Published Sun Jan 14, 2018 | Posted in Stories | By Linda Jenkinson |
The day was hot. August hot. The kind of hot when watery mirages shimmered in the road ahead. The kind of hot when the weight of the Chevy pushed new furrows into the worn asphalt that covered the country road.
No air conditioning in the old boat made it too hot for pokes, pinches, or bickering. As they traveled up the steep hill past the town hall, Kathy glanced into the rear view mirror. Thank God her two kids were quiet and thank God they were nearly home, she thought. She looked forward to getting home and to the shade of the twelve oaks that sheltered their country home from the afternoon sun.
Turning her attention back to the road ahead, she saw a new kind of mirage. It looked like some little animal staggering up the center line, aiming straight for their car. But it wasn’t a mirage. It was real.
Not sure that she could miss it and sure that she didn’t want to hit it, Kathy hit the brakes and pulled the car over to the road’s grassy shoulder. Whatever this little critter was, it looked to be in serious trouble.It wasn’t until she heard its whispered “mews” that she realized it was a kitten. The little fellow was tiny, probably not even six weeks old.
Even from her seat in the car, Kathy could see that the kitten looked to be near death. She couldn’t just drive away, leaving it at the mercy of the hot tar and other vehicles on the road. She got out to get a better look.
The kitten was skin, bones, and distended belly with fur matted so close to its body, that it looked as if it didn’t have any. Its eyes were swollen almost shut and its tiny nostrils were so filled and crusted with dried mucous that its tiny mews were really only the whispers of breaths that came from his mouth.
After living in the country for the last two years, Kathy was no stranger to strays. City folk seemed to be ignorant of the fate of the pets they “dropped off” in the country. There had been the mother cat and her two kittens squatting in the chicken coop. Her seven-year-old, Jimmy found them on the day the family took possession of the property. Not a week later, Jeff found the mother dead at the road side on his way home from work and so they had brought the kittens indoors.
The little female was black as night and her purr sounded like the beginning of a steam engine so they named her Putt-putt. Her brother wore a tuxedo, but for the first couple of weeks he was no gentleman. He was a wild child, all hisses as if he was his sister’s protector. Hissy was an easy choice for his name. Although he quickly adapted to living with the Harts, after a year or so, his wild ways took over and he left home to roam the countryside.
Six months later, Phantom the dog appeared out of nowhere. She was so malnourished that even the vet couldn’t save her. Jeff had shot her. It wasn’t easy for him to do, but country life was expensive for a young family and one shotgun shell had saved them from more vet expense. It seemed as if every other month, someone would drop off a box of kittens or a dog and the town animal shelter charged a fee that made it nearly as expensive to surrender animals as it was to put them down.
Although she was an animal lover, Kathy’s first inclination was to do the merciful thing. A quick snap of its tiny neck would put the dying kitten out of its misery. She picked up the tiny soul with its sudden demise in her heart, but the minute she touched it, she knew she couldn’t do it, merciful or not. Her decision was cemented by the piping voice of her four and seven-year-old children. “Oh it’s a kitten! Can we keep him Mommy? Can we bring him home?”
She certainly couldn’t end its life as her children watched! The kitten sat quietly in her lap for the remainder of the drive home.
Once home, Jimmy and Jenny had gone off in search of Putt-putt, who they had put outside before they went to town. This time of day, was usually set aside for milking their goat, Nanny and feeding her two kids, Sparkle and Sky. Today, though, chores would have to wait.
Kathy brought the kitten indoors and began tending to it. The kitten lay calmly as she used a wet, luke-warm cloth to cool and help hydrate his fevered body as well as clean the mucous and dirt from the little guy. Under her gentle ministrations, the fur began to rise from his body in tattered tufts. He looked as if he wore a tuxedo like Hissy’s. She wondered if he could be one of Hissy’s offspring.
She was still working over him when Jeff got home from work. Hearing the door close, Kathy looked up from the kitten.
“Hi” she greeted him with a sheepish smile, wondering what his reaction would be to the kitten.
“Hi yourself,” he said. “The kids are outside looking for Putt-putt to tell her about the new kitten? Is that what you have there?”
“Yes,” she replied and began to tell Jeff the story of the kitten’s rescue.
Jeff cut her off in mid sentence. “We can’t keep him,” he said. “We already have a cat and one is enough. We can’t hang on to every stray we find out here. You know that!”
“Yes, I know, but I couldn’t kill it in front of the kids or leave it to die. What can we do?” she argued. “We can’t just—”
“Yes we can,” he interrupted and scooped the little foundling up from the kitchen counter.
“Wait,” she pleaded. “I’ve almost finished cleaning him up. He’s already better now than he was when we found him. Maybe Putt-putt will take him under her wing.”
“Or maybe Putt-putt will kill him or maybe he will just die in the night. He’s half dead already. Do you want the kids to wake up to a dead kitten?”
Kathy didn’t reply. Jeff wasn’t looking for an answer. She could see that he was hot and out of sorts. His perspiration soaked shirt clung to him like a second skin. Ten hours working in a factory with no air and the ten mile drive home from town hadn’t left him in the best of moods.
With that, Jeff walked out the door with the kitten in his hands.
Kathy watched as Jeff crossed the road and disappeared into the cornfield on the other side. Her eyes welled with tears as she realized that Jeff would probably be tasked with doing what she should have done on the road side. She had left him with one more stray animal to dispatch. She wasn’t sure which of them she felt sorriest for, her hot, exhausted husband or the kitten that was marked for death.
Jeff returned just ten minutes later. “I couldn’t kill it. As I walked it into the cornfield, the little shit started purring. Maybe he’ll make it. Probably he won’t. I left it about a hundred yards in.”
Kathy wondered which was worse, killing it or just leaving it to die.“I’m so sorry, Jeff. I should have–”
“It’s alright. I couldn’t have done it in front of the kids either. I hear Nanny bleating. I’ll milk her. It will get my mind off the kitten.” Jeff shed his wet shirt, laying it over a kitchen chair.
As Jeff walked out the door, Jimmy and Jenny were coming in. Jimmy held onto a squirming Putt-putt. “Where’s the kitten,” Jimmy asked. “We brought Putt-putt in to meet it.”
Kathy sighed. “Dad took it into the cornfield. It was dying,” she said. Her heart fell as she saw the disappointment on her children’s faces. Again, she regretted her decision to pick up the kitten as she saw little Jenny wipe a tear from her eye.
“Why don’t you kids go watch some TV while I make supper?” Jimmy put down the wriggling cat and the two made a beeline for the family room. Kathy followed and turned the TV to a Little House rerun. On her way back to the kitchen she mused at how resilient kids were, knowing that the kitten would be forgotten in just minutes.
The evening breeze brought relief from the intense heat of the day. Back in from milking, Jeff opened the door to the front porch to let in the cooler air. As the family sat down to supper, Kathy heard a noise. Nobody else seemed to notice so she ignored it. She heard it again. Something was scratching at the front porch screen door.
This time, the children and Jeff heard it, too. Kathy got up to investigate. To her surprise, it was the tiny kitten! Somehow, he had made his way through the cornfield, crossed the road, and found his way back to the front door!
Kathy picked him up and brought him in. Even Jeff agreed that a kitten with so much heart should be given a chance. Besides, what else could they do?
Kathy brought the kitten back into the kitchen and coaxed him into eating a slice of bread which she first soaked in warm, sweet, goat’s milk. When she was unable to cajole him into eating any more, she carried him into the dining room where her family was finishing their meal.
Moments later, nearly every bit of what the kitten had eaten flew out simultaneously from both ends, as if he were a fire hydrant with a double connection. Not understanding the severity of his problem, the kids exploded in laughter. Not so Kathy or Jeff. Milk was splattered everywhere. Until his digestive problems were solved, the couple decided that the kitten would have to stay on the front porch, which could be hosed down as needed.
Still giggling over his accident, Jennie exclaimed, "Let’s name him Blooper.” Kathy and Jeff smiled in agreement and Jimmy agreed, too. The name seemed to fit, partly because of the way he “blooped” out the milk and partly because it seemed like a mistake that the kitten had survived through this day at all.
The kitten’s digestive problems cleared up soon after he was wormed. He was finally becoming healthy. In fact, he ate like there was no tomorrow. Although Putt-putt didn’t mother him, she did tolerate him and she didn’t try to hurt him. After a few weeks they were fast friends that ate together, slept together, and even groomed each other.
As the summer days went by, Kathy and the kids grew to love the brave little kitten with all their hearts and he seemed to return the affection. Jeff was slowly warming to the little guy, too. How could he help it? Every time he picked up the kitten, Blooper started purring.
The mid-September nights became cool. The family decided it was time to bring Blooper into the house. On his first night indoors, Jeff and Kathy settled down to watch television after they had put the kids to bed. Jeff was reclining on the couch. Blooper and Kathy sat in the big rocking chair near the living room doorway. Soon Jeff dozed off.
Kathy was combing through Blooper’s fur. He still had a bit of a respiratory problem and his wet sneezes tended to mat his fur. Suddenly, she saw something move near his left ear. Lice! She looked over at Jeff and saw that he was fast asleep. She knew that if he saw the lice, he might insist on getting rid of the kitten for once and for all, even though he had grown fond of him.
Kathy promptly scooped Blooper up in her arms and brought him to the back porch where they kept the pesticide. Safe for animals, they used it to keep their goats free of fleas, ticks, and of course, lice. She hoped it was okay for kitten use, too. She was concerned about the harmful effects on the small kitten, but she reasoned it could be much more harmful to Blooper’s health if Jeff saw the lice.
She sprayed some on her hands and then rubbed them over Blooper’s tiny body. Almost immediately, white lice began to surface, turning yellow as they died.
Kathy brought the kitten back to the rocker and began combing him again, picking off dead lice as they surfaced and putting them into a plastic container. Just as she was nearly finished, Jeff awoke.
“What are you doing to the cat?” he asked.
“Picking dead lice off from him,” she replied.
“How do you know they’re dead?”
“Because I killed them!” Kathy grinned and then quickly explained that she had treated Blooper with the pesticide.
Sleepily, Jeff grinned back and then dozed off to sleep again. Case closed. As summer faded into autumn, Blooper became a firmly ensconced member of the family. Just as he had worked to earn his place in Jeff’s heart and Putt-putts good graces, he never gave up on anything or anybody. Putt-putt was his playmate and his big sister and he constantly enlarged the soft spot that he claimed in Jeff’s heart.
For the next two decades, Blooper grew up with Jimmy and Jenny and since he continued to eat like there was no tomorrow, he grew out as well. He became a round ball of a cat who spent his days making everyone smile at his indomitable spirit—except for the one time that the mouse walked past him as he slept. Kathy didn’t smile at that! Well, not that anyone could see.