Bette Davis deserves this

Bette Davis deserves this

This is a story about a cat. Two years ago on a cold November day several weeks after my mom had died, four cats took a chance by crossing a busy highway. They were cold, hungry and had been left behind. I found them huddling in my garage shivering, plaintive in their cry for food. I fed them leftovers while my inside cat Tina cast a wary eye at their very existence.

Tina had been a concession, a breakdown in my very bones. We’d been without pets for many years, and I didn’t mind that. Nothing to care for, only keeping my own self alive and fed. She had appeared on our porch, sinking her claws deep into our souls, claiming us as her own. And while there had been many cats that came and went outside our small house, none of them stayed. We only caught their presence by the furtive, glowing eyes that ran past our windows.

These cats were different. As winter pressed on, we laid down old cushions for them, and my husband fashioned a shelter out of old blankets. They existed on leftovers I gave them, which moved on to bags of crunchy food and bowls of water poured fresh every day.

They wouldn’t let us touch them. I fear they’d been abused the way they shrank when I reached my hand out to them, always palm up. They ran from our touch but ran toward the food we gave them. I reasoned that if I kept giving them food, they’d never leave. I didn’t need cats overtaking our garage, but their eyes — oh those eyes — kept me feeding them.

They learned to jump up on our kitchen windowsill and watch us go about our day. I sometimes fed them bits of meat out the open window, luring them in so we could love them. They trusted us, just not to touch them.

One day my husband looked at the leader of the pack, the one who always came to the window to cry for food for them all, and said, “Her eyes look like Bette Davis.” And that’s who she became, Bette Davis. Her eyes piercing, full of emotion and question, she used them to stare us down in the most endearing of ways. From the window she watched my every move.

Bette became my favorite, some of the other cats disappearing when they had litters of kittens or moving on to explore the world. Bette remained, always loyal, still not trusting me to touch her more than a finger brush on the head. She had one litter of kittens that summer, and then we fixed her.

We fixed many more as they tried to populate our little hamlet of houses west of Berlin. When her kittens were weaned, she fed all the other small kittens that had been abandoned by their moms or in one case had their mom die, patiently letting them nurse until they were far too old to be nursing. She was a fearless leader.

Good leaders know when to show fearlessness, and a year ago she let me pick her up. I had worked so hard to show her she could trust me, and when she put her head against my forehead and closed her eyes, I knew she loved me. Even though she still panicked every morning that we would feed her, innate in a cat who’s been abused and starving, she knew she was home, our backyard her kingdom where she reigned, all under her bowing to her leadership as she held the pack together. I let her in the house sometimes, and I believe she would’ve been happy being an inside cat. She talked to me like a human.

I didn’t want more pets because one day you say goodbye. One day you go on a trip and come home and find they’re gone — their familiar presence an absence keenly felt. We’ve gone on trips, arranging for them to be fed, and when we arrived back, they always awaited us. But several weeks ago, we were gone for five days, arriving back home late one evening.

Bette Davis wasn’t there to greet us. Several others were gone as well, but they each trickled back home. But not Bette. Ever faithful, she always came running, anxiety in her voice that she’d missed one minute with us.

That was two weeks ago, and I am bereft, a gnawing in my stomach as I peer out the window each day thinking I’ll see her. As the leaves begin to fall and a nip fills the mornings, I stay hyper vigilant, hoping one morning her nose will be pressed up against the window watching for my morning movements in the dark house. And then I’ll press her head against mine and tell her she’s home.

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