Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Hiring the Neighborhood Assassin” posted back in August 2011. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
Northwest Profile: Gig Harbor Cat Lady.
She understands thirty-seven different nuances of meow. This connoisseur of cats knows the joys of feline felicity. And she employs their catlike complicity.
She married a dog lover to the horror of cat lovers—everywhere.
He’s still learning to adapt.
* * *
My husband, Richard Cranium, walked into our bright white and yellow kitchen. Three generations of my family created history in this little brown and gray rambler. My aunt, Verla, and uncle, Carl, chose us over my cousins and my siblings for the next custodians. We take the job very seriously.
“We have a pest problem,” said Richard, his tall, lean frame towering over me.
“What are you talking about?” The pitch of my voice taking the escalator up a level.
“Fannie, rats moved into our backyard.” His shoulders sank.
“Seriously, rats?” The hair rose on my head. I smoothed back my short brown hair.
“We’re not just talking squirrels anymore,” said Richard, he straightened his shoulders, “it’s time to think about hiring an exterminator.”
“No honey, I’m sorry, but that would kill more than the rats.” I may be short, but I make up for it with a look for every occasion. Look number 74: Looks can kill just like poison, we’re not using poison.
Richard took a step back. “Well, what do you want to do?”
“I’m thinking nature offers us the best solution. How about we put a few of the neighborhood cats on the payroll.”
“The payroll?” asked Richard, a wild fire of confusion spread across his face.
“Yeah, they work for food,” I said, “or didn’t you know that?” A true dog lover, when we got married he promised to love me, love my cats. He’s still working on the cats.
“This is crazy.” He licked his lower lip.
“No, trust me, this will work.” I said. “If you feed them, they will hunt.”
Throwing his hands up, “All right, we’ll give it a try,” he said, his voice resigned.
Taking two bowls from the kitchen cupboard, Richard filled one with water and the other with cat food. I opened the sliding glass door for him. He carried the bowls outside.
“Well, where do we put it?” asked Richard, surveying the patio.
A weathered-gray potting bench nestled up to the wall of the house to the left of the sliding glass door. On the right of the door sat a dark-brown, wood-box beverage cooler. A barrel style barbecue lived on the far end of the patio. A hot pink wooden picnic table with benches sat in the center of the patio underneath a wooden latticed arbor.
We wanted to re-paint the table my aunt and uncle left us when they moved—to the original deep red. We gave the color chip to the new clerk at our local hardware store.
The computer color-match malfunctioned. We never inspected the final paint. We didn’t even think to ask. When Richard opened the can, we laughed. It birthed the phrase, ‘It’s pink, get over it.’ We painted the table and a tombstone in it’s honor.
Richard arranged the feeding station. We stood back and admired the retaining fee.
“So, do you think any cats will find this?” he asked.
A Stellar’s Jay landed on the bench in front of us. It gulped three kibbles, looked at us, and flew into the trees.
Laughing, I said, “If the cats don’t notice that, they don’t need to be on the payroll.”
* * *
Two of the neighborhood strays expanded their territory into our yard.
The most promising applicant, lost part of one ear and his bones showed through his jet black fur. Lacking all originality, we called him Little Black Kitty.
After each meal, he leapt onto the wooden cooler, pressing his head up against the sliding glass door until Wicket or Sadie, our ginger tabbies, noticed. He pressed both front paws against the window, stretched, yawned, sat down. He bathed giving our cats the one-legged salute. And for the grand finale, he turned around three times and sacked out. One paw over his nose.
Whenever this occurred, Wicket, our male cat, threw himself against the window, howled and growled and yowled. He tried digging his way out. Bottle-brush bristly orange fur clothed his taunt body. Hissing and spitting and missing, he vented his fury on Sadie.
Little Black Kitty gradually gained weight. The sun shimmered on his black fur.
* * *
After two months, Little Black Kitty attempted his first and last home entry.
Richard opened the sliding glass door balancing cat food and fresh water. Little Black Kitty dashed between his legs.
Wicket woke from a sound sleep. Leaping from his perch in our office, he charged down the hallway. Reaching maximum speed, his tormentor in sight.
Little Black Kitty froze. The whites of his eyes shone. In taunting Wicket through the sliding glass door for the last two months, Little Black Kitty never considered Wicket’s near Maine Coon size.
Wicket removed fur from Little Black Kitty’s left haunch while slamming him into the door frame. Little Black Kitty bounced off the frame and scrambled for the safety of the great outdoors.
Ignoring his own safety, Richard threw his leg between the cats. He grabbed Wicket by the scruff, preventing further pursuit. Four orange wooden legs swung in mid-air. Sabers extended.
Richard brought Wicket back inside. He locked the door.
Little Black Kitty sat on the far side of the patio for 30-minutes, facing the house—recovering.
* * *
A few days later, Little Black Kitty and I talked.
“Now that you are on the payroll, I expect you to keep up your end. We have a pest problem that I want you to eliminate for us.”
Richard sat at the picnic table listening. Hugging himself, he laughed so hard he snorted. He slapped his hand against the table. When he caught his breath, he said, “Fannie, all that cat hears is blah, blah, blah. Do you really expect anything other than he will keep eating the food we put out for him?”
“Richard, just trust me on this one.” I pulled out look #1 from my mother’s arsenal: Mother knows best.
Richard wiped the tears from his blue eyes. “If you say so.”
* * *
A week later, Richard and I ate dinner in the living room, watching a movie.
THUD. THUD. THUD. Cats shrieking in staccato. Claws scraping against glass.
We ran into the family room.
Wicket and Sadie—acting like berserkers—launched themselves into the window, rebounded onto the floor, then launched again.
Outside the window, Little Black Kitty held a limp, brown and gray rat by the neck.
When he spotted us. He dropped it on the ground, holding it in place with one paw.
Richard’s mouth fell open, hitting his chest.
Chasing the cats away from the door, we scooted outside.
“Great job,” I said, petting Little Black Kitty.
Little Black Kitty rubbed against my legs, winding his way between them. He stood on his hind legs, resting his front paws against my thigh.
Petting him, I said, “If you want to stay on the payroll, I expect to see more of this.”
Richard moved in for a closer look at the limp form on the patio. He turned green, grabbed his stomach, his eyes watered. He took two unsteady steps backwards.
Laughter shook my body like a cheap motel bed and one to many quarters. I took a deep breath. This is not the time to laugh out loud, Fannie. My voice wobbled. “Honey, don’t worry about it. There are friends who help you move, and then there are friends who help you move the bodies. If you’ll take care of the spiders, I’ll take care of the bodies.”