he couldn't take on so many starving competitors. He slunk back into the alley.
Several hours later his paws were very sore. Ice balls were stuck between his pads. He drug himself to a large pile of old clothes on a doorstep sheltered from the keening wind.
The cat shook with hunger, cold, and exhaustion. He sniffed the rags, then burrowed under them.
This bed was very warm and solid. He rested, pushing his paws back and forth against frosted layers of wool and silk. A steady thumping sound from under the lovely rags made him relax. For the first time in many hours, he slept. All during the long, wintry night, the cat's paws twitched with dreams of a bright, wonderful world where big bowls of steak and tuna spilled out beside his very own soft bed of feathers.
So soundly did he sleep that he didn't feel the quivering hand in a torn glove stroking his back all through the night. The next morning, the cat realized the rag pile was a real live man.
He tried to get away but the man's desperate grip was strong. "Please, stay! Thank you for saving me. I was curled up in my doorway, frozen and all alone in the world until you found me."
The cat wriggled, but the human hugged him harder and kept talking. "You found me, kneaded my head and my heart. You kept me warm. Suddenly, I remembered everything- about my name and my life before I lived in this alley."
He told the cat he had been a rich and powerful businessman.
"I lived in a skyscraper that is named after me!" Whoosh! The cat was lifted high above the tall man's head where at last he got his glimpse of the Other World beyond the dark alley.
"Look!" His captor exclaimed, "There it is- the tallest building in the city. Mann Towers!" Indeed, the amazed cat saw a dark blade of concrete studded with blinking lights, slicing up into the gold, pink, and gray morning sky.
Mr. Mann continued telling his story. One winter's night after attending the opera alone, he had slipped on an icy patch at the entrance to the alleyway. He had fallen into the deep purple shadows, cracked his skull, and lost his memory. "Ever since then, I wandered this alley, confused and afraid. Until last night when you found me, you big,raggedy cat!"
He scratched the squirming feline's head.The startled cat growled low in his throat and spit out a warning.
"Whoa, there," laughed the man. "I hereby dub you 'Spit'!"
So that's my name, the cat thought. He decided maybe it wasn't so bad having a real name after years of hearing only, "Getouttahere!" in three different languages.
He relaxed a little, put his scarred paws against the man's fishy-smelling satin vest, and blinked his eyes.
"I would have frozen to death without you. You put your paws on me and healed my broken mind!" The rich man laughed so loudly the restaurant people poked their heads out of their kitchen doors to see what all the commotion was about.
What the huge man from the Pizza Parlor, the angry wok-flinging cook from the Paper Lantern, and the kind lady and small child from the steak house saw was a homeless man in a torn, dirty overcoat holding up a scruffy, orange alley cat as if the animal were a valuable prize he had just won.
"The world will soon see how remarkable this cat is!" Mr. Mann shouted. "Spit is a Healing Cat!"
Frigid wind blew his jubilant cry up and down every alley and street of the frozen city, right up to the marble entrance to Mann Towers.
And that was how Spit, a fighter and a thief, metamorphosed into a World-famous Healing Cat.
For awhile, all Spit's dreams came true, and then some.
Spit's new life jettisoned him from his back street life into an amazing new world. Mr. Mann's rich friends begged Spit to heal them of their ailments. The washed and groomed cat was given his own jet, with "SPIT" emblazoned across the tail. All that the cat had wished for seemed to be coming true.
Spit circled the globe in his jet.
He nibbled fresh salmon from china in elegant restaurants. He slept on feather beds in stone mansions and on velvet cushions in palaces of marble and glass. He watched birds through windows with views of the Empire State building and the Eiffel Tower. A brass plaque inside the Lincoln bedroom at the White House proclaimed: "Spit Slept Here!"
Cardboard boxes had been his beds, but now, his official flight attendant used them to store newspaper clippings about the cat's illustrious career. Mr. Mann visited him when he returned to the City. Sometimes he picked the cat up and scratched his chin for a second before handing him off to his attendant.
The headlines read:" Spit-The Greatest Miracle Cat of All Time" and, "When it Comes to Healing the Rich and Powerful, Spit Can Do No Wrong."
And it seemed he couldn't.
"Perhaps I am truly special." He said to himself. "If only the cooks and dishwashers back in the alley could see me now!"
He liked healing people well enough, but loved no person. His heart had been frozen solid by his past of cold winters and uncaring strangers. He took little notice when Mr. Mann stopped sending his car around to fetch him for a visit.
As for his once grateful benefactor - he remained walled away in Mann Towers' sky high penthouse office, thirty stories above the city streets, the opera house, alleys, and Spit.
Mr. Mann had regained his memory, but forgotten the alley cat he had named. The world's most famous healing cat was merely another money-making business venture.
"That is OK with me," Spit thought,"I have everything I ever dreamed of and more. Who needs him?"
Month after month, Spit traveled the world alone, kneading famous people back to health.
He sat on the tops of the heads of many heads of states. One was the president of a tropical nation. Spit kneaded and kneaded until cigar smoke and very hot weather made him throw up a large fur ball, right in the lap of el Presidente.
"My headaches are cured!" El Presidente taped a medal to Spit's orange and white chest and appointed him the official el Vice Presidente.
The Queen of England was so happy to be cured of pain in her waving-to-her-adoring- subjects' hand, that she knighted him. "Sir Spit" rode in a gold coach to the airport.
A world renowned opera singer ruined her vocal chords singing Madame Butterfly far too loudly when she had a bad head cold. Spit draped himself around her big shoulders and rubbed her throat. When the singer suddenly burst into an aria, her stupendous vocal chords vibrated so loudly Spit fell head first into her ample lap.
She was so happy to regain her voice, she nearly smothered the cat in a lilac scented bear hug. "I will adopt you and make you my official son!" she bellowed, "You will love all ten of your brothers and sisters!"
Spit scooted into his waiting limousine and told the driver to beat it to the airport as fast as possible. He had never had a family and that suited him just fine.
"A famous healing cat needs solitude, not a big family who might eat all the food before he gets to the bowl," he told himself as he drifted asleep alone high above the clouds, lulled to sleep by the gentle swaying of the jet.
A year flew by. Boredom set in like a large, smelly dog who would not leave. Spit spent a lot of air hours batting a catnip mouse around or washing his big fat fuzzy stomach. That was when he would recall the one bright spot from his old alley life- the lovely aromas, warmth, and light that streamed from the kitchen door of Pete's Steak House.
"The lady there was nice to feed the alley cats. She would be surprised to see me now. I'm rich enough to buy her restaurant and fly her and her little one anywhere in the world they would want to go." Spit would slowly blink his yellow eyes and imagine showing them around the huge, shiny SPIT jet. Purring, he'd curl up and take a warm, dreamy nap.
Three more winters came and went. "It seems like something's missing from this humdrum healing cat life," he remarked to the toy mouse one dreary day. He waited, but the mouse didn't answer him.
One sunny day in Montana a horrible thing happened to Spit.
He lost his healing powers.
He was trying to heal a wealthy rancher of a tender boil on his backside. First the rancher hollered like a sick calf . "Watch those dad-burned claws!" Spit stifled a strong desire to bite right through the man's dusty jeans.
After long minutes of kneading and hollering, kneading and cussing, the rich cowboy leapt to his feet, his boot spurs jangling with rage.
"My saddle sore's worse than ever, thanks to you! Git outta here before I skin your fat, furry carcass." Spit skedaddled and later took a nip of catmint to cheer himself up.
Was this the beginning of the end of the world's most famous healing cat? At first, it seemed so.
Part III Coming very soon