Issue 55

My Neighbor's Cat


                It’s a desperate Saturday afternoon: we can’t find anyone to watch Skylar and the need to see a movie has become overwhelming.

                I look out my side window, and I can see a gray tail flicking over the top of the sofa in Phyllis’ home.  Phyllis is our sweet next door neighbor.  There’s only one problem with asking Phyllis to watch Skylar: Her cat.  It’s not that her cat is mean or anything like that.  She is also very sweet.

                I should know because up until two weeks ago she was my cat.

                Back when she lived here, Freya had unlimited food, a cozy couch with her own blanket to curl up on, and an attic to explore.  But every Paradise has its snakes, in this case two dogs.

                Two months ago Freya walked out of the house and refused to come back in.  Better to bare the discomforts of the outside world than live in constant fear, I believe the look on her face said.  Being the accommodating roommate that I am, I moved her personal belongings down to the garage.  I even installed a cat door so she could come and go at her leisure.  She was completely self-sufficient, just as a cat likes.

                I recognized the first sign of trouble early one evening.  Phyllis called on the phone.  “I can’t get Freya to leave my house,” she said.

                “How is she getting in?” I asked.

                “I let her in,” said Phyllis, “and sometimes I give her a little treat to eat.”  The fact that the level in Freya’s kibble dispenser hasn’t dropped in two weeks suddenly makes sense.

                “I don’t blame her for not wanting to leave,” I said to Phyllis.  “The best thing is to probably not let her in in the first place.”

                That night we all heard it: 3am and Freya meowing at Phyllis’ kitchen door.  Then I heard the kitchen door open and Phyllis’ voice say, “All right, you can come in.”

                That was just the start of things to come.  Freya, who used to always come running to say hello to me, was nowhere to be found.  On the rare occasion I did see her, she skulked away, pretending she didn’t see me. More often than not I could see her tail flicking in my neighbor’s window.

                I’m not one to drag my feet once I see the writing on the wall.  Resigning myself to the hard truth, I cleaned out Freya’s litter box and brought it over to Phyllis’ as a symbolic break, and to show that there were no hard feelings.

                “I figure you might need this since she’s spending more time at your house than mine,” I said as I presented Phyllis with the box.

                “Why thank you, Nicholas,” Phyllis said sincerely.  Over her shoulder, I could see into her bathroom and that she already had a box.  I no longer had any doubts that I was doing the right thing.

                “By the way,” Phyllis continued, “Dale and I are going on vacation for a few days.  I know it’s a funny thing to ask...”  I steeled myself for the inevitable: “...but would you mind feeding her while we’re gone?”

                As I walked back to my house, I struggled with the injustice of it, the irony, the betrayal.  And then I decided to get even.  “I’ll spoil her while Phyllis is gone, that’ll show her.”

                The next morning I let myself into Phyllis’ house.  Freya met me at the door, then ran under the dining room table as if she thought I was going to take her back the garage.  On the table I found a note.

                “Nicholas,” it read, “Princess Freya begins her routine at 7:30 in the morning.”  I was already an hour late, I realized.  “After she eats, she likes to go out, but only for about 15 minutes.  When she returns she wants to play – wants the LR drapes open and usually wants to be petted esp. head and chin.  Then she’ll sleep a while and after want a treat (8-10-12 Kitty Bites)  and…”

                There were several more pages to the list.

                If I were a lesser person, I might call it infidelity laced with a heavy dose of ingratitude.  But I understand why she left me.  It still hurts, of course, but Freya found someone who could appreciate her Princess qualities.  Because of the dogs we were never quite able to recognize her true status.  Phyllis can and does, with a tremendous amount of love.

                Through my window I see Phyllis pet Freya.  I imagine I can hear her blissful purr.

                I think about my movie again.  I know Phyllis can and would watch Skylar.  But I also think a video tape will do the trick.  Who knows what would happen if I brought Skylar over for a few hours.

                I just can’t imagine how I’d feel if I had to look through my neighbor’s window for a peek at my son.


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