AND THEN THERE WAS ONE
I heard him before I ever saw him. He was only about six weeks old and apparently had gotten separated from his mother and his sister so he was running around in circles meowing at the top of his lungs. He was a fat black and white tuxedo kitten, one of two born to the stray that someone had dumped in our alley. Sensing that not one, but two suckers lived in the building she had camped out and, although she was completely feral she would come out whenever she heard me or my neighbor drive up. So we fed her. What else could we do? She was quite young, not yet an adult herself. Before long she was pregnant by one of the disreputable gang kitties that hung out in the area.
This litter of two, a male and female were born in the spring of 2002 and I, freaking out that we were going to have litters arriving every six months from not only Mamacita, but also from her offspring, insisted that we get a trap and get them all neutered. A project so much easier said than done. Feral cats are wily little beasts and wild too! Fraidy, the name I gave the little boy after I caught him freaking out, was the first one we caught. We’d thought he would be the hardest because the female kitten that I named Audrey, because she was petite and flirty, like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Mamacita would both let us get pretty close. Audrey would actually let me pet her if her head was in the food bowl. She didn’t have the same primal fear about humans that Fraidy had. He was a huge pig though so I guess it makes sense that he would the first one to crawl into the cage and trigger the door to slam down, locking him in. He fought so hard the cage jumped around from his attempts to get out. By the time we got him to the vet 3 blocks away he mouth was bloody from trying to chew his way through the metal.
He was able to come home the next day having tested negative for Feline Leukemia and HIV. When the door to the cage opened he went running to find his mother and was wary of us from that day forward although he was always vocal about wanting to be fed. The three of them would hang out together sleeping on the walkway between our building and the one next door. Audrey got friendlier and friendlier, skirting along the stairs with her rearend in the air, rolling over on the sidewalk and cocking her masked head with the black smudge on the nose. She was a preternaturally intelligent animal who was so onto us when it came to that trap. She was so light that she was able to go into the trap and eat whatever delectable treat we’d placed in there and slip back out without triggering it.
By now the Audrey and Fraidy were about 6 months old and from the screams in the night it was clear that Mamacita and possibly Audrey were at risk of becoming pregnant again. After much effort on Cheryl’s part she and her husband caught Mamacita and got her to the vet to be spay. She was indeed pregnant and my worst nightmare would’ve come true had we not caught her. She was also free of Leukemia and HIV and was able to come home in a couple days with dissolving stitches. Two down, one to go.
Audrey at six months was a gamine personified – she would talk to me when I got home late at night and dance around my feet as I tried to get up the stairs to open the door. She would stick her head in the house, sometimes curiously venturing in to see what was there. Both she and Fraidy were getting into all kinds of jams. Audrey would climb about 25 feet up into the Bottlebrush tree out front and then howl in fear until we came outside to coax her down. Fraidy got himself stuck between the walls of the garage necessitation that we hack a hole in the outside wall and pull it back while he decided whether it was worse to be stuck or to have to pass so closely to the humans who had captured him and taken him to a laboratory where parts of him that were probably important were removed forever. He finally relented and tore past us yowling dramatically, retiring to the roof to give himself a bath. Audrey got some kind of wire wrapped around her tail, which distressingly lost circulation and then flopped over, dead. I knew that if we didn’t get her to the vet soon she would get sick and die.
Audrey was just not going to let us trap her so I took advantage of her fascination with the inside of the house and her voracious appetite. We stopped feeding them for a day and the next morning I put a plate with a small bit of food in the very back of the cat carrier and set it down in front of the open door. Audrey stood in the doorway, her nose in the air sniffing, and then she cautiously stepped, one paw at a time into the carrier – streeeeeeeetching so that her back feet were still out on the porch, she craned her neck and tried to take a bite. I lurked in the kitchen and as soon as I saw her get the first taste I leaned over and shoved her butt into the carrier and shut the door. Gotcha!
The 10 pound plastic carrier began bouncing up and down against the wall as Audrey struggled to get free. Her tiny little white paws curled around the metal mesh of the door helplessly as I carried her to the car and drove her to the vet. Where she was spayed and had her tail amputated and tested positive for Feline HIV. The vet said that she had seen over 60 cases come in over the past year and that Audrey would be able to live with it as long as she stayed healthy. Kind of like humans. Audrey had to stay at the vet for two weeks for the stump where the amputation was to heal. I went to visit her and she was in the back of a cage in a dark room where the cats were kept wearing a white plastic cone collar around her head. I opened the door to see if she’d let me pet her and she climbed out and right into my arms where she curled up and started purring.
Audrey went on a hunger strike for the three days she was left at the vet. On the fourth day I said I would take her home and put her in the guest bedroom to recuperate. I couldn’t stand the thought of her in that dark, cold room filled with cages. She howled all the way home and when I opened the door of the cage to let her out in the guest room she immediately ran across the bed and onto the night table to the window, which she climbed like a spider and desperately fought to get open. I pulled the door shut and wondered what the hell I had gotten myself into as I listened to the wild animal sounds emanating from the room. I waited about an hour and it had quieted down some so I poked my head back in the room and saw that Audrey was busily working at ripping the heating vent out of the wall. She had it pulled out about 3 inches and when she saw me she only worked more ferociously to make her escape.
My poor old cat Peaches, seventeen and blind was very disturbed by the smell of this interloper and would sit crouched outside the door all day with his nose to the floor. No one was getting any sleep because Audrey would get on the dresser and knock things to the floor at 4am and nothing would calm her except for me going in and laying down with her where she would curl herself against my stomach and finally close her eyes. It was a very long two weeks which ended when Peaches had a stroke and I had to put him to sleep and I was over having Audrey in my house. So she went to the vet and got her stitches out and was released. Mamacita would have nothing to do with her once she got back to her peeps though Fraidy was glad to see her.
Last October Mamacita got hit by a car and killed. We buried her in the rose bushes by the garage. And Justin the little boy who lives upstairs stood and cried and he read the poem he wrote for her. Audrey and Fraidy still hung out and now Audrey would allow us to pet her and even pick her up. Fraidy was still scared, but we were his people. The ones with the food and he would sit on the roof of the garage and wait patiently for breakfast. Whenever I would drive up he would appear from wherever he’d been napping and he’d walk me to my door, stopping and rolling over when I stopped to talk to him. I was able to pet him if his head was over the bowl, but he was still completely wild in a way that Audrey never was.
Last Friday night was the last time I saw Fraidy and the neighbors said they last saw him Saturday morning. One of them told me that Saturday night Audrey was roaming around crying and crying. And she’s been crying ever since because Fraidy is gone. We haven’t been able to find his body and we have no idea what happened to him. Although they aren’t really our pets, everyone in the surrounding buildings off the alley have come to think of the little black and white cats as part of the neighborhood. They were fed by more than just Cheryl and me. The French guy down the way buys them fresh chicken and fish and bought them catnip toys. Linda and her Dobermans Greta and Wally loved them because the cats wouldn’t move when those huge dogs meandered over for a sniff. We didn't mean to get attached but really, we couldn't help it. I try to be pragmatic. I mean cats that are outside have a short life span what with disease and cars and dogs being walked off leash by irresponsible owners. But because I don't know what happened to him I keep expecting to see him when I come home and it breaks my heart to see Audrey huddled all alone.
And now there is just one.