I imagine that perhaps one day Cat Lady (as I've come to call her in my mind) and I will meet up at the bar in the inn located between our homes. A Cat Lady showdown. There I'll be when, suddenly, the unmistakeable odor of cat food ominously fills the air. The comfortable clattering of silverware ceases, forks held in midair as all conversation stops. Somewhere an unseen record player (there is no record player there) scritches a splintering scratch before becoming silent. Cat Lady bangs in the front door, footsteps exploding on the hardwood floor like gunshots, the pictures on the wall rattling tensely with each crash of her elephantine steps: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM. My heart bangs in unison as I nervously sip my drink, my back to her, shoulders hunching farther over my beverage as the footfalls thunder ever closer. She wedges a sharp, angry finger into my cringing quivering spine and growls, "I see you've taken on The Bandit... Well there little Missy, this town ain't big enough for both of us."
The Bandit. The latest freebooter on the scene. Pillager, plunderer, he's an elusive one, that cat, usually appearing under cover of darkness and scampering into the black night at the first sign of human activity. His fur is the color of smoke, not quite gray but not white either. More of a salt & pepper situation, a white cat tinged with grayish black. He has a black mask, of course, as every good bandit should and he doesn't like to be seen, again, wisely taking a page straight from The Bandit Rulebook.
I first noted The Bandit's existence when, kids finally asleep, I crept onto our front porch late one night for some quality porch swing time. There was a flash of movement and I caught a glimpse of The Bandit abandoning Stevie Nicks' food dish and streaking into the night. Stevie Nicks, who pretty much lives on our porch, was inside the upright crate we use as a plant stand and she uses as shelter.
"Who was that?" I asked her. "Your boyfriend?"
She replied with an insouciant expression bordering on smug.
"You aren't having sex are you?" I accused. (I stage-whispered the word 'sex', hence the italics.)
Same expression punctuated with an unconcerned lick of her paws.
"Because I tell you what, Missy, I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no cat babies and as far as I know you haven't been spayed and I am not taking on kittens and if you come home pregnant..."
She yawned, uninterested, and flicked her tail. "Well! Sorry to bore you. You just watch yourself. Perhaps a trip to the local vet is in order", I threatened before banging inside the house.
Of course I've thought about getting her spayed. The only thing stopping me, really, is A) Fear of her clawing out my eyes in the car on the way. I mean, this is a wild cat and as gentle as she is on the porch, who knows how she'll act in a car? and B) Taking her to the vet is acknowledging that I am, indeed, a cat owner and, much like a non-committal dude balking at taking the big marital plunge, I am somewhat skittish at the idea of adding another life to the list of lives for which I am responsible. Sure I regularly purchase cat food and serve it to Steve Nicks morning and night, but much like the non-committal dude who is fully in a relationship but cannot seem to gel to the idea of marriage, I have, thus far, resisted the idea of cat ownership, even if, for all intents and purposes, I am a cat owner.
She doesn't come in the house, I tell myself.
If she just disappeared one day it wouldn't be that big of a deal, I mean, she is a stray, it's how they do, I rationalize.
But I know and Serge knows and Stevie Nicks likely knows I would be devastated if she disappeared in the same way that Charlie The Badass did all those months ago. She is a fixture on our porch, rarely leaves, and now that fall is fast approaching with winter nipping at its heels I know that the cold weather will most certainly force my hand... In? Out? Garage compromise?
And what of The Bandit, who I am loathe to admit I have been feeding on the sly, casually taking an extra can of cat food out of the kitchen when Serge doesn't notice and leaving it open on the side of the house. At first I told myself it was only so he wouldn't continue to steal from Stevie Nicks' food dish but today, this morning, I acknowledged to myself it is because The Bandit looks hungry.
I have seen The Bandit now in daylight hours. He has allowed it now that I am Food Bringer. He inhales his food as if I might change my mind at any moment and then he is gone in a flash. All jitters and jangled nerves, like someone coming off a 3-day coke bender, he jumps at the slightest sound and, if you move too fast for his liking he will up and leave, disappear to who knows where...
Now, when we stroller past Cat Lady's house I no longer scoff internally at the cat food dishes that litter her steps. Instead, I look on in horror... For she was once me. Am I soon to be her?