Written for the Animal Tales Contest
The Cheshire Grin
On a cold and windy night, just about a year ago today, an orange and white tabby cat with a Cheshire grin came to 415 Maple Street to stay. Under the overhang of Mrs. Kremburger’s front porch, the cat paced back and forth and demanded to be let in.
Mrs. Kremburger lived alone, and though very old, she had never owned a cat in her entire life. So, naturally, when she heard it growling and scratching at her door, she immediately assumed that it was the spirit of her dear late husband, Mr. Kremburger, returning to tell her where he had hid all the money.
Mr. Kremburger, God rest his soul, like so many other seniors, had lived through the Great Depression, and as a result, like his father before him, had never trusted banks.
When times got hard, Mrs. Kremburger desperately searched the house, but to no avail.
The noise outside grew louder.
“Mercy me,” said the old lady as she sat upright in bed, “but isn’t that the strangest sound you ever heard?” She threw off her comforter, slipped on her slippers, and put on a warm white sweater making sure to button every button all the way to her neck.
The racket continued, and fearfully, Mrs. Kremburger shuffled toward the front door, grabbing her old wooden cane along the way for protection.
“What are you out there?” she hollered at the door while waving her cane in a threatening manner. “What kinda noise is that, anyway? Can’t you see people are trying to sleep in here? Go away!”
The scratching grew louder.
For some reason, the old woman thought about the fine paint job that her dear Mr. Kremburger had done on the house just last summer. She remembered that fateful day when she had served him iced tea as he worked up high on the ladder.
“You better not fall off of there, you old fool,” she had told him.
The cat growled.
“Mercy me! What in tar’nation could that be? I hope it ain’t no lion. I don’t take kindly to no lions.” Mrs. Kremburger was getting a little testy, what with lions waking her up in the middle of the night and all. Besides, she hadn’t been sleeping too well lately as it was. “I just hope you’re not scraping paint off’n my house,” she yelled. “Mercy me, I wish Mr. Kremburger were here--he’d know what to do.”
The cat growled and scratched all the harder.
“All right, already. Hold on, I’m a’coming.”
She carefully unlocked the door, threw the latch, and then slowly let it creak open.
The cat bolted inside like he’d been shot from a gun.
“Mercy me!” said Miss Kremburger. “It’s a lion!”
Of course, Miss Kremburger never could see too well, and she honestly thought that an orange-striped lion had just run into her house.
Whooping and hollering like she was going to be eaten alive, Mrs. Kremburger danced around the house swinging her cane in every which direction. But when nothing happened, she finally calmed herself down a bit, looked around, and spotted the intruder as he peeked out from under the dusty old sofa.
“Ah, there you are. Now you listen to me, you dirty old lion. You can’t just come bursting in on people in the middle of the night. Now you can just turn yourself around and head right back out that door.” She pointed to the open door with the cane in case the lion didn’t understand. “Go on, now. Git!”
But the cat only crawled further under the couch--smiling.
Again she said, “I bet if Mr. Kremburger were here, he’d know what to do.” Her heart fluttered at that thought and her cheeks flushed. “All right then, Mr. Lion,” she said. “You go right ahead and stay under there, and I’ll deal with you in the morning.”
And with that, she went back to bed.
The rest of the night, Mrs. Kremburger slept like a baby. She dreamt of old Mr. Kremburger and how safe he used to make her feel at night in their big, squeaky worn-out bed. When morning came around, she opened her eyes from the most restful sleep she had experienced in a long time.
Looking down at her side, she saw a furry orange ball cuddled up next to her that was grinning from ear to ear.
She took one look at that smile and immediately fell in love with it. “Mercy me, but aren’t you the cat’s meow,” she said as she scratched his back. “And just look at that grin. I swear I ain’t never seen a cat grin like that before. I guess you’re just happy ‘cos you think you’ve found yourself a new place to stay, huh?”
It was obvious that the cat loved to be scratched, because he lazily rolled over on the bed twisting around in sheer delight. Snuggling closer to Mrs. Kremburger’s body, he began to purr like a finely tuned machine.
Mrs. Kremburger smiled. “Oh, all right, I guess you can stay, but if’n I find just one little mess around here, then out you go buster, understand?”
The cat gave a soft mew as if he understood perfectly.
“I’ll call you Leo,” she said, “after my late husband. Oh, how he hated cats. And it would serve him right if’n he ever came back as one.”
Leo stood and stretched like only a cat can, then crawled up on Mrs. Kremburger’s chest and nuzzled her ear, purring all the while.
The old lady giggled and pushed him away. “Mercy me. You are a flirt and a tease, Leo, just like dear Mr. Kremburger was.”
Leo growled deep in his throat.
“Are you hungry? I know, why don’t you come with me to the kitchen and I’ll fix you a nice breakfast.”
After that, the two got along as if they had known each other for years.
Whenever Mrs. Kremburger went for walks, Leo would tag along; when she watched TV, he was there, snuggled warm in her lap; and when she became ill, he vigilantly stayed at her side.
One day, the doctor came to visit. And after he had done all that he could do to make her comfortable, he told Mrs. Kremburger that he wouldn’t be coming back.
“You’re either going to have to hire someone to stay with you, or you’re going to have to go to a nursing home.”
“You know I can’t afford to hire nobody,” she told the doctor. “And I sure ain’t going to go to no old folks home! Besides, my Leo here, will take care of me. We’ll be just fine.”
The doctor shook his head, then left the house, never to return again.
Late that night, while Mrs. Kremburger slept peacefully, Leo crawled under the bed amongst the old shoes and dust bunnies. He nosed around for awhile then started scratching at a loose board he had found in the floor. He worked on it all night, until finally, he was able to pry it loose with his claws.
Now people say that cats don’t smile, but the look on Leo’s face just couldn’t be described as anything else--especially after he started pulling $100 bills from out of the secret cache he had found in the floor.
When Mrs. Kremburger awoke the next morning, she was covered in money.
“Mercy me,” she said sitting up in bed. “What’s all this?”
Beside her, grinning like a Cheshire cat, slept Leo.
“Aw, Leo, you are an angel. Thank you, my friend.”
The money came just in time too. It paid for a nurse to come by every other day; it paid for all of the medicine and doctor visits. And when it ran out, miraculously, more money would appear again, so that Mrs. Kremburger was able to get the best doctors in town.
But in the end, they all started saying the same thing--that Mrs. Kremburger was very old, and she wasn’t going to get any better.
In the days that followed, Leo stayed right by her side, just under her right hand so that she could feel he was there. And when she said, “Mercy me,” for the last time, he laid quietly in her lap purring--purring and grinning up at her face in anticipation.
Late that night, the wind howled, and Leo was awakened by a scratching at the front door. Thoughtful Mrs. Kremburger had always left a window open for him to use, so he slipped outside to investigate.
There was a black and gray striped cat sitting on the front porch.
It is said, that there is an old house down on 415 Maple Street, where two cats live all alone. And that one of them is an old orange and white tabby with a Cheshire grin.